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The Book Thief Paperback – September 11, 2007
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when shes roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger,took a risk with his second book by making Death an omniscient narratorand it largely paid off. Originally published in Australia and marketed for ages 12 and up, The Book Thief will appeal both to sophisticated teens and adults with its engaging characters and heartbreaking story. The Philadelphia Inquirer compared the book's power to that of a graphic novel, with its "bold blocks of action." If Zusak's postmodern insertions (Death's commentary, for example) didn't please everyone, the only serious criticism came from Janet Maslin, who faulted the book's "Vonnegut whimsy" and Lemony Snicket-like manipulation. Yet even she admitted that The Book Thief "will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures." And, as we all know, "there's no arguing with a sentiment like that."<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is one of the oldest ones told: the narrator is mankind's friend/nemesis, Death, ancient as Time itself, and the scenes Death (not without compassion and not without wry humor) narrates for us are those of human suffering and endurance, an eventual overcoming of conflicts and obstacles, a story of love pitted against hate, of the victory of the best in all of us over the worst in any of us. Zusak's main characters are a 9-year old girl, Liesel Meminger, her companion and young partner in crime, Rudy, and a Jewish refugee named Max hiding in the basement of the house where she lives, herself something of a refugee in Nazi Germany during WWII. A wide range of secondary characters fill in all gaps and keep us reading with fascination, e.g. Liesel's adoptive family, especially her cruel and ascerbic foster mother, Rosa, who on occasion cracks to show a bit of humanity; the mayor's deeply depressed wife, who quietly allows Liesel to "steal" her books; Liesel's young comrades in thievery, and many more.
It is hard to pinpoint what it is, precisely, that makes Zusak's work so unique. But I knew it, felt it, instantly, page one, first line. Voice, yes. Style. A few experimental approaches in his storytelling, such as illustrations inserted in the novel with all errors present, just as Max wrote the text and drew the pictures for his young friend, Liesel. Death's narration is unique, too, with occasional bolded quotes that give just the right amount of distance. There are many such details that all come together to form a story worth reading, worth hearing, worth understanding. It is the story of Liesel, a spunky little book thief, who does far more than steal good books. Liesel steals hearts. In our smallest, we often find our greatest heroes.
This is a beautifully balanced piece of storytelling by a young Australian writer: Marcus Zusak. The book is narrated by death himself. Death is rendered vividly. He is a lonely, haunted being who is drawn to children, who has had a lot of time to contemplate human nature and wonder about it. We are introduced to this narrator in the beginning and he is with us till the very end. It gives away the end and still wants you to keep reading on.
The narrative is easy flowing with glimpses of what is yet to come: sometimes misleading, sometimes all too true. We meet all shades of Germans, from truly committed Nazis to the likes of poor Hans Hubermann who hides a Jew in the basement of his very modest home. I was humbled by the realization that most of us are incapable of doing what noble souls Hans and Rosa do for saving the human race. This is what makes this novel truly remarkable.
The author says he was inspired by two real-life events related to him by his German parents: the bombing of Munich, and a teenage boy offering bread to an emaciated, withered Jew being marched through the streets. Both the boy and Jewish prisoner were whipped by a soldier while hapless crowd looked on! It is also the way in which Zusak combines such terrible events with truly believable characters and the details of everyday life in Nazi Germany. All this made The Book Thief so special for me.
In addition to the protagonist Liesel (the book thief of the title), there are some very important characters in the story. Those who particularly stood out for me are Rudy Steiner, a close friend of Liesel who is obsessed with the black athlete Jesse Owens. Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife, who has never recovered from the loss of her own son. Liesel's adoptive parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann and of course Max Vandenburg the Jew decorator whose father had saved Hans’ life during the first world war when they are both German soldiers. The growing relationships between Hubermanns and Liesel and, later, Liesel and Max Vandenburg are central to the plot. Max writes and illustrates a strangely beautiful short story for Liesel over whitewashed pages from a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf (the original print can still be seen through the paint). The powerful short story and illustrations almost broke my heart.
Hans, who can’t read very well himself, teaches Liesel to read. Liesel is effectively an orphan. She never knew her father. Her mother disappears after delivering her to her new foster parents. Her younger brother died on the train to Molching where the foster parents live. Death first encounters nine-year-old Liesel when her brother dies. It (death) hangs around long enough to watch Liesel steal her first book - The Gravedigger's Handbook, left lying in the snow by her brother's grave. Death has in his possession (I have always considered death as ‘she’) the book Leisel wrote about 1939 to 1943. In a way, they are both book thieves. Liesel steals randomly at first, and later more methodically. But she's never greedy. Death pockets Liesel's notebook after she leaves it, forgotten in her grief, amongst the destruction that was once her street, her home, her mama and papa. Death carries the book with him.
As I went through the book I kept feeling how real Liesel was! She was a child living a child's life. A life that has chores, soccer in the street, stolen pleasures, school fights, sudden passions and a full heart! Around her bombs are dropped, maimed veterans hang themselves, bereaved parents move like ghosts, Gestapo take children away and the dirty skeletons of Jews are paraded through the town.
However, there are a number of things that prevent this book from being all-out depressing. It is very powerful from the beginning but not morbid. A lively humor peeks through the pages. (a comment about German’s loving pigs, the childish chats between Rudi and Liesel). Furthermore, the vivid descriptions as well as the richness of the characters lift your spirits up. In this balanced story, ordinary Germans - those with blond hair and blue eyes are as much at risk of losing their lives, or are being persecuted, as the Jews themselves. It made me cry.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
But I found the book worth reading.