The Book Thief – Markus Zusak – 2005 – Historical Fiction
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
The first thing to say about this book is I can see why it’s so popular. I think the book’s narrator being death is a really unique way to look at the book. There are a lot of books set at the time of the world wars, but having this type of narrator allowed for a darker overview of the situation at that time in Germany than if Liesel had been the narrator herself.
My favourite part of this novel was Zusak’s creativity – from the narrator as death to scenes such as Max’s stories for Liesel. I also thought he created really oppressive and tense scenes, in particular when the Nazi’s are searching the basement or when Liesel knows someone has seen her stealing from the fire. I watched the film before I read the book, and this is definitely an example of when I prefer the film over the book, but Zusak’s ideas are stunning.
I also thought the characters were really well developed. My favourites were Max and Papa, and I loved that the men in this book were strong without being overbearing on the women, and it was actually Mama who “wore the trousers”. I like how we saw normal people from the War period, and how someone who opposed the Nazi regime had to be in order to protect their family. I loved the relationships Liesel built with her foster parents, especially given her trepidation when she first meets them, although I do wish we could have seen more about her parents and brother.
My only real issue with this novel was that it was about 200 pages too long. I didn’t enjoy all the descriptions that the author felt the need to include, and I didn’t feel there was enough plot to sustain a book that is nearly 600 pages. I am not a fan of literary and descriptive writing in novels as it takes me away from the story, although I think if you enjoy beautiful writing you’d definitely enjoy this book.
I hesitate to say I enjoyed the ending of this book, but it was definitely well ended with clear answers for what happened to each of the main characters.
I gave this book 3/5. I really enjoyed the plot, but I just didn’t get on with Markus Zusak’s writing – it’s too flowery for me.