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The Book Thief Paperback – September 11, 2007
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"The Book Thief is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic. Its grimness and tragedy run through the reader's mind like a black-and-white movie, bereft of the colors of life. Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's Night. It seems poised to become a classic."
- USA Today
"Zusak doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but he makes his ostensibly gloomy subject bearable the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse-Five: with grim, darkly consoling humor.”
- Time Magazine
"Elegant, philosophical and moving...Beautiful and important."
- Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"This hefty volume is an achievement...a challenging book in both length
- Publisher's Weekly, Starred
"One of the most highly anticipated young-adult books in years."
- The Wall Street Journal
"Exquisitely written and memorably populated, Zusak's poignant tribute to words, survival, and their curiously inevitable entwinement is a tour de force to be not just read but inhabited."
- The Horn Book Magazine, Starred
"An extraordinary narrative."
- School Library Journal, Starred
"The Book Thief will be appreciated for Mr. Zusak's audacity, also on display in his earlier I Am the Messenger. It will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures. And because there's no arguing with a sentiment like that."
- New York Times
About the Author
All of Zusak’s books – including earlier titles, The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, When Dogs Cry (also titled Getting the Girl), and The Messenger (or I am the Messenger) – have been awarded numerous honors around the world, ranging from literary prizes to readers choice awards to prizes voted on by booksellers.
In 2013, The Book Thief was made into a major motion picture, and in 2018 was voted one of America’s all-time favorite books, achieving the 14th position on the PBS Great American Read. Also in 2018, Bridge of Clay was selected as a best book of the year in publications ranging from Entertainment Weekly to the Wall Street Journal.
Markus Zusak grew up in Sydney, Australia, and still lives there with his wife and two children.
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Liesel makes friends with next-door neighbor Rudy and establishes herself as a self-proclaimed book thief. Becoming unlikely friends with the Mayor’s wife Ilsa affords Liesel the opportunity to read the books in the Mayor’s massive library. Along the way, Liesel is witness to the atrocities of war, heartbreaking events, love, loss and other life-changing events.
I saw the movie The Book Thief several years ago and loved it. When I decided it was time to read the book I was absolutely captivated. Although the book is 550 pages long, I read it in just two days – it was THAT good.
The book is different in several ways, ways in which I won’t go into in my review. Suffice it to say that I’m glad I saw the movie first and then read the book. I think I might have been disappointed with the movie version if it had happened in opposite order. This just goes to show how well the author has written this important piece of fictionalized history. The time period, location, mood, characters, etc. come to life as the story unfolds.
I was surprised at some of the other reviews, stating that the book was just plain depressing. I’m not at all sure how a book that deals with the systematic extinction of a race of people can be written about in an uplifting, happy way. Yet, the book is so much more than a story about a German girl who is living in Nazi Germany during WWII. There are many lovely, tender elements to be found in The Book Thief. The additional anniversary edition footnotes written by the author (at the end of the book) provide wonderful insight.
I think it’s extremely important that all generations read books like The Book Thief. This is part of history and, as poet and philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." This is a book that is emotionally draining, but very much worth the read!
If you follow my blog at all, you know that I love WWII era historical fiction. What I loved about this book is that it showed the lives of average Germans during the war. That's not a perspective I've seen a lot (or ever that I can think of off the top of my head). But Liesel's foster family wasn't exactly average either because they held unfavorable opinions about Jewish people, at least unfavorable by German standards during the war.
Another highlight of this story was that it was told from the perspective of Death. It was a bit odd to get used to at first because he jumped around a bit, as Death is wont to do in the course of his work, but once I got used to it, it was a fun way to see things. While death isn't exactly omniscient, he does have access to information that a human narrator wouldn't have.
I realize that I'm late enough to this party that you've probably already made up your mind about whether you want to read this book or not, but if you're still on the fence about it, you should absolutely not wait any longer. You're likely to regret it if you do, like I did.
Overall I give The Book Thief 5.05 stars.
As the old proverb—old but still true for all its rusty years—would tell us, ‘The book is far better than the movie’. This has never been more true than with Markus Zusak’s phenomenal achievement.
The book is narrated by Death, the Grim Reaper. Yet he is not an evil presence, indeed his tender observations are endearing. In the end, the circumstances of 1940s Europe keep him far busier than he’d prefer. Yet he cannot take his eyes off these dismal, glorious humans.
They haunt him, these human beings do. He sees such majesty in them, and such cruelty. The circumstances that call him into hard labors allow him to peer into the human condition at its best and, simultaneously, at its best.
He cannot look away from them, these horrible, beautiful, haunting beings.
This reader revels in the deeply biblical substratum of this compelling novel, whether intended by its author or not.
The best book I’ve read in a year. And I’m hardly alone, for this work has virtually nailed itself to the top rung of the New York Times Bestsellers List. As another old proverb might have it, 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong.
Buy it, read it, remember it when you least expect.
Top international reviews
This beautiful book, surprisingly (and cleverly) narrated by 'death', provides an interesting and poignant perspective on the power of friendship, hope and love, set against the horrific backdrop of the atrocious Nazi regime in Germany from 1939 to 1945.
