The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

My impressions:

Me: Hello Death, a very nasty reviewer is trying to make sense of your YA story.

Death: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, du Saukerl, du Saumensch du Arschloch…

Me : Not working, not working at all, sorry. I know these words and far worse too. Let me begin.

Three important things you have to know before starting to read this book.

The author is basically telling you a fairy tale about:

  1. Holocaust for dummies,
  2. Healing properties of literature for dummies,
  3. A book thief who was stealing one book a year or so, mostly from a lady who knew about it and agreed to it  = book thief for dummies.

Apart from that this novel features an angelic Jewish fist-fighter who is also a philosopher and a visionary of a kind, a couple of really decent Germans who tried to save his life even though they were dirt-poor themselves, and a girl called Liesel who is the cutesy incarnated and her fate will make you cry.

Death: So what?

Me: So nothing and that’s my point. Let me continue:

Three small but important things the author is clearly not:

  1. A historian
  2. A good writer
  3. Kurt Vonnegut

As a result his book is not only an artificial, shallow, lachrymose variation of the Holocaust theme,  but also it doesn’t ring true to anybody whose family had many painful encounters with the WWII, a period of unprecedented crime and mayhem. There’s no real depth or pathos.

Death: There is! That’s why I am here!

Me: That’s why you belong with Discworld and Terry Pratchett.

Finally three sad little things which caused me a headache while reading this one:

  1. Pace of narration, constantly interrupted by remarks from Death which not only bordered on spoilers but also sounded childish and weren’t necessary,
  2. Prose which sometimes was barely readable, peppered with passive voice and dictionary definitions of different German words and phrases, all conveniently translated,
  3. Little pictures which added nothing and looked as if drawn by a four-year-old child with serious coordination issues.

Final verdict:

There’s so much awesome YA Holocaust literature out there — The Devil’s Arithmetic, Number the StarsThe Diary of Anne Frank just to quote a few titles. Or if you want a book about bombing in Germany, read Slaughterhouse V. This one felt fake. Meh.

Rating icon. A hairless cat is wearing a santa hat and a sour expression. On the hat reads: meh.

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11 Responses to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  1. blodeuedd says:

    I watched the movie

  2. J.R.Bee says:

    I listened to the audio book, and I enjoyed it. I think it’s because with audio books I tend to switch off. It also helped that the narrator was good. However I was disappointed to learn, after having asked a German lass, that the only German in the book, which was apparently swearing, was not accurate.
    I did want to get the book, but I suspect paying attention will probably ruin my enjoyment of it.

    • Yeah, I tend to overthink my reading material, I’ve been told so time and again, and this one is for readers who like it easy. Easy explanations of German words. Easy, predictable plots. Easy take on the WWII. Easy everything. And I agree that, when it comes to audio versions, a good narrator can make a difference. About German swearwords: they are 1) anachronisms and 2) come from the Bavarian dialect which wasn’t spoken by every German so it might seem wrong.

      • J.R.Bee says:

        Yeah, I suppose it depends on your mood when you read it, if I read it now I might not enjoy it, it could have just been the right book at the right time.

  3. heidenkind says:

    Glad I avoided it

  4. Carole Rae says:

    Hahaha you make me laugh.
    But yes…I have been on the fence with this and now…I think I shall avoid.

  5. Melfka says:

    This is why I end up steering away from anything marked as “YA”: no matter how acclaimed the book is, it always ends up as “meh”.

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