Friday, October 17, 2008

Review - The Book Thief

The Book Thief I really didn't know what I was getting into when I bought this book based solely on the buzz I was hearing about it. I had heard it was set in WWII Germany and the narrator was Death. With that very small introduction, I dove into the book.

Writing Style

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing style.

The descriptions were vivid and gripping. The language was fluid and natural while also being engrossing and emotional. I often felt very connected to Liesel and her community.

Having Death as narrator provided a non-human view to the grotesque inhumanity that was World War II. Death has a sacrilegious, sarcastic and cynical tone to many of his comments, but his voice is also dripping with sincerity and depth.

My main complaint is that death had no sense of tension or foreshadowing. Far too often I found myself reading with some anxiety or curiosity only to have Death comment on it by telling me exactly what was going to happen in a few months or years to finalize the drama of the situation. At other times, the thought of possible conflict/drama/disaster hadn't even crossed my mind when Death brings up the possibility and immediately tells me how it's going to end. I would have much preferred a bit of solid foreshadowing rather than explicitly telling me the future.

From an authorial standpoint, I suspect the author had Death explicitly diffuse the drama in an effort to keep the book more light hearted despite the heavy overtones. Still, there are things I would rather have experienced in their due course along with Liesel rather than already knowing the outcome.


The characters are amazingly full and exciting. Zusak really fleshes out the characters through many very simple means. He provides us a ton of small, intriguing quirks that make each character vivid and real. Papa is the accordian playing, cigarette rolling house painter with a ton of compassion. Mama is the large foul mouthed deep snoring woman who stands by her family no matter what. Rudy is the kid who paints himself black and runs around the track like Jesse Owens while commentating his own race. And the Liesel is the hurt, confused, lover of words trying to find her place in the world.

And then, there's the narrator...Death. We don't learn much about the physicality of Death, but we learn a great deal about his perceptions of life, earth, and humanity in general. Death is a very vivid character and is used very well to turn a mirror on our own lives and make us think about our behaviors and attitudes.


As alluded to, the plot of the book is heavy and difficult as is understandable considering the setting. Still, things are kept light thanks largely to the narrative style and to Liesel's overarching power to overcome and persevere despite the darkest situations.

There were a couple of times where I was briefly confused as to where I was and where I was going within the plot. For example, the first time we meet Max, I was thrown completely off balance and read that initial page/introduction a couple of times to make sure I didn't miss anything. I was quickly set back on track, but I was still confused for a moment. That was one time that I felt the narrator didn't tell the reader enough about what was going on as opposed to telling us too much.

It was also refreshing to find the story taking paths differently than I anticipated. Without spoiling the plot of the book, I will just say that there were many times I expected stereotypical WWII style occurrences and was strangely and pleasantly surprised when things turned out differently.


As I mentioned, I went into this book largely blind based solely on some good buzz. And I came away anything but disappointed. In fact, this is one of the better books I've read this year. The story was refreshing (yes, some will tell you that it is a depressing story...and to an extent, they're right...but the tone is light enough to counter the dark material). The narrative voice was honest and thought provoking. The characters were real and engaging. This is one of those books that I'll remember and think about for years to come.

3.5 stars


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