Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (Audio)


Some books are beyond description. I finished The Book Thief over a week ago, letting the plot, the words and the preciousness of the book sink in and plant seeds in my brain. I discussed it at our Heathrow Literary Society, thinking that might help solidify my thoughts. Nada. So I'm just jumping in and hoping that if you are one of the few that haven't read this masterpiece, I will convince you to read it before I'm through.

Synopsis: Liesel Meminger, a nine-year old girl in Nazi Germany, is in transit with her mother and brother to be dropped off with foster parents who can better care for her and her brother. Along the way, her brother dies, and at his gravesite, Liesel finds a book in the snow and takes it. Never mind that she cannot read. She innately understands the power of the written word, and thus begins her life as a book thief.

Liesel's story is narrated by Death. Death, while extremely busy at this time in history, has noticed Liesel to be a very special child. She goes to live with her new Mama, a loud belligerent frau, and Papa, a gentle man who teaches Liesel to read every night after Liesel awakes from nightmares. Liesel is embraced by the quirky, endearing villagers, each of them a character larger than life. But WWII isn't just a war that affects just Jews. It takes its toll on hard-working, God-fearing Germans like Liesel's new community. To combat the horrors of the war, Liesel continues to seek out "free" literature...from a pile of burning books, from the Mayor's library. Words, in the right hands, have tremendous power, and ultimately save her life.

Death also gives us a peek inside his daily routine, which isn't pleasant. Death is not the grim reaper, however, waiting anxiously to grab souls from dying bodies. He is distressed by all the carnage of the war, is over-worked and doesn't make the decisions, but a job is a job. The worst for Death is the children, but he assures us that he gently carries each child's soul in his arms with care.

My thoughts: Oofah. Where to begin? As most of you are aware, I have a "thing" for WWII novels. I've read many of them, from all perspectives, all nationalities, non-fiction and fiction. This particular portrayal, however, is perfect in every way, if you would forgive me for calling anything in this era "perfect". It is innocent, it is dear, it is humorous, it is heartbreaking.

The characterization is absolutely amazing. Everyone in the story, from Liesel and her foster parents, to the Mayor's shell-shocked wife who "allows" Liesel to steal her books, to Liesel's impish friend Rudy who dreams of stealing a kiss, to Max the Jew hidden in Liesel's basement, to the hoodlum fruit stealers...these are characters that are so real you can close your eyes and conjure them. In your heart, you know them and you love them. Halfway through the book, I said to myself "it is WWII, and I know someone is going to die, and I can't stand the thought of losing a single one of them". So I was falling apart (and laughing at all of their antics at the same time) for most of the story.

The prose is so very clever and beautifully simple. Using Death as a narrator is clever. Death is really a likable and conversational fellow, which keeps the tone from becoming too heavy most of the time. He leads into each section of the book with an outline of what is to come, which acts as a teaser. He offers side notes, definitions and commentary to certain events that occur. If his presence wasn't so ominous, you wouldn't mind having him around more often. In fact, it is easy to imagine that when your time comes, it wouldn't be so bad if he were there to help you on your way.

I think it is important to note that this book has been marketed as Young Adult book. I think it is fair to say that this book would be appropriate for teens, but is more beautifully written than most books for adults. It is proof positive that YA books can be exquisite and complex, and need not talk down to its audience.

A word about the audio production: I'd never listened to the narrator Allan Corduner before. He seems to be a reader of YA, notably Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke and Magyk by Angie Sage. But bravo on whoever found this man, because he was delightful to hear, and perfect for the role. Fans of the audiobook will be thrilled with the experience.

Thoughts from the Heathrow Literary Society: All of the members present, save one that didn't finish the book and seemed to have an issue with WWII in general, were deeply touched. They were charmed by Liesel, Mama and Papa, Rudy, and even Death. One of the members called it "a keeper". I sat back and watched my friends with earnest, animated faces talk about this amazing read. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


Bottom line: One of my best books of 2010. Don't let the topic scare you. This is a must-read.
5 out of 5 stars







29 comments:

Nymeth said...

Such an amazing book. I need to read it again!

farmlanebooks said...

I didn't realise that you hadn't read this one. Wonderful isn't it? I'm so pleased you've joined The Book Thief lover's club :-)

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I haven't read this one yet, but you make quite a case for it. I think I will be one of the last people in the world to have read this.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think it started out life as an adult book, and then crossed the aisle at some point into YA. Perhaps because teachers were glomming onto it?

bermudaonion said...

