The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Book Thief, Marcus ZusakThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

First Published: 2005
Pages: 534 (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating:4/5 = I really liked it4/5 = I really liked it4/5 = I really liked it4/5 = I really liked it4/5 = I really liked it

HERE IS A SMALL FACT

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION

THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH.

it’s a small story, about:

a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
quite a lot of thievery.

ANOTHER THING YOU WILL NEED TO KNOW

DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES.

I’m alive! I haven’t been online much (or even read very much) in a long time for lots and lots of reasons – some personal that I don’t want to get into, some so boringly mundane that nobody else wants me to get into, but I’m back now so will get onto the review.

The Book Thief is a very very good book. If I had read it when I was in the right mood, or had the time to read it all in one go, it would probably be an automatic five-star. But I’m afraid one of the (many) reasons I haven’t read very much recently is because I wasn’t in the right mood and couldn’t get into this book at all to begin with. I picked it up on the train, read until the end of my journey, thought ‘yeah, I really like this’, and then somehow didn’t feel any need to pick it up and read the rest until I had another train to take. And then the same thing, and the same thing, until just the other week when i pulled myself together to finish it on our family holiday.

Now part of my inability to get into it was probably that as a keen reader who grew up in England I’ve quite frankly been completely overexposed to books set in World War II featuring child protagonists (Goodnight Mr. Tom, The Silver Sword, I am David  and many many more). It’s also  a period of history that got almost all the focus during my secondary school history education, at the expense of other periods I was equally interested in. So much so that when I went on to do a history degree I went out of my way to avoid modules on WWII, Nazi Germany, and 20th Century Europe. It’s an interesting, horrible, period of history and I can totally understand why people are fascinated it, but I wanted something new – and apparently I still do.

So although this is a very very good book set in World War II, it somehow didn’t really stand out from the crowd for me. There’s the child protagonist who has a touching relationship with a father figure who isn’t  her real father, a jew hiding in a basement, and the loss of childhood innocence as war slowly imposing itself on everybody’s lives. It’s very well written, don’t get me wrong – I mean all of those four-stars up there – I just feel like I’ve read a lot of similar stuff before. The  twist of having the story narrated by Death is certainly a new one though and leads to some really interesting bits of writing and odd little insights that wouldn’t have worked with a non-omniscient human character, but for the most part it read like a standard old-school omniscient narrator. I wanted it to distance itself more from the books I’d already read on the subject (I won’t call Nazi Germany a ‘genre’) than it did.

And then, having been bombarded with facts on Nazi Germany throughout GCSE, AS, and A levels, I had enough general knowledge to be pulled out of the book whenever the author/narrator’s figures and statistics seemed  a little off. ‘Since 1933, ninety per cent of Germans showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler‘ – now I’m sure Zusak has done his research, but that just sounds wrong to me. In 1933, only 44% of Germans who voted, voted for the Nazi Party. Zusak’s figure of ‘six million discoveries were made throughout Europe’ as the victims of concentration camps though is definitely inaccurate. By about probably four million. Six million is only the number of Jews murdered in concentration camps it doesn’t include communists, political dissidents, Romani/travellers, homosexuals, and the disabled, all of whom were also targeted for mass murder. Maybe I’m nitpicking here. Obviously the holocaust should never be forgotten but  I do find the widespread ignorance/erasure of other victims of Nazism and other Nazi genocides incredibly distasteful so that statistic bothered me a lot.

But those figures don’t reeeally effect the story itself and the story is very very good. Compelling characters (Rudy and Hans are the best), intriguing narrator, and lots of heartstrings pulled. The writing’s pretty great too. I won’t be ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears at the end. But then literally every piece of WWII media makes me tear up.

I don’t know…I feel I should be praising this book more. If I hadn’t read so many WWII books before I would probably be aaaall over this one, five-starring it and singing its praises to anyone and everyone. As it is though I did really enjoy it -I’ve just read, watched, and studied so much stuff along the same lines already that this didn’t seem all that special.

Maybe one day I will reread it when I’m more in the mood for this sort of novel though and have less distractions going on. I think I might well like it a bit more then.

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