The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak
AGE GROUP: 13+// GENRE: Historical fiction// AMOUNT OF PAGES: 550// RATING: 3/5
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
Hi! Welcome back to another review! *As always, the summary above was not written by me and is from Goodreads.*
I was strangely underwhelmed by The Book Thief.
Similar to the numerous young adult books I have read, The Book Thief‘s premise was certainly promising. However, the execution was unexpectedly bland and unoriginal. For one, I assumed the book thieving would be more of a pronounced and developed element of the story. For another, I expected the theft to contribute to Liesel’s understanding of the current state of affairs. However, the expeditions felt oddly anticlimactic and underdeveloped. I also felt as if the thievery did not make as considerable an impact as intended—or anticipated (by me)—on Liesel’s understanding and, consequently, the reader’s understanding of the war.
Furthermore, I was bothered by the fact that the narrator, Death, spoiled various important upcoming events in the novel. Normally, I would not particularly mind if significant events were spoiled, as characters and recurring themes captivate me much more than merely the plot. However, as I found the writing severely banal, the storyline was my sole source of mild entertainment (although, “entertainment” is definitely an inappropriate word to use to describe a historical fiction novel…).
Zusak’s approach to crafting Death as the narrator was quite disappointing. It is a truly brilliant idea to have an ever-present narrator: Death. However, I thought Zusak’s delivery was lacking. I found him (Death was indeed expressly stated as being male) to be rather inconsistent. Although he was an ever-present narrator, he seemed to crop up at random intervals and be of infrequent importance.
Moreover, strangely, it felt as if Death could have been any other narrator, aside from the fact that he was aware of the upcoming events. Sadly, I felt as though there was nothing striking about his character, which is not a statement that would normally have applied to Death. He could have been such a fascinating and insightful character. Alas, I have learned to expect very little from the young adult genre.
The character of Death aside, I would not say that I did not wholly appreciate the cast of characters. As a matter of fact, I did enjoy several characters. However, as I was not particularly keen on the writing style, the characters fell somewhat flat for me. I find that the writing in a novel typically determines how greatly I enjoy it.
That said, I did find the deaths of the characters astonishingly painful (while reading, that is). I do not know whether that is owing to an unconscious affection towards specific characters, or if that is merely owing to the hostile atmosphere and the poignant deaths. Of course, I do not believe it is natural to exclusively experience warmth towards the characters as they perish. Therefore, I am not convinced that I was genuinely fond of them, no matter what emotions their deaths provoked.
As mentioned, I was not overly impressed by the writing present in The Book Thief. As I have said, and will continue to say, melodrama is not necessary in a historical fiction novel. It frustrates me when authors do not have faith in their story and are especially inclined to intensify the already-fearful atmosphere. I find that deliberate sentence fragments and shortened sentences merely suggest laziness and sloppiness (not to mention, it is a laughably cheap and clichéd technique). They should be used sparingly.
This preferred style of writing appears regularly in books of the young adult genre, and I have grown increasingly tired of it. Unless the stylistic decision is contributing to the story in a way that is meaningful and, perhaps, profound, I see no reason for its presence. Naturally, many readers enjoy this manner of writing; I, however, do not. As a result, this incredibly publicized book was far less enjoyable for my own taste.
Nevertheless, I did want to remark on the fact that several of Zusak’s sentences were delicately crafted and simply beautiful.
I believe The Book Thief was the first extraordinarily successful young adult book that I seem not to have enjoyed nearly as much as the majority of readers. Although I was very much attracted to the premise—and the title!—I was sorely disappointed by the execution and, most desperately, by the writing (as discussed above).
And on that sour note, I do hope you all are staying home and staying healthy! I am not sure when I will publish another post, as I am currently binge-rereading more of the Harry Potter books! However, I will start working on another post shortly.
Until next time,