The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book was given to me as a present. It was very easy to read and I got into it very quickly. It ensured my attention from the first few pages, even if the narrative style took a little getting used to and was not without inviting several questions...why is the story told by Death and why is he so jolly when it was probably one of his more exhausting periods, during Nazi Germany during the Second World War? The answers came during the unfolding of the story.

Death tells us the story of Liesel, a little girl of 9 years old, being taken with her brother to a foster home. Their parents are accused of being communists in a Germany with little political tolerance. They are also poor, and on the journey with their mother, Liesel's brother dies. This is Death's first encounter with a girl whose book he will later read and recount to us. Liesel's life is transferred to her foster home, new parents, new friends, and a new political climate that will affect them all.

The writing is quirky, with amazingly inventive descriptions, a bizarre speech tone full of asides that conveys an 'other worldliness' suitable for Death, but also a child like quality which links us to the children and more particularly Liesel, as we take part in her world and point of view. There is a lot of love in the story, warmth and decency, amongst a dangerous Germany that seems hell bent on stamping out all of these things. We are all used to second world war stories where the Germans are our enemies, but in this book it is not the Allies against the Germans, but normal, decent human beings against the Nazi's, the ordinary v's those in power.

Once I got used to the style of writing, the cheeriness despite the background, I realised I had become quite attatched to the main characters, to Liesel and her street urchin friend Rudy and their many adventures, and her foster parents, her rough love mama, and a papa who is kindness itself. By the time Max, the Jewish fugitive is introduced, the book had tightened its grip on me and I was helpless as it squeezed tighter. There were times, the tension being built up slowly, when I was desperate to read what was happening but dreaded continuing. I knew every empathetic button was being pressed and that at some point it was going to cause me damage. Do not get me wrong, the majority of the book is full of humour, light hearted childrens accounts of getting into trouble and creating havoc. Also in observing adults and forging friendships, however unlikely. But amongst this the book cleverly alludes to something big and terrible to come, to break the blow and keep you reading. You are always aware that this is Nazi Germany and life is far from innocent.

When the blow came I broke my heart. I don't think I have read a book that upset me so much for a long time. I must have sobbed for an hour! It shook me in the best way a book can, mercilessly making me feel every emotion. As water flowed out of my face I re-read parts of the book and I am still enjoying doing that.

This book is well written, and provides an alternative slant on the Nazi war story. It is warm and full of the joy of human spirit. It illustrates that even when life is at its most awful there are stories of courage and kindness that outweigh the bad. There are also books that have the ability to move us, and it is the impact of this novel that made it wonderful to read even when it hurt. I would urge anyone to read it, and my copy is already in the hands of one of many borrowers.

If you would like to read more about the book and its author, the following website is useful...



Jena said...

So glad you enjoyed this book! I've talked to a number of people who couldn't get into it, but I loved it.

Bookfool said...

The Book Thief is one of those rare books that I could not bear to put down till I finished it. Absolutely an amazing book. I can only think of one other book that I considered that un-put-downable in the past couple of years . . . no, two: The Time Traveler by Audrey Niffeneger and Lottery by Patricia Wood.

Gentle Reader said...

I really need to read this book! It gets the most amazing reviews :)

Leah said...

Thanks jena for your comment, I loved it too.

bookfool, my other teary book recently was Time Travellers Wife too. Both lovely stories that made me feel so much. Incredible!

gentle reader, lovely to hear from you. I would recommend this book and would love to read what you think of it.

Thank you all for stopping by!

Josette said...

I love this book too...just finished reading it. The story's simply beautiful and sad. I cried too at *the* most tragic part which is near the end of the book. I'm glad I read it. :) Here's my review of it.

Anonymous said...

It has a Nicholas Sparks kind of ending where we fast forward to the end, seeing an old Liesel Meminger who looks back at her life - a rich one full of memories and experiences - and feels contented, happy. And her old friend Death is once again by her side, reunited. And he's there to walk with her through the colours of her final chapter.

I enjoyed this book and wrote a review of it also. The Book Thief prompted me to get Zusak's other book I Am Messenger which I hope to sit down and read soon.

Great review.

Leah said...

Thank you josette and readingmonk for directing me to your reviews which I read and enjoyed. One of the best bits of blogging, and indeed reading books, is sharing and exchanging views with others.
I hope you both stop by again.

Sam Houston said...

Great review. This is one of those books that I still remember vividly long after I finished it. It was one of my favorites of 2007. Markus Zusak is a real talent.

Alea said...

Thanks for entering my giveaway! I hadn't seen this cover of "The Book Thief" I'm a big cover buff! Fun to see!

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