Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Loved the book, hated the ending.

This was a fairly long (almost 600 pages, which I consider fairly long for something that's not Harry Potter) book about a young girl growing up during WW2 in Nazi Germany in which her foster family agrees to hide a Jewish guy in their basement. The book is narrated by Death (or the Grim Reaper, if you will) and, like almost all WW2 books, it's a mixture of hope, horror, and misery.

So not a very cheerful read.

There are many great characters along the way, but this being a WW2 book, you know they will almost entirely wind up brutally murdered. This reminded me a bit of the movie Saints and Soldiers, where there was a really good story and really good characters, and you spend a few hours watching them all get mowed down until there's only like one survivor.

The ending notwithstanding, the book was extremely well written. Some of the best writing I've seen in years. I disagreed with some of the editing choices, though. For example, there was a bit too much padding-a few scenes that didn't add much could have been removed. And in other places, the style of the book gets in the way a little bit. Death's narration will move forward in time and reveal key plot points, and then the book will shift back to the present time and will spend the next 5 pages talking about someone you don't care about. And you say, "Come on! Go back to that extremely important thing you just mentioned!" There are also a few plot holes wherein you never find out what happens to a few of the fairly prominent characters in the book. Some of them leave and don't get mentioned again.

While it wasn't nearly as brutal in its violence and wasn't at all formulaic, it stick packs an emotional punch. The characters are strong and it's a very interesting read. I almost wound up headed back on the wrong way on the train the other night because I was so into the book I didn't realize that we'd arrived at my stop and that the train was almost leaving to head back downtown.

If only it had a different ending.


Catlin said...

I really liked this book a lot. It has been a couple of years since I've read it, and I don't actually remember the ending! I think I was a little disappointed, but I honestly don't remember. I should read it again...

Hillary said...

I liked the ending because the entire book was so good and all of the stories came together seamlessly. The entire universe doesn't live happily ever after because that wasn't believable for that time period. It was war, people died.

Catlin, I couldn't remember the ending either. All I remembered was that I was fine with the ending.

But I am glad I recommended it to you and you enjoyed it - for the most part.

Christian said...


Everyone she ever knows or loves dies in a bombing raid and the book she's been working on forever gets thrown in the garbage. She goes to live with a mute lady who nonetheless has a library, and her husband is the mayor and a major Nazi. Several years later, her Jewish friend Max comes back and has survived the concentration camp. So of the 10 possible things that could have gone right for her, only 1 of them did, sort of.