Friday, 11 June 2010

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

star1 star1
Genre: Historical
Published: 2005
Pages: 550

You see correctly. I have given everyone’s favourite book a unwholesome two stars. Usually it is awarded five stars and heaps of praise so I thought that I’d redress the balance by saying that actually, I didn’t like it. I’m sure there’s others like me out there. (Hello?)

It’s one of those books that you always seem to get recommended at some point, followed by such rave reviews that claim it’s the best book they have ever read, it made them cry etc etc etc. 
Goodreads description:
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . . 

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. 

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.


***There will be spoilers***

I cannot say that I ever felt attracted to this book, it never called out to me from the shelves despite it being a world war two young adult novel – something I’d usually be interested in. So it was with great reluctance, I admit, that I read it.

So what, perhaps you all are thinking did I not like about this absolutely fantastic book?

I did not like the weir omnipresentness Death. I felt as if I was being dictated to how to read the book and how to feel for the characters. The idea of Death narrating is admittedly and interesting one, a different view point in on a horrid time in history. I just didn’t like it.

Why should I care for Liesel? Because her brother died? Because she had to say goodbye to her mother? Many brothers died, many people lost their parents so why should I care about this girl? Should I care because she couldn’t read and so desperately wanted to, so much so she took to stealing books?

Why should I care for their hidden jew Max? What made him special or interesting? I found the characters to be very wooden and not fleshed out enough for my taste. I like nitty-gritty realism, I don’t like being told how sorry I should feel for these characters especially when they do not feel real enough for my imagination. 

I think it would have made a better novella rather then a five hundred page tome, that didn’t contain enough to justify so many pages without becoming repetitive.

I didn’t think it showed enough of the effects of the war, nothing that made it more interesting then other books of the genre I have read before. Zusak had a good opportunity to show a different side of world war two, from a German side – but for me he failed because he just didn’t deliver enough he didn’t make it real or take me into those people’s lives.

The ending too, where practically everyone died – just felt so contrived. As if to say, now what else can we do to make everyone feel sorry for Liesel who has lost her parents and brother and will now be left all alone in this world?
I dislike the overuse of metaphors and similes – and Zusak uses them practically back to back in this book. However, whilst I did not enjoy this aspect of his writing, I also admired him for it.
I cannot find the direct quote at the moment, I wish I could – but the one time Death actually came and said something out right about the war that wasn’t hidden behind all these metaphors and similes he said “but let’s not get to metaphorical about this” or something to that effect. Very, very clever.  Quite sly, in fact. Can you really trust a narrator who happens to be Death? 

That part really did make me stand back and appreciate this book, even though I just could not connect to it. The language was beautiful, even though I did not like it as a whole. It really made me think that this story, narrated by Death felt like a paper mask – that these characters represented everybody in Germany – every Jew, every ordinary person, every displaced child. 

Some books grip you and some books don’t. Sometimes there is a reason for that, and sometimes there isn’t. As I’ve said before –  between a book and a reader there is an invisible connection on a emotional, psychological or even spiritual level and if that is just not there, then there isn’t much you can do about that.

I gave this book two stars and not one stars because I don’t think it’s a bad book, it was just not for me. I have I am the Messenger to read, which looks very good indeed so I am prepared to give him a second chance


  1. There are others out there who didn't enjoy this one, so don't feel too alone. I personally loved it, mostly for the writing. I love wordplay, so I really enjoyed the similes and metaphors.

  2. I agree! I agree! This book was one of the hardest I ever had to read. I literally pushed myself to read it because I was sure I was missing something that everyone else was seeing. I just couldn't see it. Well anyway, just my two cents worth. I am coming over from bloggiesta! Good Luck this weekend!

  3. Oh I'm glad I'm not alone.

  4. Oh my god, I gave the book 5 out of 5 stars and yeah, it made me cry. Haha! Gonna continue reading your review now....
    I enjoyed reading your point of view and why you didn't like it. Death as a narrator was particularly interesting though very foreboding. Death is depressing but it can be humorous in the book. Zusak managed that part well, I think.

    Here's my review of this book (though it's all very gushy about the story!) :) I linked it to your review here too.

  5. Thanks Josette hehe!

    Sorry Misty but I can't help it.

    And I didn't even shed one tear! I know terrible and I cry easy at books too.



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