La Petite Américaine's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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's review
Jul 24, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: worst-garbage-i-ve-ever-read, sucked, i-want-my-money-back, rants
Recommended for: This is such a piece of steaming dog shit that I'd recommend it only to people I REALLY hate.

** spoiler alert ** UPDATE: AUG 26, 2016: This review has been here 8 years, has 18 pages of 854 comments and 764 likes. There's no outrage for you to add in the comments section that hasn't already been addressed.
If you want to talk about the book, or why you liked it, or anything else, feel free.

UPDATE: FEB 17, 2014: I wrote this review 4 years ago on a foreign keyboad, so I'm well aware that I spelled Chekhov's name wrong. I'm not going to fix it, so please don't drive my review further up in the rankings by commenting on the misspelling. You're very dear, but I know his name is Anton and not Antonin. On that same note, you don't need to add comments telling me that I didn't like the book because I "don't know how to read" and "don't understand metaphors." I actually have an M.A. in in English Lit, so I do know how to read -- much better than you do, in fact. Now quit bothering me before I go get my PhD and then really turn into a credential-touting ass.

UPDATE: JULY 10, 2013: To all jr. high students who find themselves grossly offended by my review: please remember that every time you leave a comment here, you push my review up even higher in the rankings. Please save us both time and energy by not commenting. Thnx.

This was the biggest piece of garbage I've ever read after The Kite Runner. Just as with The Kite Runner, I'm (somewhat) shocked that this book is a bestseller and has been given awards, chewed up and swallowed by the literary masses and regarded as greatness. Riiiight.

The whole thing can be summed up as the story of a girl who sometimes steals books coming of age during the Holocaust. Throw in the snarky narration by Death (nifty trick except that it doesn't work), a few half-assed drawings of birdies and swastikas, senseless and often laughable prose that sounds like it was pulled from the "poetry" journal of a self-important 15 year-old, and a cast of characters that throughout are like watching cardboard cutouts walking around VERY SLOWLY, and that's the novel.

Here are some humble observations.

First, chances are that you, Mr. Zusak, are not Antonin Chekhov. You are, therefore, incapable of properly describing the weather for use as a literary device, and you end up sounding like an asshole. Don't believe me?

"I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate." Really? Do you, now?

"The sky was dripping. Like a tap that a child has tried it’s hardest to turn off but hasn’t quite managed.” Really?? Wow. Next you'll tell me that the rain was like a shower. I'm moved.

"Oh, how the clouds stumbled in and assembled stupidly in the sky. Great obese clouds." Yes. Stupid, obese clouds! They need an education and a healthy diet!

Next, chances are that you, Mr. Zusak, are not William Styron or any one of the other small handful of authors that can get away with Holocaust fiction. They've done their research, had some inkling of writing ability, and were able to tell fascinating stories. You invented a fake town in Germany (probably so you didn't have to do any research) and told a long-winded and poorly-written story, and in 500+ pages you couldn't even make it to 1945, so you sloppily dropped off and wrapped it up in 1943. What's the point of writing historical fiction if you can't even stay within the basic confines of that hisotrical event? For me, this does nothing more than trivialize the mass murder of over 6 million people. Maybe that's why a 30 year-old Australian shouldn't write about the Holocaust. But that's just me. Moving on.

But what really makes this book expensive toilet paper is the bad writing which is to be found not just in bizarre descriptions of the weather, but really on every page. Some personal favorites?

"The breakfast colored sun."

"Somewhere inside her were the souls of words."

"The oldened young man." WTF?!!?

"He crawled to a disfigured figure."

"Her words were motionless."

"It smelled like friendship." (Remind me to sniff my friends next time I see them.)

"A multitude of words and sentences were at her fingertips." (HUH?)

"Pinecones littered the ground like cookies."


All of this is quite funny coming from a book where the main character supposedly learns the importance of words. Further, I love that the protagonist comes to the conclusion that Hitler "would be nothing without words." Really? REALLY? Would Hitler be nothing without WORDS? What about self-loathing, misplaced blame and hatred, an ideology, xenophobia, charisma, an army, and a pride-injured nation willing to listen? Don't those count for something??

