03 January 2011

Book Review: The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher/Year: Knopf/2007
Date Finished: 24 December 2010
Source/Format: Bought/Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading, Hogwarts Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions

The Short and Sweet of It
In The Book Thief a young girl who steals books fascinates Death, giving him a little reprieve from his busy work schedule in Nazi Germany. The plot line is fascinating and Zusak artfully weaves the threads of this story, but I didn't fall in love with the book the way many did.

A Bit of a Ramble
Narrated by Death, The Book Thief certainly takes on a unique perspective. Using the point of view of a non-grim Grim Reaper to discuss World War II was a quite clever idea on Zusak's part, and he writes the introspective and slightly removed narration well. The use of a non-human narrator allowed the major themes of the story to be sort of smacked in your face. Death could actually articulate the themes; they didn't have to be suggested. Many times Death comments on the polarity and complexity of humans - and of course the story primarily revolves around this theme, so the relevant anecdotes from the story are plenty. But who needs the subtlety of illustrations when the ideas can be verbally expressed? As Death says:
I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

While I adore the sentiment, I did get a bit turned off by the persistent referencing of this one (possibly self (or at least species)-aggrandizing) idea. I can think of three distinct times in the novel where this idea was directly stated.

The verbosity of the book is really the only problem I had. I felt like the book could have lost 100 pages or so and packed a much bigger punch, possibly cutting out some of the repetitive insights into humanity as a whole and maybe even removing some of the foreshadowing (well foretelling really; not much shadowy about just flat out telling you what's going to happen).

I do not want to give the opinion, however, that I did not enjoy this book. It is a fascinating read with a unique narration and structure, important themes, and absolutely detailed and eccentric characters. Going into the story, I was convinced it would be a Buy based on some of the reviews I read; it only took about two chapters for me to know it wasn't quite going to live up to my expectations (damn expectations). Once I got into the story though, once I met the intriguing and appealing cast, I found myself much more entertained.

I do wonder how much of my reading experience was affected by expectations - and how much was affected by the numerous WWII books I've read prior to this one. This was my first experience reading a work of fiction centered around the holocaust. Perhaps this didn't wow me because of my past experience with real accounts of the time. Who knows?

I leave you with what I found to be a great summation of the story, and a great way to start the story.
It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors—an expert at being left behind.
It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:
  • A girl
  • Some words
  • An accordionist
  • Some fanatical Germans
  • A Jewish fist fighter
  • And quite a lot of thievery
I saw the book thief three times.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

You've Gotta Read This; Find Your Next Book Here; Care's Online Book Club; Fizzy Thoughts; Lisa the Nerd; The Englishist; Book Blogs Search Engine;

Question:  Do you think reading a work of fiction about a subject you typically read nonfiction on affects the reading experience?


  1. I have yet to read this one, but I know it's one that everyone loves. I go back and forth with how much I want to read it with the various review. Foretelling really bothers me though.

    I think that if you have read extensive non-fiction on a subject, it will affect the way you read fiction one way or the other since there is the perception of what you know to be "right". I just read a book on whose subject matter I am familiar, and though the book was entertaining it was difficult for me to dismiss things in the story that didn't ring true, and I think it would have been less of a problem if I had been less familiar. I wanted to let go and enjoy it, byt I just kept going back to that.

  2. I have to admit I was kind of meh about this one. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. I barely remember it and I only read it like 18 months ago.

  3. This is really interesting to read - I've only read glowing reviews about this book so it's interesting to see that it might not be that perfect. I do agree that perhaps with multiple readings in non-fiction, it is really difficult to read something that is fiction, especially when it's centered around WWII and especially the Holocaust. I am planning to download this onto the Nook. I will definitely bear your review in mind, though!

  4. I didn't like it as much as everyone else either! I found the narrator kind of annoying.

  5. I have read such good things about this book, and lately, it seems like everyone is reading it! I do want to read it, and I have had it on my shelf for ages, but I think I might have to remember to temper myself with some of your comments. Thanks for the great review on this one. I will have to let you know what I think of it when I am done!

  6. I do appreciate that you didn't just squee over it, but were honest about your like about it. It sure does get a lot of buzz, that's for sure.

    Here's my review: http://lisaisbusynerding.blogspot.com/2009/02/book-thief.html

  7. It was interesting to read a novel with sympathetic German WWII-era characters, as well as Death as a sympathetic narrator. I actually really liked the Death-as-narrator conceit, which I know was the major problem for folks who didn't like the book. And I also really liked the central message - the power of words. Nice review, Trisha!

  8. I am definitely waiting to read this one, maybe this year, damn expectations, I agree. I enjoyed your review, I scared I may not like this one, ugggh.

  9. I'm bummed you didn't fall in love with it the way I did. I've probably read 40 (?) WWII books, most of them non-fiction, and I have found generally that I prefer the true stories. But this one didn't bother me, in fact I found it precious. The foreshadowing, I thought, was a little mischievous, like the narrator. It would foretell, but still left you hanging, and tease you a little. I did listen to the audio, which was excellently done. Maybe that contributed to my love of this book!

  10. Really great review. I had gotten about 40 pages into this but decided to read it for my 2011 list! Excited to keep going with it.

  11. I didn't really like this book either. The problem is that I could see it was well-executed and that it was doing something interesting, but I was just too far removed from the characters. So I guess my biggest problem was with the narration? I don't know.

    Anyway, I reviewed it: http://theenglishist.com/2010/04/08/book-review-the-book-thief/

  12. I'm a junkie for wordplay, so the wordiness of the book made it awesome for me -- but I can totally see how it would get annoying. Some of Zusak's other books are less wordy but still very emotionally impactful. Perhaps try another?

  13. I loved this one--it's probably the book I recommend to people the most. BUT, I can see how it is gimmicky and if nothing else I think that could be a huge turn-off to readers.

    I actually re-read it this year for book club and wondered how my thoughts would compare and I have to say I loved it every bit as much. Though--do agree about 100 pages could be cut.

  14. I do think if you read a lot of non fiction on a topic and then try a fiction that you are going to get a "ehh" feel... I have no examples myself... just how I think I would feel.

    My favorite part of this book is the Wordshaker story... that is how I named the on line book club. :)

  15. I really loved this book when I read it, but I went in without too many expectations and I think that helped. I actually really liked the fortelling parts of it because of how much I was still emotionally impacted by the events when they happened.

  16. This might be one of my favorite books ever. I read it four years ago and it still affects me. I went into it with very few expectations, though, as I'd only heard it mentioned briefly, and was blown away. I'm glad you liked it, at least, if you didn't quite love it!

  17. I admit to being part of the masses that loved this book, but I can also completely understand why other people wouldn't. It is one that I think I want to reread, but as with many books that affected me so deeply, I always wonder if it would have the same impact on me as the last time...

  18. I just adored this book ... it was one of my top books of the year. I fell in love from the first page and never stopped loving it. I didn't have too many expectations going in ... so perhaps that helped.


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