Monday, 3 June 2013

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII), Young Adult
Type: Paperback
Pages: 550
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf (division of Random House)
First Published: 2005
First Line: "First the colors."

Book DescriptionIt’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.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

My ThoughtsThis book has been on my radar for a long time but I just never got around to reading it.  I'd heard nothing but high praise for it so when I saw it for sale at a second-hand shop I snatched it up (and may have even cackled with glee at my good fortune for finding a highly touted book for a mere 3 bucks).  First of all, why had someone given away such a gem?  And secondly, why hadn't someone else snatched up this find?!

Unfortunately, I learned why.  Apparently the first owner and I have similar views of the book.  I tried to like this book.  I really did, but unfortunately this is one of those books, for me anyway, that didn't match the hype surrounding it.  Curse you HYPE!!!

Was the book horrible?  No.

Did I find it riveting and fully describing the emotion and circumstances of the era?  No.

Will it stay with me?  Not in the slightest.

I realize that I'm in the minority with my negative review and that puzzles me.  I just don't understand why this book got such high praises from so many people.  Maybe it's because WWII is one of my favourite eras to read about that I'm so particular about how it's portrayed?  WWI was such a ruthless, raw and emotional time that brought out the best and worst in people.  I don't think that this book did the era justice. 

After reading books like "Stones From the River" by Ursula Hegi, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" , "Sarah's Key" and especially "In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer" I found this book to be dispassionate, lacking complex characters and, frankly, generally underwhelming

The characters are lifeless and almost boring one-dimensional characters.  From Liesel's 'good as gold' adoptive father to her consistently sour and crotchety adoptive mother who constantly berates Liesel by calling her a 'saumensch'  -- a female pig -- (which got old quickly), everyone seemed to be a cliché.  People were either 'good' or 'bad'.  Plus, no back story was given about the characters so I never felt emotional invested in any of them. 

The one character who stood out for me right away was the narrator (I won't share who he is but it was a unique take on narration).  Unfortunately the narrator began to disrupt the flow of the storyline and ended up getting in the way more often than not.  And what's with all the foreshadowing that he gives to reader?  I don't like being told what will happen!  I found that odd and very anticlimactic. 

Also, because the story isn't narrated by the main character, Liesel, the reader never gets a chance to see things from her point of view.  It's always how the narrator sees things happening and the reader being told what's happening instead of experiencing it through the character.  This caused the characters to feel very flat and lifeless.

While the ending was touching and emotional the rest of the book didn't resonate with me.  The writing was good but that cannot make up for the plodding plot or lackluster characters.  Unfortunately I ended up forcing myself to finish the book.  Not a good sign.

Not recommended.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars


Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

This following comment is from MommyDoodle (posted June 3, 2013)but was posted on the wrong book review post. I have since moved it here.

Awe, I'm sorry to hear you didn't like this one, Laurie. I loved it! But I wasn't privy to any hype before reading it either (which has spoiled more than one book and movie for me - The Book of Negroes for one. I so wanted to love that book!). In fact, I didn't even know The Book Thief was a YA until I picked it up from the library So much of what is published about the Holocaust is based on the Allied and Jewish perspective (which I love and always find riveting), I found it a refreshing change to read a story about the day to day lives of German people, living inside Nazi Germany. To get a glimpse of the fear they too lived with every day - from both the enemy and their own countrymen - really, how could anyone have felt safe? This was one of those books that made me wanna hug my kids even more (and be so grateful, to NOT have to go through such a horrible time!)

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

MommyDoodle -- I get where you're coming from (getting the viewpoint of the German people) but it just didn't grab me like other WWII reads. (If you like that viewpoint of WWII try Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River).

The Book Thief just fell really flat for me. Never felt like I knew Liesel.

That's what I love about books though. People get different things out of them. Any book discussion is a great discussion.

Renee said...

I'm sorry you didn't care for this book, I loved it. I read it a couple years ago so I don't feel very fresh in making a reference, but I do remember that I really enjoyed it. Did you give up on "Cutting for Stone"?

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

Renee -- It seems that this book is a 'hit or miss' with readers. Either you love it or hate it.

I did finally give up after about 270 pages. I figured I gave it a good shot. It just wasn't for me.

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