The shit-storm comes to an end when a bomb lands on our fictional town, wiping out everyone save for the sometimes book-thief main character. Of course. Because weak writers who don't know how to end their story just kill everyone off for a clean break and some nice emotional manipulation. Written for maximum tear-jerking effect, our main character spews out some great lines when she sees the death and destruction around her:

To her dead mother, "God damn it, you were so beautiful."

To her dead best friend as she shakes him, "Wake up! I love you! Wake up!" (Didn't I see the same thing in that movie My Girl?)

Then she profoundly notes that her dead father "...was a man with silver eyes, not dead ones."

And this kind of angsty adolescent prose just never ended! It went on and on to form the one long-ass, senseless, disjointed story.

But that's ok. Take it all the junk, give it a quirky narrator, an obscure and mysterious title, throw in a Jew on the run from Nazis who likes to draw silly pictures of birds and swastikas, and market it all as Holocaust lit. Ahh, the packaging of bullshit makes for such a sweet best seller.

Swallow it down, America. Put it on the shelf next to The Kite Runner. You love this. You live for this.

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Reading Progress

July 24, 2008 – Shelved
May 11, 2010 – Started Reading
May 12, 2010 – Shelved as: worst-garbage-i-ve-ever-read
May 12, 2010 – Shelved as: sucked
May 12, 2010 – Shelved as: i-want-my-money-back
May 12, 2010 – Finished Reading
March 21, 2012 – Shelved as: rants

Comments (showing 1-50 of 1,033) (1033 new)

message 1: by Lorenzo (new) - added it

Lorenzo Berardi I didn't read this one yet and don't know if I will do it sooner or later, but your review put a hellish smile upon my face. The proofs you chose for pulverizing Zusak's way of writing look unmistakable. You're pitiless in a way I really appreciate!

message 2: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger It put a smile on my face too - I love the "recommend for"!

Jackie Your review made me knock off another star from my review! I'd forgotten about some of the terrible bits in the book. In my defense, I read it on a very long airplane flight where it's easier to block out bad parts. In particular, although I totally remembered how much I hated the 'character' of Death, I'd totally forgotten about the pseudo-philosophizing about what makes Nazism work, the drawings, and that terrible 'book' that Max writes for the little girl. I think, though, that underneath there might have been an interesting (although not necessarily very original) story about the little girl and the more ordinary parts of her life that could have been uncovered with some serious rewriting and editing.

La Petite Américaine Fucking piece of shit garbage novel. It's going to take me like two months to get the rage for this book out of my system.

message 5: by Penny (last edited May 13, 2010 08:00AM) (new) - added it

Penny I'm currently trying to read this book. I'm struggling for the same reasons you pointed out. Death being the narrator--and not a very good one at that--is a gimmick that makes me want to poke my eyes out. I especially hate that he interrupts the story with sometimes nonsensical headlines/sidenotes/digressions/tangents/pictures. After reading this review I'm pretty sure I'll never pick this book up again.

P.S. You know people are going to attack you because of this review. All the same you posted it, and I applaud you for that. You're just being honest, which is the whole point of goodreads.

Is it bad that I can't wait for the internet fight to start?

message 6: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Let's place bets. How long until some mindless baffoon finds this review, creates a new profile, and attempts to bash you for your opinion? Play ball kids! Bring it! I love when you stir up people for your opinion. Let me repeat, YOUR OPINION. ok sorry..... Jumped the gun. No one has whined yet! I shall exit stage right.

message 7: by La Petite Américaine (last edited May 13, 2010 08:28AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

La Petite Américaine @nicole and penny: had that happen several times (people reading my review and then creating a profile on goodreads to bash it) with my reviews of The Kite Runner and The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Seems silly to me as I often appreciate reviews that rip apart books I enjoyed. But whatever. I can't say I care much if strangers I'll never meet get mad at me on the Internet about a book.
You should check out the threads of some of those others I mentioned. Christ, some people were really furious! :)

message 8: by Penny (last edited May 13, 2010 08:40AM) (new) - added it

Penny It was your review of The Kite Runner (and the comments about your review) that made me steer clear of that book. I hate when an author tries to manipulate their readers with overly tragic, sentimental crap. I especially hate when I'm being pummeled with the authors political agenda.

