Lyn's Reviews > The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
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Very good.

Having Death as the narrator and having as a central protagonist a young girl in Nazi Germany make The Book Thief by Markus Zusak stand out from the crowd of books about Europe during World War II; this book is good not so much because of the story, but how the author tells it.

In the Book Thief, Zusak uses a rich, multi-layered blend of allegory, metaphor and symbolism to create amidst the dirt and depression of Germany during the late 30s and 40s a stark vision of historical and philosophical thoughtfulness. This international best seller features a healthy sense of dramatic irony, with the German setting and the strong use of script-like construction becoming reminiscent, vaguely, of Bertold Brecht, especially the sympathetic depiction of Marxists.

By using a surreal personification as a narrator, the author has softened the blow of the harsh setting and thus, incredibly, makes the characters more accessible and makes the reader approach an empathy with them that may otherwise be unavailable. I am reminded of Anthony Burgess’ comments about A Clockwork Orange and how he created the Nadsat language not just to add depth to his narration, but also to minimize the brutality of his story. In much the same way, Zusak has used Death as a narrator to ironically assuage the viciousness of the everyday life that Liesel and the Hubermanns experience in their quiet section of Nazi extremism.

Death is not just a narrator but also one of the characters. Telling a story from his vantage, about a group of Germans on Himmel (Heaven) Street amidst the moral flagellation of the Third Reich Zusak creates a fecundity of symbolic structure. I found myself getting lost in metaphoric possibilities. What did he mean by that? What could that symbolize? Yet the author does not over generalize or make universal declarations, his approach is far more subtle, and again Brechtian in it’s demystification for dramatic realism; the reader comes to know Liesel Meminger, not as an ultra-real snapshot, nor as a idealized German everygirl, but as an actress in a play, knowable and probable, but still a dramatic portrayal. Through the eyes of Death, Liesel enters from stage left and we follow her through stereotypical misadventures made hackneyed in the World War II genre, but also through the good, the bad, and the ugly that is histrionic enough to be believable and understandable as an expression of real life during Nazi Germany.

This is still, though, after all, a representative portrayal of an ugly time. The reader should not look for a Disney moment, there are few. Zusak peppers his chronicle with some scenes of comic relief, but he never lets you forget when and where the action takes place. Expectations of Hollywood commercial breaks will come and go unnoticed on this trip; and all to the credit of its creator, who has crafted that most rare of accomplishments: a commercial success and at the same time an artistic expression.

A very singular literary experience and an enjoyable journey with a young writer from whom we have much to expect.

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Reading Progress

June 8, 2013 – Started Reading
June 8, 2013 – Shelved
June 18, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-32 of 32 (32 new)

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April Cote I loved this book.


message 2: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Yep, it was a good one


message 3: by Apatt (last edited Mar 21, 2015 06:11AM) (new)

Apatt Saw the movie, I think that spoiled the book for me now!. If you like Death as a narrator you may like Death as the protagonist: Mort and On a Pale Horse. Though these are much less serious books.


message 4: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn I enjoyed them both very much. I will likely not see the film, I rarely do after I have read the book, kind of spoils my impression


Aj the Ravenous Reader This is brilliant and spot on, Lyn. That gif is also very appropriate.^^


message 6: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Thanks, AJ, I thought this book was amazing.


Aj the Ravenous Reader Lyn wrote: "Thanks, AJ, I thought this book was amazing."

My pleasure and yes, this book is amazing!^^ I'm assuming you saw the movie too?


message 8: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn I have not, I have a funny thing … once I read a book, I rarely see the film, no hard fast rule, just I guess the director's vision may be different than mine, and I like my vision of what the writer conveyed


Aj the Ravenous Reader Lyn wrote: "I have not, I have a funny thing … once I read a book, I rarely see the film, no hard fast rule, just I guess the director's vision may be different than mine, and I like my vision of what the writ..."

That's interesting because I have a funny thing too but which is opposite yours. Once I see the film, I rarely read the book. I like your funny thing better though. It makes a whole lot more sense.^^


message 10: by Lyn (last edited Mar 26, 2015 07:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Ha! thanks AJ


Aj the Ravenous Reader Lyn wrote: "Ha! thanks AJ"

You're welcome!^^


message 12: by JDR (new) - added it

JDR i DNFd this book a while back but plan to pick it back up. Although I strongly believe my favorite zusak novel will still be I Am the Messenger which is my favorite novel ever


message 13: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn I'd like to read that


message 14: by Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ (last edited Aug 10, 2015 06:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin Great review Lyn! :) Love the Reaper too! He portrays the narrator very well I must say :)


message 15: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Thanks Melissa!


message 17: by Pramod (new)

Pramod Nair A great review, Lyn...


message 18: by R.a. (new)

R.a. Wow! Not only a descriptive review; also, a remarkably incisive one. I want to read this now, (whereas previously, I felt I had to read it). Much thanks, Lyn!


message 19: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Thanks guys, it's really a remarkable work, I want to read more from him


message 20: by cameron (new) - added it

cameron This is certainly a good read and hopefully an up and coming writer. However, one should be very careful when choosing books about the Holocaust and Jews during WW2. It's my opinion, except Perhaps when introducing the subject matter to young people, that there are so many non fiction books written and lived by Holocaust survivors and their families, that to make up stories and have them turn out OK or not, solely because of the author' decision....is not necessary or even wanted. Adults should
Choose from unending true tales of love horror escape, madness thrills betrayal war death fear courage surprise friendship......from the true tales. There is never a reason to make up a story on this subject. Now saying that, I read this and several other very popular non fiction on this subject in the last year. At best, if you're interested, read
More of the non fiction.


message 21: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Great comments cameron thanks


message 22: by Vito (new) - added it

Vito Heck I agree that the author uses Death no only as a narrator but as a character. Zusak gave death a hole new perspective and how Death as an individual might view humans. Death might not be a bad thing after all.


message 23: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn ;)


Jenna Moquin Great review! I also thought this book had one of the best final sentences I'd ever read.


Sandy Loved this book!


message 26: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn ;)


message 27: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Great review. The powerful and often disturbing story is one thing but the way it is presented makes this book a favorite.


message 28: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Thanks Adam


message 29: by Eric (new)

Eric Hausman-Houston Great to read your take. Have to admit, death as narrator didn't really work for me. Was glad when that aspect lightened up in the book, but you've helped me understand why this has been such a loved book. Thanks!


message 30: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Thanks Eric


Brian I adore your reviews. You seem to have one on every book that i come across on here. Amazing.


message 32: by Lyn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lyn Thanks Brian!


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