You cannot help but come to admire 'death' for his or her pragmatic and objective yet sympathetic and inherently wise attitude towards human life through the myriad circumstances that lead up to a person's demise, and how it is prepared for and dealt with (or not as the case may be). I love the way Markus has captured the idea of 'death' recovering souls and taking them gently to the place they are meant to be, and the way he defines the embodiment of a young soul as being unaware of his presence, or, as with more wise and accepting souls, as sitting up to greet him knowingly when their time has come.
This is a very powerful and popular book which comes with high praise for good reason. Written with such pathos, gentle humour and a deep understanding of human capabilities, flaws and potential, the words will not fail to move you, and lead you to spare a thought for the suffering, hardship and loss experienced in times of war, and the colossal power of every small kindness when it comes to human survival, endurance and faith.
The central story of Liesel - the Book Thief - who is fostered following the heartbreaking loss of her mother and sudden death of her little brother at the start of the war, follows her delightful friendship with her new 'papa', a kind, humble and musically gifted former German soldier who is there for her at every turn; her stowaway friend, Max, who writes the aforementioned story of a tree grown from a seed in a forest of cruel words - for her; her step mother, Rosa, whose kindness shines through a battery of sharp-tongued, often abrasive words; and her friends who help her through.
The book is set out in short but powerful chapters, each headed brilliantly with the key themes covered on those pages. A wonderful, compelling and thought-provoking read, and highly recommended.
In fact, saying I 'loved' it almost seems wrong because reading this novel was so impactful and such an experience that... that I don't have the proper words.
This is the story of a girl, Liesel, set in Nazi Germany. She's a book thief. And the story is narrated by Death. That's all you need to know. I, personally, was sold when I heard about the narrator. Didn't even need to know anything else.
This is a beautifully written novel about the life of a young girl, the life of people, during war. And it really hits you, the amount of loss caused by war. And for what? Power? Some misconception? It seems such a waste of so many lives, simply because of one man's crusade and a nation of people at his disposal, whether it be by fear or manipulation. The book brings you closer to something that you usually recount only distantly. And it does a wonderful job of it.
This book was amazing. I love the character, the story, the narrator and everything it had to show and tell. This is one novel that I will not soon forget and I very much think that you should read it.
I am not a fan of war books as a sort of general rule; and yet there have been war related novels which have come along and proved the exception. This book, while set in Nazi Germany, is unlike any other World War II book in existence. First of all, the narrator is none other than Death himself. Such a fantastical host provides a unique introduction to the characters of the book and their individual plights. Zusak has created a cast of palpably deep individuals, rich unto their depths, and cleverly juxtaposed them with a wryly observant, mythological presence. I must state that this makes for a truly magnificant combination.
Some characters will stay with me forever; like distant friends viewed through the foggy lens of memory. Liesel and her dear foster father, Hans, are two of these extremely special, fictional creations.
As a pacifist, I hold in high esteem those who dare to defy crimes against humanity; often at extreme risk to themselves. There were many “Hans Hubermanns” during the war; people that aided Jews and refused to keep irrational prejudices alive in their hearts. Zusak has really given life and breath to Hans. He is the embodiment of a “good neighbor”. He would make an excellent dinner guest, but not because of lofty conversation. Hans is steadfast, and quite critical to Liesel’s development of character.
As for Liesel, I found myself instantly aligned with someone who could take such joy from books. Even before she knew how to read, Liesel fell in love with reading. Liesel may have been unable to escape the war and its shocking atrocities, but she took her escape and her comfort from the books that she collected. Liesel’s story feels so real it makes me wonder at Zusak’s inspiration for her. As with all underdogs, the reader cannot help but yearn for Liesel’s survival. More than that, however, I loved being able to treasure every one of her new books with her. I rejoiced in her turn to writing, and I cried beside her more than once. She was intriguing enough to stir the curious interests of the infamous Reaper; and that fanciful conception actually serves to balance an otherwise painfully human construction. We want realism, but we respond to brief reprieves of levity in equal measure.
I found the first few pages a bit odd due to the fact that I hadn't clicked that it was being narrated by death. Once that happened I fell in love with the book. The descriptions given by death of the atrocities of war are amazing. The one about the souls escaping the gas chamber to sit on the roof with death himself really stuck with me.
i highly recommend giving it a go
I almost gave up at the first few pages but I persevered and got into the rhythm of the writing and seeing "life" through the eyes of "Death".
Other reviewers here have written more, eloquently than I, about the story and characters.
All I want to say is it is the best book I have ever read, unforgettable! It is pure poetry and should be on the reading list for schools, the War in the story could be any conflict, Death is the only winner.
I have little to add to the praise of the other reviewers but would like to say that this book would be an ideal read for an older child - age 10 upwards perhaps - as the central characters, Leisel and Rudy, are that age when the story starts and their view of the war, as it began to destroy Germany, is heart breaking yet tender in its realisation of characters and plot.
One for the whole family to enjoy, at different levels.