Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

At my library, The Book Thief is constantly checked out. Now I know why. This text is worth a reread someday. If you think you’ve read every version of WWII there is to be told, I ask: have you seen it from Death’s perspective? Have you seen from a German’s point of view? Zusak takes on the challenge to present Nazi Germany from within and to show the challenges for those opposed to the Fuhrer. The story is narrated by Death, who tells us about Liesel, a young German girl with a passion for books, her family and friends. As the story unfolds, Liesel understands the power of words and how the Third Reich uses them to break apart her family and everything she loves.

Zusak’s writing style is enjoyable. He gives Death a unique voice and personality. Death is constantly breaking the narrative with short facts and asides about characters, events or his personal observations. These interruptions are a fun part of the narrative and keep the story interesting. I enjoyed how many chapters begin with a teaser, a fact or future event yet to unfold, that Death uses to get us interested in how the story will play out. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. (Zusak 243)

What an interesting commentary on story-telling – from Death. Normally, I do not like narrators that directly address the reader. It is often tacky and takes me out of the story. But Zusak caries it off beautifully because, I think, Death has such a real presence in the plot and his voice is so real. And moments as the one quoted remind us that this story is already over and he is telling us this in retrospect, which allows him some authority to talk to us about it. Zusak uses nonstandard English, meaning incomplete sentences and “sporadic” punctuation. I don’t count myself among the “grammar police” (notice my many “mistakes”) but I think it is hard to pull nonstandard English off and make the book strong and the reading experience fluid (thinking of Cormac McCarthy who is brilliant at doing this). Zusak does a fine job but some incompletes did throw me off a couple times. Overall though, it worked, especially as Death’s voice. No one talks in complete sentences all the time and it made him seem real. I also enjoyed the spatial aspect of the text – how some lines stand alone and other pieces are centered. It made for an interesting reading experience.

This book is dehydrating. Literally. I cried practically nonstop through the last fifty pages. Prior to that, I didn’t cry at all. It just all happened so fast, the ending that is. I couldn’t put the book down. This is a thick novel, with plenty of time to develop the characters, yet it never became stagnate. The Book Thief is definitely one worth reading.
Publisher: Knopf, 2006     Recommended Age: 14 and up (the reading and content is pretty heavy for younger readers)
Rating: 5 Stars                   Pages: 552               Source: IC Public Library


  1. I've been avoiding this one due to the length and the death-as-narrator thing, but I'm sure I'll get around to reading it at some point. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I always wondered what this was about, sounds interesting. I love history!

  3. I love this book so much. I completely agree with what you say about Death as the narrator, the voice is one of my favorite parts of the book. Some of the passages are just so beautiful to read.

  4. Ali - I had put it off because of the length, too, choosing another book for a school assignment in my Teaching YA Lit class (that class was fun!). But I'm glad I kept The Book Thief on my TBR.

  5. Wonderful review! I purchased this book awhile ago & it is sitting patiently on my TBR shelf. I am looking forward to reading it! :)