Anyway, I know what it's like to be ridiculed for stating an opinion here on goodreads. I wrote a review for a really idiotic YA book and now I'm getting moronic comments/PMs about how there must be something wrong with me, and not the book, because everyone else looooooved it.

message 9: by Renee (new)

Renee I love your reviews. Doesn't matter if I agree or not!!

message 10: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger I'm having more fun reading these comments than I could ever have with that book! You guys are so damn funny!

message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Hateful reviews are the best (and this is one of the best of those). I often have the same reaction when reading "best sellers."

message 12: by D. (new)

D. Pow You do cool reviews.

message 13: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger That's news to me about Banks... unwelcome news.... lol

message 14: by Caitlin (new) - added it

Caitlin I must say, I liked your review, I do not agree with it, but I do like how you pull apart the novel and throw it to the dogs so to speak. Personally, I liked all the things you complained about including death being the narrator and the poetic descriptions of the sky. I'll admit some of them were a little questionable, but I think Zusak pulled it off. Being a 14 year old girl, I don't have too much experience with poeticly descriptive books (mostly trivial vampire romances), but this book came to me highly recommend and I agree with the recommendations. It was fantastic. Surely there were some elements of this book you enjoyed? As I said before, I do not agree with you, but your review was a bit of a laugh.

Felicia I also struggled with the blatant emotional manipulation in this book. I wanted to like it more, but I hate when I can see the strings in the writer's puppet show. It's distracting and insulting to my intelligence.

message 16: by Kat Kennedy (last edited Jul 18, 2010 09:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat Kennedy I don't agree with your review and I'm actually enjoying the book, but I did find your review funny as hell.

Penny - I must be doing something wrong. Nobody ever abuses me for my ranting reviews.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

wow. i couldn't agree more. great review. terrible book.

message 18: by Layne (new)

Layne i cant really understand why you didnt like it but you are entitled to your opinion. it seems that you feel the way about the Book Thief as i did/do about Twilight. i thought alot of his description was (yes, sometimes annoying) but quite interesting in its (granted) simplicity. i totally agree that it was emotional but... i dont know, i must be a sap for sad books. i dont know i thought it was better that ALOT of the Holocaust lit out there. i also think there is a redeeming quality in the relationships between the characters. yes the author focused way too much on some descriptions and colors that weren't very original and yes the author killed off all the characters but at least there was warrent for that. it wasnt just "and then everyone died". he sort of set it up. and yes it was a little long winded but there were several well written scenes. now the one thing i would like to try my hand at challenging in your review is the authors point about how Hitler was nothing without words. he put the ideas of jewish hate and bias in the heads of the people. like modern day politicians. so all the things you listed that hitler actually used he accomplished via words. its not like he picked up a gun and started shooting them and then people followed. he manipulated peoples mind using well written hate filled speeches. so yes he needed an economically drained, downtrodden, poor, starving population in germany to accomplish his goals but he needed words to manipulate them. yes he needed charisma but he needed words too! you cant win on charisma alone. the loathing and the misplaced blame was escalated to violence by his words. that is the only thing i really disagree with your review. the quotes when pulled out were quite...yah stupid. now i do like the silver eye quote merely because, as i said, i liked the characters relationships. hilarious review, i hope my comment hasnt offened anyone or made people think i am a unmovable idiot. and am apparently long winded.

La Petite Américaine Caitlin wrote: "Surely there were some elements of this book you enjoyed?"

Yes. The moment it finally ended. :)

message 20: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger La Petite Américaine wrote: "Caitlin wrote: "Surely there were some elements of this book you enjoyed?"

Yes. The moment it finally ended. :)"

Hahahaha.... been there!

