Book Review: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
I have a bit of a history with this book, which I will be posting about in my Random Reads discussion next week. I was pleased when Stacie chose it for me to read, as it’s been so long since I first read it that I can’t really remember what I thought of it.
For anyone who doesn’t know (and hasn’t read the summary above), one of the most interesting things about this book is its narrator. Rather than being narrated by Liesel, the protagonist, her story is told through the eyes of Death, who watches Liesel and visits her three times.
This is a really different quirk and Death’s narrative voice adds a lot to the story. The book is full of rich metaphors that I think work well because they’re told from the point of view of someone who isn’t human, or seeing things like us. Death notices colours a lot and describes things in a way we probably wouldn’t.
This is a good point and a bad one in my mind, as, while sometimes I think it creates a really beautiful picture of what’s happening, other times I feel like I’m trawling through metaphor after simile after metaphor. It all got a bit much after a while, and I sometimes found myself pausing to puzzle over what a metaphor actually meant, which brought me out of the story.
The second world war setting, along with Death narration, brings something very ominous to the story. You know vaguely where it’s going to go – not in a predictable way, just in a ‘Oh no, awful things are going to happen’ kind of way. It also creates characters that you can’t help but love in that difficult position. A favourite for me is Hans, Liesel’s adoptive Papa who comforts her in her nightmares, teaches her to read and disagrees with the Nazi party, even as he tries to placate them to keep his family safe. It’s a complicated situation, one impossible to win really, but he tries so hard to do the right thing.
Liesel herself is a great protagonist – strong, smart, and ultimately flawed in a way that makes her relatable. Sometimes she says awful thing because she is unhappy, she does or doesn’t do things she regrets, and that just makes her all the more loveable.
I sometimes found the language a little jarring – often people will say something in German, and then the translation is given too, as if they said that as well. This probably annoys me because I speak German so it was like reading the same phrase/similar thing twice, but when the majority of dialogue is in English it did feel a bit odd.
The ending is a really bitter sweet one. Which is how I often say I like my endings, although this one has a lot more for the bitter and a lot less of the sweet. But there’s something about it that makes me not want to describe it as wholly sad. But you shall have to read and judge for yourself, I don’t want to spoil anything here!
This is a really beautiful book and you can see why it appeals to adults and younger readers alike, and why it is so internationally read. Reading after such a long time has been like reading it for the first time and I can safely say now it is definitely a book I enjoy, just a little heavy handed with the metaphors for me.