The book thief, by Markus Zusak

The book thief Book Cover The book thief
Markus Zusak
Young adult, Historical fiction
Knopf books for young readers
First published 2005

I may not have been the last person in the world to read this, but it certainly feels that way, at times.  I chose the audio version, by the way, so a brief comment on that: Narrator Allan Corduner is well-suited for the task, though in the first 30 minutes or so, I found the recording a bit unclear, like the audio quality was off somehow.  His voice lends itself well to the book's identified narrator.

2nd world war stories have their own brand of atmosphere. I'd have said "sentimentality", which is true for a lot of the stories, though maybe not so much for the actual events.   And maybe it is differently felt in a European country that was occupied at the time than it is in the US?  I won't pretend to know,  though I do imagine our history curriculum in school covers more of that war, and less of, for example, Vietnam.    We grow up reading about our resistance movement and our Quisling and beloved-author-gone-nazi, et cetera.  With grandmothers talking about how the soldiers didn't really take much pleasure in seeing the kids starve, so they gave them candy, and food when they could.

This story is set in Germany, following young Liesl through meeting the strangers who are to be her foster parents, learning to read, stealing books,  jew marches and bomb shelters,  being written a book by a man in the basement, eventually writing a book of her own.   It's most definitely a story of characters; The whole thing relies on you taking the bait, growing attached to the man with the accordion and the woman who leaves the window to the library open.

I was very hesitant to start with, afraid this was going to be like a bucket of gooey sentimentality dropped on my head.   That could easily have been my experience if I was craving a different kind of story, but, fortunately, these things work out sometimes.  The book set its hooks in my tear ducts and didn't let go.   (Do you know, by the way, how annoying it is to get all leaky-eyed while wearing glasses? Eyes eject a LOT of salt and goo and you're stuck doing a lot of glass cleaning. Now you know.)

A film has been made, I know,  though I haven't watched it.  Personally I would have thought this more fit for a mini-series, to be aired through the last few days of the year; The book already feels a lot like the kind of cosy-but-sad family drama I grew up watching with the rest of the house through dark winter evenings.  Before netflix and with only one or two available tv channels, of course, but there are probably still some people who spend time together like that entirely voluntarily.  I suppose. Probably.

Who should read this? Anyone who specifically asks for a tearjerker, a little coming-of-age-ness,  something slightly historically educational for younger people.  It isn't really the kind of genre fiction I normally read, my favourite WW2 books are definitely Blackout / All Clear by Connie Willis,  but The Book Thief is considerably lighter - in multiple ways - and is probably a favourite to a lot of different types of readers.

Who should leave it alone? Anyone who'll get cranky and angrily resist pretty blatant attempts at grabbing hold of your emo glands.  I know, I'm like that a lot of the time.  It's inelegant and often feels a bit cheap.  You; you should pick up Connie Willis instead, she'll make you cry too but you'll feel dignified while doing so.



2 comments on “The book thief, by Markus Zusak

  1. Nope, you are definitely not the last to read this book. I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf forever, and I still haven’t gotten to it. Same with Connie Willis books! They are just waiting for me. I do love having a cry now and then, so I’ll be keeping these books in mind next time I feel so inclined. Thanks for the lovely review!

  2. I love this book! So much! I was hesitant to read it at first too, but mostly because I thought it’d be slow and tough. But it’s not. I swallowed it.
    I like how it’s a WW2-book where the lead character is not Jewish, but a regular German guy. (Oh, and I LOVE Max!)

    Haha, I have glasses too and also contact lenses, and let me tell you, crying with contacts aren’t much better! They tend to fall out xD Oh, the annoyance of being born with bad eye sight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *