Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Everyone I know has read this book and is raving about it. I generally really love books about books, so after some hesitation (I was slightly put off initially by the fact that the book is narrated by Death), I purchased a copy.

To put it very generally, this is a WWII book. It focuses on the life of a young orphan girl named Liesel during the war. What’s special about Liesel is that she is a book thief. She steals randomly at first, starting with “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, and then more methodically. Her first stolen book can be argued to be the first thing that has drawn Death to Liesel. In effect, they are both book thieves, which is seen at the very end. Liesel is a lovely girl who, like many of us, falls in love with words. When she meets Max, who is a broken shell of a person, she tries to bring him back to life with the help of her love for the written word, which I could really relate to. When I was reading their scenes, it felt like I was reading about one adult comforting another, not a kid trying to help an adult. I knew that Liesel was very young at the time whereas Max was in his twenties, but it was impossible not to ship them. Perhaps it’s Zusak’s brilliant writing – the way he wrote people’s relationships in this book was the best aspect of it.

The question that is to be asked is whether I enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Please hear me out:

Do I think Zusak is a bad writer? Not at all – I think he’s great.

Did I not enjoy or relate to the characters? I did – I think that most of them are fantastic.

Was the plot not for me – I wouldn’t say so, since I tend to enjoy any kind of historical fiction.

So what’s the problem you ask?

I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I couldn’t get used to the very unusual narrative voice and the time jumps. Or perhaps it’s because I know very few words in German and in my opinion, one has to at least have some understanding of a foreign language if it is featured prominently in a book. I’ve got the same problem with “War and Peace” – I never actually finished it because my French isn’t great. Either way, despite being a wonderful work of fiction, “The Book Thief” was just not for me. However, don’t let it put you off – Markus Zusak is a brilliant writer and his characters are very relatable. I can easily see why this book would become someone’s favourite. My rating – 7/10.

Favourite character and why:

Hans and Liesel – they are both wonderful and relatable people who get a lot of development. Hans’ bravery and compassion are what makes him a wonderful father figure for Liesel.

Most relatable character and why:

Liesel – I loved books just as much as she did when I was her age, and I also spent a lot more time hanging out with boys rather than girls, and doing the stereotypical boy things. I’d have loved to have a friend like Rudy though!

Character who gets the most development:

Rosa

Favourite relationship:

Liesel/Hans, Liesel/Rudy, Liesel/Max – if there is one thing Zusak is good at, it’s portraying human relationships. I can’t pick a single favourite!

Favourite quote:

“A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugliness and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still, they have one thing that I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die”. 

Dreamcast

Hans: Jim Broadbent/Geoffrey Rush

Liesel: Kerry Ingram/Sophie Nelisse

Rudy: Thomas Brodie-Sandster

Max: Ben Schnetzer – perfect choice

Rosa: Emily Watson

Recommendations: 

You might like “The Book Thief” if you liked:

– “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith;

– “The Diary of a Young Girl”, by Anne Frank;

– “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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