This one has been on my shelves for far too long!

Molly said...

I read this book for the first time a little over a year ago, but I know that I need to re-read it again and again. Perhaps I will try to listen to the audio book after you have given such high praise for the narrator!

Zibilee said...

I have heard such amazing things about this book and have had it lingering on my shelf for a long time. I know it's one that is going to make me bawl, and weirdly enough, I have been looking for a book that will touch me enough to draw tears for a long while. This one is getting moved to the TBR stack for the upcoming month, and your review has a lot to do with this decision. Simply wonderful review, Sandy. I am so looking forward to reading this one now!

Elisabeth said...

I read this book with my book group last year and it was our number one read of the year. It not only gives a unique perspective on WWII but we thought the use of God as narrator was a clever way to tell the story.

Julie P. said...

I absolutely adored this book! Here's to hoping you convince a few others!

Melissa M said...

I NEED to read this one. I really want to read it and yet I never get to it. I think it's because I don't want to be disappointed. And if I don't get to it, I'm not disappointed. Strange huh? That is unfortunately what happens to a lot of books I really am excited about.

Melissa M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

This is one of my favorite books of all time. I agree with the audio...it was so well done!

Meghan said...

I just read this recently and I completely agree with you. It is amazing. So glad you felt the same!

Avid Reader said...

I was completely blown away the first time I read this. I loved this book so much. I just re-read it this year (audio the 2nd time around) and it was even richer. I’m so glad you loved it.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I cannot believe I haven't read this book yet. I've picked it up at the stores and read the first few pages and was hooked. You would think that I would have read it by now. Perhaps a Christmas present for me is what I need to get for myself when I am out and about doing some last minute shopping!!

I also have a thing for World War II novels -- non-fiction and fiction, and I can't wait to read one that is coming my way soon which is The Rape of Europa. It's a non-fiction work about the Nazi theft of beautiful paintings and artwork that were owned by Jewish families, and in some cases were in their families for hundreds of years.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I received this book as a secret Santa choice and you've convinced me to put it at the top of my TBR list!! Sounds amazing!

Melody said...

This book has been sitting on my pile for a long time! I need to move it up after reading so many rave reviews on it!

Susan said...

Hi Sandy! This sounds like one I would very much enjoy, being enamored of WWII books myself. Having Death as the narrator sounds genius! I'm putting this on the list.

Iliana said...

This is such a wonderful book isn't it. Ok, I don't even want to think about it right now though because it'll make me sad...

Just popping in to say Merry Christmas Sandy. Hope you and your family are having a wonderful holiday.

Darlene said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family Sandy!

Alyce said...

I don't think I've read a single negative review of this book. I own it and I feel ridiculous for not having read it yet.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Wow! You have me convinced! We're settling in for a major blizzard, so I may get to it this week. Actually bought it for a book group read, but realized I wouldn't be able to attend the meetnig, so it got shuffled further down the pile.

Isn't it wonderful to be able to see those reactions on your friends' faces; sounds like a wonderful discussion (and a tough topic!)

caite said...

this is another one of those books that I hear nothing but great things about and that I MUST READ!

To you and your family, wishes (if slightly delayed) for a Happy Christmas!

Kerry said...

Great review. I'll have to finally pick this one up - like Bermudaonion, this has been on my shelf for way too long!

Kathleen said...

I read this one some months ago and it now sits in my top 10 reads of all time. I look forward to rereading it again one day. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

Anna said...

I'm planning to re-read this one in the new year. I borrowed it from the library, and I'm using my Xmas gift card to buy my own copy. ;)

I absolutely loved this book, and I agree that it's just perfect. It's on my list of all-time faves.

I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.

Literary Feline said...

This book made quite an impression on me when I read it last year. It's such an amazing book, in more ways than one.

Jenners said...

This was one of my top books for the year. I was blown away by it and thought having Death as the Narrator was genius. You should look at the print version at some point though .. there are drawings in there that help to add to the story. Plus the formatting of the book was unique and I really thought it enhanced my reading experience.

Helen said...

Just started it thanks to you. I've been meaning to read it because I loved I Am The Messenger so much, but kept putting it off... don't know why. Thanks for the encouragement. HC