Review: The Book Thief ~ Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefIt is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who 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.

4 Thumbs-UpI wasn’t going to write a review on this book for many reasons, one being that is such a well-loved book and I’m not ready to be stoned to death for any derogatory remarks I may make and another being… well refer to point one.  However, as the book was highly recommended to me by a friend that loves books as much as I do, and she insisted I should post a review; here we are.

To begin with, I can’t really believe that this book is aimed at the YA audience, not because it is badly written but quite the contrary it is excellently written.  I felt as I read that, if more Authors strived to write their YA offerings to this standard instead of serving up the usual ‘coming of age angst ‘and romances they might have a larger audience of readers in that age group, and more of the intended age group may actually read.

The novel is set in World War II, and is a novel that looks at the war from the Germans point of view.  There are no long and windy passages about the plight of the Jews in this novel, no subjecting the reader to the horrors of the Holocaust; just a narrative of life as it affected the ‘ordinary ‘people.  Yes, there is a Jew in the novel, but he is written in such a way that the reader can see he is just trying to survive and get through the war the best he can, in the same manner as all the other characters in the book are.  Each of the characters the reader encounters as they turn the pages is written in such a manner as to make you care for them, even those that may only appear for a brief moment.  I’m not sure if this is intentional on the part of the Author, or maybe the way in which they decided to use Death as the narrator of the story; regardless of intent it works.  Through the narration we even see a side to Death that we may not like to acknowledge is there, he cares about those whose souls he collects and has moments where he finds his ‘job’ unbearable.  The way in which Death narrated made me care for him as much as it did the characters he was telling the reader about.

This is not a fast read by any stretch of the imagination, and it is not one that comes neatly tied up with a happy ending; so if these are what you look for in a book you may want to bypass this altogether.  What this book is, and was for me, is the best piece of descriptive writing I have encountered in a very long time.  This Author had a way with words, and creating whole worlds in one sentence that so captivated me I read the book 3 times back to back, I just wanted to revel in those words and not have to move onto anything else.  The Author manages to take something as ordinary as the sky and, with their words describe it in a way I would never have thought possible; it turned it into something I realised I never took much notice of before and now do.  Colours feature greatly in the way in which people, places and actions are conveyed and, again this works very well within the whole context of the book.

As much as I liked Death as a narrator, he is also the reason that I couldn’t give a full 5 thumbs to this novel.  There were times he was just downright rude and intrusive.  Scattered at random places throughout the novel are observations, back story points and small facts that are printed in heavy bold print coming off the page like a truck to hit the reader squarely between the eyes.  I understand it’s his story to narrate, but throwing these random pieces of information in part way through a page and in some places a paragraph really broke down the flow of the story.  I enjoyed it when he had these facts at the beginning of the chapter, but as the novel progressed I found them to be more and more distracting as time went on; these were the times when I felt his inner monologue was broken.  It may have been the Author’s intent to convey the loneliness Death feels by inserting these pieces of inane blabbing, as it did work in some cases, but I felt it was overdone to the point of annoying by the end of the book.

Don’t let the YA tag put you off from reading this book; I would very highly recommend it as a good read for people of all ages from YA upwards.  I would even go out on a limb here and say this has the potential to be regarded as a classic piece of literature in the future.