The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, copyright 2005.
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: I fell for the hype
I am not one who usually falls for hype, but I made an exception in the case of The Book Thief. I really couldn’t help myself; I very much enjoy stories set during the Second World War and especially those that take place in the Third Reich. I was also intrigued by the fact that the story was narrated by Death. I had heard some grumblings about this being silly, but I thought it to be highly original; in the end, I found Death to be a terrific narrator, reliable if nothing else.
Liesel Meminger is nine-years-old in 1939 as Germany teeters on the brink of war. With her brother dead and her parents scared of being sent off to concentration camps, Liesel is sent to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching. While she is distraught to be leaving behind her old life, Liesel soon comes to love her new family and gets lost in the distractions of Himmel St. Her foster-mom curses like a sailor, the local gangs pass their time raiding apple orchards, and Rudy, the kid next door, has a serious Jesse Owens complex. In the face of the nightmares of her traumatic past and the increasingly traumatic nature of the present, Liesel takes solace in her books and does her best to spread the joy. Whether hiding a Jew in their basement or seeking refuge in an air-raid shelter, the residents of Himmel St. discover that, as they wait for death, the best escape from the reality of war is to be found in fiction.
The story is very intricate, but, despite that fact, I failed to find anything particularly deep in it. The characters were extraordinarily lovable, but, in the end, Zusak didn’t do a very good job of soliciting my sympathy for them. Even though the story doesn’t have a particularly happy ending, I didn’t find myself particularly sad when all was said and done.
You might notice that I have failed to mention the words “book thief” up to this point. This is mostly because I don’t know how important the concept really is. I found the entire element to be irrelevant. Liesel is the book thief, that fact is established very quickly, but, to be quite honest, it didn’t really seem to matter how the books were procured. What was more important was the saving grace that is literacy. The story speaks to the power of books, their inspiration and what a tremendous distraction they can be in a time of crisis.
In some way I feel this is kind of a half-assed review, or maybe it’s just a YA review for a YA novel. Even though The Book Thief has developed a much wider audience, it is still undeniably YA fiction. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is truly fantastic, but that’s where my praise for this work ends; nothing else about The Book Thief really stands out in my mind. The prose were not particularly pretty and the character development was not anything extraordinary. Having said all this, one might question whether Zusak really required over five hundred pages to tell the story. To be fair, I think he did; at no point did I feel that I was reading filler, but at the same time, I can’t, in the entire of this chunkster, find anything worth quoting.
As truly awful as I may have made this book sound, the truth is that the story by itself is good enough to make this a worthwhile read. While I didn’t find anything profound in its pages, I have no regrets about reading it and wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend it to anyone.
RATING: Hard to Bleat