Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Historical
Release Date: March 14, 2006
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books
Pages: 550
Format: Paperback 
Literary awards: National Jewish Book Award, Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children's Literature (2007), Prijs van de Kinder- en Jeugdjury Vlaanderen (2009), Printz Honor (2007), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2007), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2007), Zilveren Zoen (2008), Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (2009), ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2007), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2010)
Read from Janaury 21 - February 7, 2012
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite

Summary: 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 Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

One word: wow. This book is beyond amazing. It's one of those books that leave you speechless right after finishing, and will continue to stay with you even as time flies by. All I could say at that moment was I'm finished. Wow. *wipes tears* Wow. Just wow. *blows nose* For real. It touched my heart and left an imprint on my soul. A new favorite for me. 

The Book Thief in Thai translation
I was reading this book two weeks before my midterm exams. So after two days of reading it, I had to put it on hold to study. I was able to continue reading after the exams were over. So you could say that I'd been reading this book for 6 days, not 17.

I've known The Book Thief since its publication in 2006. I feel stupid for not having been able read it sooner. I remember when I visited the national book fair 6 years ago, The Book Thief had just been published and was later translated into Thai and on sale for the first time there. I bought a copy. It came with its own nice paper bag that looked just like the cover, with gold print and all. I read the first chapter and then that was it. I wasn't much of a reader back then, nor was I any good at English. I'd promised myself that one day I would read the English original and understand it, and that happened just now, six years after the promise. I'm so glad I got to finish it and appreciate its beauty in its original text. I'm going to pick up the Thai translation one day and read to see if the translation lives up to the original at all.

“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.” The Book Thief tells a very complicated yet simple story. I don't quite know how to tell you this. This amazingly well-written book is narrated by Death himself during the World War II. And a beautiful narration it is, too. The book revolves around a young German girl named Liesel Meminger, whom Death calls The Book Thief. Liesel stole her first book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, when her brother was being buried in the snow, while they were traveling to Munich to live with their foster parents. She couldn't even read back then, but she stole it because she knew it would remind her of her brother and the train ride with their mother. Her foster parents are Hans and Rosa Huberman. Hans is a very fatherly person. He loves Liesel. He teaches her to read, plays her the accordion, and reads with her when she wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, after dreaming of the train and her brother again and again. Rosa, on the other hand, is a rude woman. She swears all the time. She also loves Liesel, but she doesn't show it. Liesel is getting used to the life on Himmel Street, and she makes some friends. Her best friend is Rudy Steiner, the boy next door, whose favorite thing to say to her is, "How about a kiss, Saumensch?", which gets rejected every time. Liesel is getting used to the life on Himmel Street until one day a Jew shows up before their house. Max Vandenburg, son of a friend of Hans' who once saved his life in the war, is kept hidden by the Hubermans in their basement. The Hubermans love him and care for him, still they can't shake the fear that the Nazi might find out there's a Jew in their basement. 

There's not a thing I don't like about the story, but right now let's talk about the narration. It's very unique and interesting (at least to me), because I have never read a book entirely narrated by intangibles before (Just in Case by Meg Rosoff is narrated partly by Fate and partly by third person point of view). Moreover, Death in this story isn't just death. Death has a cynical personality, and is haunted by humans. He's weary of his work, and he tries to understand humans. I've never looked at death that way before, but more like something sinister that loves taking away someone we love, so this really opened up my eyes. As someone who dreads and hates death, I think it's nice to see things through Death's eyes. It kind of made me think that maybe Death doesn't want to take anything away from us, but he has to. Just like the sun can't help but rise and shine every day. However, I might add that it didn't exactly make me feel any less negatively about death. It's just very interesting. So very interesting. I also loved that Death is impatient. He doesn't like mysteries: he will tell you the ending before you get there. The interesting thing is that it doesn't spoil the story at all. If anything, it enriches it, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. You know what, but not how, and you're dying to know the how. I guess it's not about the destination, it's all about the ride.

One of the rare things happened to me with The Book Thief: I loved the characters. Why is this a big deal? It is a big deal because I don't tend to have a lasting strong feeling about characters in standalone books (the only exception being Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and they don't stay with me. But not with this book. I loved the book lust in Liesel Meminger, just as much as I loved how she struggled to get over the death of her brother. I loved Rudy Steiner's ever-present starvation, his how-about-a-kiss-saumensch, his Jesse Owens event, his blond hair, his dusty bomb-hit lips. The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you. Just thinking about him makes my eyes water. That boy is so wonderful. I also loved Hans Huberman, his accordion, his teaching Liesel to read, his staying up with her to get her through the night. He's a heavenly person. His calmness, kindness, his love. Rosa Huberman, however rude and tactless and wardrobe-like looking, is also lovable. She takes a Jew into her house without asking a single question or a having a single doubt. She reminds me of my mother, who doesn't talk very nicely, but whose love can be so great it can probably move a mountain. I loved the Jewish fist-fighter Max Vandenburg who always feels guilty about "having to put you all through this." I loved this guy because he dreams of fighting with Hitler, because he has written two books for Liesel, because he never asks for anything, because he makes me cry the most, because he is taken away, because he comes back, because.. because... just because.

You know, when you love a book this much, it's hard to find anything to say at all. You know what you say is not going to do the book justice. 

These characters, these people, this story. They'll stay in my heart for a long, long time. 

I don't know how he did it. Markus Zusak, I mean. 

Speaking of whom. His writing is extraodinary. Delightful. Magical. Reading his beautifully-strung-together words is pure joy. The words blew me away. I don't know how to explain it. They made me laugh, and they also moved me to tears. Heart-wrenching stuff. The power of words, indeed. Amazing what it can do to you, don't you think? 

I have a little advice for those of you reading this review who hasn't yet read this masterpiece of a book: DROP EVERYTHING NOW. READ THIS BOOK. 

Here goes my heart ♥.


This review is also posted on Goodreads.


  1. Thanks for linking this in. If you pop back in a few days there should be a lovely collection of book links. I have just signed up to follow you. A follow back to Carole's Chatter would be wonderful – or are you already following? Cheers

  2. Love your header....I loved THE BOOK THIEF.

    THANKS for your post.

    Stopping by from Carole's Books You Loved Post.

    Silver's Reviews

  3. Just a note to let you know that your link in to Books You Loved: October was showcased in the November edition which has just posted. Would love to see another contribution from you this month! This is the link - Books You Loved November Edition

  4. Loved the book thief, loved the process the father taught his son to rEad, with paint


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