Natasha I really liked the book, so obviously I disagree with you, but I'm not going to bash you for it. Instead I'll say this. You think maybe you could tone it down a little bit? If it weren't for all the curses and insults, I might have actually respected your opinion. Its one thing to dislike a book, its another to try to convince people not to read a book just because you didn't like it. By the way, the language that you used makes it seem (and please pardon me for this) like you are a little uneducated.

Kelly First of all, I enjoyed your review. It's refreshing to hear the opposite opinion of your own. It opens one up to thinking in new ways. I still thought the book was amazing, but I do see where you're coming from on many points.

I haven't read this in a long time, but I wanted to explain the two quotes you seemed confused about:

"The oldened young man."
Perhaps the young man that has been through much hardship? Hence: oldened.

"A multitude of words and sentences were at her fingertips."
You’ve never felt this way when holding a new book, or standing in a library? I feel exactly what is quoted in this sentence. I really like this quote.

You also said:
"Take that same reasoning and apply it to the deaf and mutes, those who literally have no words. Are they also nothing because they have no words? Of course not."

Technically sign language gives words a picture. Words are still formed, though they may not be the same as what we would call ‘words.’ The point being made with the emphasis on the importance of words is that without them, we'd be nothing, right? Well it's true. Just think of the countless things we do every day involving words. Without words, there can be no communication, and I would not be able to be discussing this right now :)

So anyway, thanks for taking the time to review this book. As I said, I found your review very interesting and eye opening, even though I don’t fully agree with it.

message 23: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim I loved this review. I love reading, and I thought I would like writing reviews, but I suck at it. You don't. This book made me mad. I hated the narrator. I hated the descriptions. I listened to the audiobook, so I guess I was spared the drawings. I didn't understand why the narrator thought that the main character was special in any way. Stealing books? What? I normally avoid Holocaust fiction, and I wish I hadn't made an exception in this case. But if I hadn't, I would have missed your review. I enjoyed the author's I am the Messenger (audio), but there were major problems with ending in that book, too.

message 24: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan I also didn't like The Kite Runner very much... I wanted to read this book, could never find it, but read your review instead, so I guess those were great signs of why I shouldn't waste my time. Thanks!

message 25: by Noelle (new) - added it

Noelle First off, I've got to admit 3 things
1. this review was hilarious
2. I've never read this book
3. I still plan to read it

there's just 1 thing, in the quotes from the books that I feel like I need to explain, because not everyone gets it, but I do.
"the oldened young man"

meaning, even though he is still young, his SOUL has been oldened by the world, he has been forced to grow up to fast, or it could be that the tragedies have weighed him down and he is now like an old man.

I don't know, I haven't read the book...


but breakfast colored sky? totally don't understand that one! makes no sense! completely ridiculous...

message 26: by Noelle (last edited Oct 13, 2010 11:11AM) (new) - added it

Noelle Kelly wrote: "First of all, I enjoyed your review. It's refreshing to hear the opposite opinion of your own. It opens one up to thinking in new ways. I still thought the book was amazing, but I do see where you'..."

I agree, and I know I feel like I have "A multitude of words and sentences were at her fingertips." when I'm in a book store, to be quite honest,I actually drum my fingertips in the air (which some might think is impatience, definitely no though!:) when I'm in a book store :) I can't wait to read this book :)
but her review was still very good, and very funny I might add :)

message 27: by Maggi (new) - rated it 1 star

Maggi Loo ok so i like read half of it but it was about her everyday life!! i remeber stopping around where they started talki ng about the jew and i told my friend who was reading it that it sucked and she said she LOVED it etc and since i didnt wanna read it i asked 4 the ending and it sounded rly weird... iwas debatin bout whether i should read it again... but after this? haha nope

Mammoth I thought the fact that Zusak used simple phrases, words etc was good. And hey, maybe the comparisons, metaphors or whatever were things taken from the writers memories. Just because you don't like their writing doesn't mean it sucks. Obviously it's your opinion, but still. You've probably convinced many people out there that would've enjoyed it not to read it. And Maggi, the whole idea about the story being centered around Leisel's everday life is to show that normal life goes on during times of horrible suffering and depression. And also, the whole point of the childish drawings is because the man has no education. And I believe that Hitler definitely wouldn't have been as influential without words. Think about it.

La Petite Américaine This being a site where people review books, my opinion is precisely what I post here.

message 30: by Eva (last edited Oct 27, 2010 04:04AM) (new) - added it

Eva Leger "But still" - that's a tough arguement to work around.
"Obviously it's your opinion, but still." But still what Mammoth? But still your opinion is the only one that matters? Yours matters more? Because you think La's review possibily prompted someone else to read it it should be here? (side note - I would think that would be THAT persons problem - not YOURS.)
It must be nice to know so much about everything and always be right.
I can't help but be irked by these self-entitled know-it-alls who act like this is NOT a site for one to review a book in their own way, their own words, with their OWN opinion. DEAL WITH IT.
(Sorry, I got the notification and had to chime in. There is far too much of this going on lately on this site and people need to get a grip IMO.)

La Petite Américaine Hey, I feel like Eva is my biggest defender. I love it. :)

message 32: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger I LOVE debating! Love it! It's one of my most favorite things about this site!
What I hate though is people who speak without thinking first. They say things they know nothing about, insult others, they come across as unintelligent and therefore why have a conversation with them, etc. It bugs the hell out of me honestly.
I have had FOUR (at least! I may be forgetting one.) fake/new (read: fake) profiles made because of reviews of mine since the end of summer. They scream, yell, insult me, tell me what I don't know, and then don't understand why I use them as fodder for me and my friends to laugh at and why I don't take them seriously.
But I've had awesome differing opinions with friends and strangers alike on here too.

message 33: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger La Petite Américaine wrote: "Hey, I feel like Eva is my biggest defender. I love it. :)"

Can you tell how much that stuff bothers me? My Mom tells me I let things affect me too much. I think she's right. ;)

La Petite Américaine That's not a bad thing ;)

message 35: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger Oh, I don't know. You should see me drive. lol

Susan You have cruelty down to a fine art. Hope the author didn't read this one.

La Petite Américaine And I hope he did :)

message 38: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger No one has ever said that about me. :(

La Petite Américaine It is quite the honor, isn't it? :)

message 40: by Eva (new) - added it

Eva Leger That's a hell of a compliment in my eyes!

Melissa Totally agree, most of the book goes nowhere. Then everyone dies.

message 42: by Ali (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ali Taking those lines out of context does make them seem stupid... but in context they are not. Also, I don't find the characters to be cardboard cut-outs at all. They live and breathe for me. The drawings that you make fun of made me cry. Not sure what you find so offensive in those, especially as they relate to the character development. Just because this wasn't for you doesn't mean the people who enjoyed it are swallowing it down as some sort of shoved down your throat bad literature that we live for... Sorry you couldn't enjoy it. For future reference - please don't put the ending of the book in your review without listing it as a spoiler. I read this before reading the book and that kind of sucked more than you could ever think the book sucked. Just don't do it. It's so rude.

La Petite Américaine For future reference you can read someone else's reviews, that could work, too. :)

message 44: by Ian (new)

Ian Susan wrote: "You have cruelty down to a fine art. Hope the author didn't read this one."

I wish someone would make a comment like that on one of my reviews. Nothing better than a succinct troll.

message 45: by Ali (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ali Before reading a book I read reviews from people rating it low, middle, and high. How can I avoid your review if you haven't marked it as a spoiler. That is the reason we can mark reviews spoilers-- so I can, as you suggest, read someone else's review. This makes sense, yes?

La Petite Américaine Nah. I do what I want. :)

La Petite Américaine Besides, if you don't want your book "spoiled" then don't read reviews until after you've finished the book.

Robbin Lol- I will read the book even after your review but I love the fact you tried so hats to be hatefully funny.

Ravenous I have to say, that although I loved the book, reading your review really reminded me of the bad parts.
I love reading the bad reviews for books that I love, anyways.

Rebecca I started this book last night. Got to page 50 and wondered, "What am I missing here? he narrator is boring, despite being death, and snails move faster than this plot. Also, since it's about the Holocost, I already know the ending."

I got onto Goodreads and read your review. I agree with every single word of it.

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