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Review Revisited: Markus Zusak – The Book Thief

December 13, 2013

Re-read. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)

Length: 560 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Originally Listened 02 December 2006
Re-read Finished: 24 November 2013

Where did it come from? BookMooch.
Why do I have it? I originally listened to it, totally loved it, and wanted my own physical copy.

“Everyone dies” is
not a spoiler when the book’s
narrated by Death.

Summary: Oh, gosh, this book is hard to do justice to in a summary, but here goes: Liesl Memminger is a young girl sent to live with foster parents in a small town outside Munich during the early days of World War II. Her younger brother dies on the train ride there, and in the small graveyard where he is buried is where she steals her first book – even though she cannot read. She is brittle and reserved as she meets her new parents, but they slowly become family – first her accordion-playing Papa, who teaches her to read; Rudy Steiner, the boy next door who loves Liesl and teases her in equal measure; her Mama, Rosa, who appears coarse and stringent but has a good heart and a sturdy mind; and ultimately Max, a young Jewish man the Hubermanns hide in their basement.

Original Review: The Book Thief is one of the types of war novels I prefer – not epic sweeps of political leaders and strategies and soldiers and battlefields, but a small story of the everyday truths brought by the war to ordinary people – in this case, a preteen girl named Liesel living with foster parents outside of Munich. But, apart from having a good story to tell, this book was also extraordinarily moving, had characters that felt like I’d known them – or wanted to know them – all my life, and the incredible original use of language that after two books I’ve come to recognize is Zusak’s gift. In anyone else’s hands, his descriptions would seem artificial and strange, but somehow he can tell us that rain was falling in chunks and we know exactly what he means and marvel at the aptness and beauty of his phrasing.

This book is narrated by Death, which some may find distracting or gimmicky. I thought it was perfect – it provided the omniscience needed to put the story into a bigger frame while still allowing a closeness and immediacy to the story that an anonymous third-person narrator would have lacked. Death tells you the ending before you’re more than a few pages into the book, and yet I spent the entire book hoping that somehow he was wrong, that everything would be okay, that Liesel would finally break down and kiss Rudy, that somehow the horrors we know are coming are just a figment of our imagination. It’s strange how much an ending you’re expecting can nevertheless make you cry when it finally gets there. Zusak’s a fantastic writer and storyteller; reading his writing is a sheer joy in itself, and his stories, without fail, just seem to get it right.

Thoughts on a re-read: This book is amazing, just amazing. I listened to it the first time, and I bawled my eyes out for probably about the last half hour, at least. (I remember I was making Christmas cookies at the time and I was worried that I was getting tears in the dough.) But it’s pretty typical that I cry more at audiobooks than I do when I’m reading on paper – maybe because it’s slower, maybe because the emotion in the narrator’s voice; I don’t know, but it is a phenomenon I’ve noticed. So I was figuring that on this re-read, I might get a little misty, but I’d probably be okay. WRONG. I actually cried more the second time around, starting right at the beginning, the first time Rudy asks Liesl for a kiss. (And it’s not like it’s because I knew what was coming this time; as I said, Death tells us the ending right off the bat.) I love that there are books like this out there, books that swell our hearts and break them and stitch them up all at the same time, and time after time, and oh goodness, I’m getting teary-eyed just writing about this book. Good grief, self. Get a grip.

I re-read this book in preparation for the movie, which I saw a week after I finished it. I have to say, I’m somewhat of two minds about the movie. On the one hand, I thought they were very faithful to the book, and the changes they did make were well in keeping with the tone and the feeling of the original. The casting was really well done – in particular, Geoffrey Rush was a brilliant choice to play Hans. The actress playing Liesl did a remarkable job of playing her at the various ages, and I’ll be damned if Rudy in the flesh didn’t break my heart even harder than Rudy on paper. But, on the other hand, while it was faithful to the book, it didn’t quite capture the book’s magic, and if I’m being purely objective, it was kind of long, and a little slow in parts. I didn’t mind, since for me it just let me linger in all the wonderfulness of the book, but I don’t think it’s a movie that would necessarily inspire someone who hadn’t already read the book to go pick it up. Which is a shame, because this book is so, so wonderful. 5 out of 5 stars.

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First Line: First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2013 10:50 pm

    I can’t believe I STILL haven’t read this!

  2. December 14, 2013 4:04 pm

    I loved the movie, now I need to read the book.

  3. December 15, 2013 5:47 pm

    I’m thinking I’ll skip the movie. I’ve heard good things about it, but I don’t think I could divorce my mind from how wonderful the book was, at least not enough to consider the film on its own merits. It’s like you say — the book is just SO SO GOOD. I cry buckets every time I reread it.

  4. December 15, 2013 9:59 pm

    I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I had a similar experience when reading it for the second time. It is amazing, and it’s hard to put into words how amazing it is. And I bawled my eyes out both times.

  5. December 17, 2013 6:54 am

    I loved it just as much on re-read, too. LOVE this book. I will go see the movie and perhaps it will still drive people to the book even if they see the movie first because we all suspect ‘the book is better’. Of course, most of the readers will read it first anyway…

  6. February 7, 2014 9:22 pm

    I just finished reading the book yesterday, a little late I know.. But I must say I absolutely loved it, I want to see the movie next and see if they can do it any justice at all, though from the reviews I’ve read I have high hopes!


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