Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Travel the World: Australia: The Book Thief


Zusak, Markus. 2006. The Book Thief.

The Book Thief may just be the hardest book I've ever tried to review. It is beautiful. Though it can be ugly. It is intense. It is powerful. It is memorable. The first thing you should know about The Book Thief? It is narrated by Death. This is fitting in many ways since the setting is Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Death is the narrator, and he never lets you forget it. But there are many players--many characters--in the story that Death is relating to his audience all these years later. One of them is a girl, Liesel, and is known by Death as 'the book thief.' These thefts provide some structure to the text. (The structure is one of the odd things about the Book Thief. It isn't chronological. Death doesn't tell a story traditionally. He has his own way of jazzing it up, arranging it so it suits his needs and purposes.) The language, the style, is unique. I think it is written in such a way that you either really love it or you really don't. (It's written in such a way that you could almost open it to any page, and find a sentence or two or a whole paragraph that you want to just lift out and let resonate with you for a time.)

This is how it begins:

First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: you are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. (3)

It continues:

People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me, it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. As I've been alluding to, my one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I've been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me? Who could step in while I take a break in your stock-standard resort-style vacation destination, whether it be tropical or of the ski trip variety? The answer, of course, is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious, deliberate decision--to make distraction my vacation. Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors. Still it's possible that you might be asking, why does he even need a vacation? What does he need a distraction from? Which brings me to my next point. It's the leftover humans. The survivors. They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs. Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. 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 fish fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. (4-5)

Before the story gets underway, he invites the reader along for the journey:

Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt, an immense leap of an attempt--to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it. Here it is. One of a handful. The Book Thief. If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I'll show you something. (14-15)

There is depth, substance, to these words, to this story. The descriptions. The details. The powerful sway of the words whether they're describing the beauty of love and family and friendship or capturing the ugly heaviness of hate, anger, and death. It's not an easy story to read. It's full of emotions. It's full of words. It's a book that at it's very heart and soul captures humanity in all its depths--the good, the bad, the ugly. Here is a book that captures what it means to be human.
One of the most memorable passages for me (224-236), and I hope this isn't much of a spoiler--is the hand drawn--hand written--portion written by "Max" for Liesel. I find it so powerful in its simplicity. So hauntingly beautiful. There is a second story specially written for Liesel by Max, this second one is found on pps 445-450. This is how that one begins, "There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life: 1) He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else. 2) He would make himself a small, strange mustache. 3) He would one day rule the world." (445)

12 comments:

Carl V. 3:14 PM  

This is a book my wife adored and she is desperately wanting me to read this so we can discuss it. No doubt I will get around to it sometime in the near future. Love all the different book covers for it.

Nicole B. 4:30 PM  

I was tempted to read it a while back, but I passed. Perhaps I'll go read it, though... -think-

Suey 8:20 AM  

Wow! Great review. I talked about it on my post today, but I didn't even come close to doing it justice. You've done a much, much better job!

Les 8:50 PM  

This was my #1 favorite book in 2006. It's probably my #1 favorite book of all time. I love all the passages you quoted. I need to read the book again.

Go here for my review, if interested.

Laura 11:03 PM  

I loved this book. It was such a winner for me, that I bought three copies to give to friends and relatives to read, and the audiobook for my husband to listen to when he travels. Definitely a keeper and one to recommend to other readers.

BookGal 12:29 AM  

I'm about half way through it right now. I'm amazed how quickly I'm reading it. The style is interesting but I love how he writes.

Framed 11:28 AM  

This was definitely my favorite book last year. I think the choice of the narrator was sheer genius. It would be interesting to listen to this on audio. Great review.

Maw Books 12:37 AM  

This was an amazing review. Thanks! This was one of the best books that I've read in a long time. Worth the read.

Sondra Santos LaBrie 5:30 PM  

FYI - Trudy White's (the illustrator of The Book Thief) Could You? Would You? will be featured on The Martha Stewart Show February 27th.

Sponge for Knowledge 12:43 PM  

Your book review for this was so perfect-- and I definitely understand the difficulties that come with reviewing it! But you definitely did it justice.

I loved this book too-- and I have to mention that listening to it as an audiobook was also very powerful. The narrator was incredible-- his voice rich and deep. I could imagine a Grim Reaper image reading the book to me. Too, though, he helped me with the German pronunciations that I may have tripped on a bit.

Great review!

Anonymous,  4:13 PM  

I loved your review of The Book Thief. I recently read the book and was so "taken" with it that I kept telling my husband snatches of the story. He became so interested that he read it and loved it just as much as I did. It has become one of my favorite books along with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer--another great story of the WWII era.




--an

Jaquetta M. 7:15 PM  

I love this book and your review as well! I think the book being narrated by death was a great touch on the Author's part. As a young adult, I find the storyline a bit conflicting but also interesting. Every character is perfectly molded and fit into the book to correspond directly with their words, and actions. I actually cried watching the movie. Great Review ♥

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

Pageloads Counter

Search Book Blogs Search Engine

The background is based on a background I found here...with some small adjustments on my part so it would work with the template.
Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP