Must-Read Books–The Book Thief

Hey everyone. Things have been busy for me lately, but I am still working on getting my blog a little more put together. So please be patient with me. In the meantime, I would like to share an amazing book with you. It’s definitely a must-read!

(Book image source)

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Published March 14th 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 550 pages
Paperback: 552 pages

This review may contain spoilers. Read at your OWN risk.

Most of my Goodreads friends had really high ratings for this one and it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a read when I saw it at the library. I was warned that I would need a box of kleenex at the end. They weren’t wrong.

The Book Thief revolves around a young German girl named Liesel Meminger. The setting is around War World 2/The Holocaust in Germany. Liesel is a character who has many tragic things happen to her, and even though these things affect her greatly, she is a strong person.

When she is young, Liesel’s mother transports her and her brother to a new home because her parents are Communists, another thing Hitler despises. On the way, Liesel’s younger brother dies and Liesel steals her first book, even though she can’t read. She soon arrives to the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her new foster parents.

While Rosa is on the harsh side, Hans is very gentle, to the point of sitting near Liesel while she sleeps and has nightmares about her brother. Later on, the Hubermanns get a new arrival to their family–a lonely Jewish man named Max. With Jews being marched through the streets to concentration camps, Max must be hidden in the basement.

At first, I wasn’t so sure about The Book Thief. The writing was different from what I am used to, and I had to go online to make sure my thoughts were correct, that it was Death narrating. Indeed, it was Death narrating. Huh. At first I wasn’t so sure I liked Death’s narration, but he grew on me. The only thing that bugged me about Death’s narration was how he would spoil what was going to happen, then leave you hanging for a while. Now that’s just cruel.

The one thing that makes The Book Thief so amazing is the cast of characters. You have Death, the narrator, who isn’t what you think Death would be like at all. Typically in most books and movies I’ve seen, Death is relentless and void of emotion. Not so in this book. In this book, he is deeply touched by the souls he must collect.

I liked Liesel because of her innocence, her strength, her passion. Her great love for books was an easy thing for me to relate to. Her relationships with her foster parents, the boy next door, Rudy, and her new Jewish housemate, Max, felt so real. They touched my heart. A lot of the times books have pretty lousy female characters, but gladly this book does not. Liesel doesn’t stand around moaning and groaning about her situation like many characters do–she does something about it. It’s very admirable.

I loved Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa. At first Rosa is a tyrant, but after a while, I grew to love her and how she always cursed, especially the people she loved. The swear terms began to become endearing, and in her own way, it’s obvious that she truly loved Liesel.

Liesel’s foster father, Hans, was kind and gentle from the start. When Liesel has nightmares about her brother, Hans sits in her room and watches over her. When she wakes, he either plays his accordion, or teaches her how to read. It’s undeniable that he loves his foster daughter–maybe even more than his own children!

Rudy, the boy next door, was adorable. Despite the fact that he excels in things that would make Hitler proud, Rudy doesn’t support Hitler whatsoever. He’s a good friend to Liesel and also has a good sense of humor. I loved the relationship between him and Liesel, and how it evolves. It amused me when they would call one another swear terms much like Rosa Hubermann does with the people she loves. My favorite part about Rudy is how he was constantly asking Liesel for kisses. The irony of when he got his first kiss is both beautiful and downright heartbreaking. We need more characters like Rudy.

Max, the new arrival to the Hubermann family was also a great character. He’s a Jew so naturally in this time period, he is seen as something ugly and awful even though there is nothing ugly or awful about him. Max’s father saved Hans Hubermann’s life in another war, making Hans so grateful that he offered his services to his wife. Later on, Max requests his services. Even though I’m sure hiding a Jew in your basement isn’t something a German would probably be too thrilled about, it seems that Hans Hubermann and the rest of his family didn’t mind once they got to know and love Max.

And honestly, how can you not love Max? He’s a lot like Hans–quiet, loving, kind, gentle. I love the relationship between him and the Hubermanns, particularly Liesel. It was adorable. I loved how Liesel’s passion (reading and books) was also involved in their relationship.

The other side characters were also good. Characters such as Rudy’s parents, Tommy Miller, The mayor’s wife, and the lady neighbor who always spits at the Hubermann’s door. They were all interesting characters who, in their own little ways, helped make the setting genuine and real.

In short, Zusak wrote characters that you can feel for, which is important for this book. If the characters were unlikable, this book just wouldn’t work.

Another thing that works for this book is the setting. The setting is described so vividly that it’s almost like Zusak was there when this was happening. A lot of times authors who write about historical times fail because the setting feels unrealistic. This was definitely not the case with Zusak. He made Himmel Street feel as real as my own.

It took me a little bit to get used to Zusak’s writing, but once I did, I loved it. It’s beautiful, deep, and gets the point across easily. He writes each of the characters from their own definite POV so there isn’t any mistake on which character is which (though I did sometimes get the two “Frou”s mixed up).

The Book Thief also explores a topic I’ve never thought about–how things must have been on the Germans side during The Holocaust and WW2. Often we want to just see them as being bad simply because their ruler was. This book opened my eyes and made me realize how unrealistic that is. Before, I’d thought, “Well if some of the Germans had done something, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.” I realize now how ignorant this was.

There were probably plenty of people like the Hubermanns and their neighbors. People who didn’t agree with Hitler and didn’t want anything bad to happen to the Jews. Yet I never realized how powerless people like that must have been. I never realized that the terrible Hitler would have his own people punished greatly for disobeying him, even though it’s logical.

Even though there are many tragic events throughout the book, you won’t need your box of tissues until toward the end. I won’t spoil it for you. But here, have these tissues. You’re going to need them.

This is an amazing book. It should be required reading!

My original review is here.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

“I am haunted by humans.”

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

 “So much good, so much evil. Just add water.”

“A book floated down the Amper River.
A boy jumped in, caught up to it, and held
it in his right hand. He grinned. He stood
waist-deep in the icy, Decemberish water.
“How about a kiss, Saumensch?” he said.”

“I like that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing–that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around. They’re the best moments in a day of writing — when an image appears that you didn’t know would be there when you started work in the morning.”

“He was waving. “Saukerl,” she laughed, and as she held up her hand, she knew completely that he was simultaneously calling her a Saumensch. I think that’s as close to love as eleven-year-olds can get.”

Anyway, if you haven’t read this yet, I highly recommend it. Please have a box of tissues nearby!

My next book review will most likely be A Part to Play by Jennifer L. Fry. Jennifer has asked me to read and review her book via e-book. Expect a review soon.

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