Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Review: Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief"

The rise of Nazi Germany has been told through many different voices - documentaries, films, a young girl in a secret attic. The narrator recounting the reign of Adolf Hitler in The Book Thief, however, is Death. Markus Zusak's 2006 novel follows the (un)life and times of Death as it works double-time throughout World War II, and becomes infatuated with an eleven-year-old German girl, named Liesel Meminger. A.K.A. The book thief. Meminger learns to read and write from her foster father, steals books only when necessary, and befriends Max Vandenberg, the Jew her foster family has been hiding in their small basement. The books Meminger comes to steal become incredible coping tools for the small town dealing with the war.

Structure: 5 out 5 stars

Zusak breaks his novel into ten parts. Each new part lists six mini-chapter titles, which are both telling and intriguing. The reader easily follows the multiple story lines, and enjoys the short, powerful sections of this 550 page adventure. The action never lulls, from Meminger's fruit-stealing escapades with her best friend, Rudy Steiner, to the jam-packed action of WWII. Zusak sets up an incredible novel.

Character: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the first time I've read a book by one narrator, realized I was hearing the story of a different character, and didn't feel I was getting the short end of either stick. Death's account, both historically and emotionally accurate, fills in the details for Liesel Meminger's life. We encounter the souls Death must retrieve and feel his own weary tale. At the same time, the reader learns about Meminger's habits, fears, dreams. Through both characters, we see inside the mind of Hans Hubermann, the girl's accordion-playing heart-of-gold foster father, Max Vandenberg, the 24-year-old Jewish writer hiding behind a stack of paint cans in the basement, and many other unique and passionate characters on Himmel Street in Munich. With so many people around - the mayor's wife, the crazy next-door neighbor, the shop owner down the street - the reader feels every minute of Nazi Germany's heartaches and victories.

Voice: 5 out of 5 stars

Perfect, if ever a narrator's voice could be. Death is witty, sassy, and sorrowful. He feels the burden of his profession. One of Zusak's finer ideas in this book was to be real. Death, as it would seem, does not sugar coat anything. He prepares the reader for a pending character's death, a horrible accident, or a bombing far in advance. Death's periodic announcements are well-received by the reader, who appreciates the heavy and specific foreshadowing, but is still surprised by the event itself. The author provides a powerful voice to lead his story, a voice which readers respect.

Overall, this is one of the best books I've read this year. I highly recommend it to both adult and young adult readers, and anyone who wants a good kick out of death, for once.

The Book Thief was published in 2006 by Knopf, and has won multiple honors since then, including the 2007 American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults award.

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