Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Rating (Out of 5): ~4.5
Publisher: Random House (Knopf)
Spoilers: Very, very minor.

Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

I'd heard about this book before, but never what it was about. I'd heard that it starts weird, and that it was dark, or something. But I didn't know until we started it in book club what it was actually about. And that the only reason it was weird is because it's narrated by Death. Which I don't really think is all that weird.
It's set during World War 2, which made me a little wary. I've only read and seen a few things set during that time, and I'm usually not a big fan of war or historical novels. But this one was different. What with them being Germans, and secretly not liking how things are going. Not actively fighting (for the most part), just living their lives. And hiding a Jew in their basement. The main thing that caught my attention, though, is that it's told by Death.
Death is one of my favorite things about this story, and how well he was done. Writing this book from Death's point-of-view was kind of a brilliant idea on Zusak's part. He's his own character, cynical and haunted but also unconditionally interested in humans, and he knows everything. I really liked how he was written, and how he would go forward, and warn you about things or tell you how things with certain characters would turn out, and then go back to the present with Liesel. Death is a person, just like everyone else in this story, and he doesn't kill anyone, just carries them to wherever they go after. The way it was told reminded me a bit of Mary & Max, a claymation movie that I saw recently that was also really good (I would suggest it).
And all of the characters were really well done. There's Liesel, the mostly main character, who's somewhat innocent but fun, and who loves to read and kind of 'steals' books (only not how you would think), and who cares and is smart and tough and a little impulsive. And there's Rudy, who is adventurous and impulsive and athletic and loves Liesel, and who I also kind of love. And Liesel's Papa, who's so sweet to Liesel and genuine and nice and not a Nazi. And then there's Liesel's Mama, who is crude and curses at everyone but still loves them and cares. Oh, and Max, who is Jewish and so has to hide, and is afraid but gets close to Liesel and makes her these sweet books, with perfectly amateurish artwork. There are so many different characters, and they all have their own story and personality, and they are all great. And I just love them all.
And the end, particularly the scenes between Liesel and her Papa, and Liesel and Rudy, are so sweet and overwhelmingly sad. I felt like crying at them (and I am not a crier). But I guess I should have suspected that, what with the subject matter and all. I still didn't want them to happen, though.
There is so much to this book. It's not a small book, or in any way a quick read, especially because of the length, but also because there is just so much to it. It's a little subtle, and cynical, and you know that nothing really good is going to happen, but it's not a depressing book. It's...yea, sad, but also realistic, and honest, and imaginative, creative. So many things. And it's so good.
It's just a great book, in many ways. And I see why other people think it's amazing, because it is.
(Sidenote: Also, my copy of the book, that I got used, someone had spilt some kind of liquid on, making the first quarter of the pages crinkly and colored. And, while however sad and terrible that is, I felt it was a little fitting.)

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