October 15, 2006

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Young Adult Fiction
Finished on 10/9/06
Rating: A+ (10/10 Superb!)

Wow. Where do I begin?

This was simply the best book I’ve read all year. It may very well be the best book I have ever read. I will even venture to say it was better than To Kill A Mockingbird (one of my absolute favorite books). It was better than The Kite Runner. It was better than The Sparrow… and Atonement. Well, you get the idea.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such emotion from the printed word. It moved me beyond description. Every single page (and quite possibly every sentence) was a gem. I’ve been sitting here, thumbing through the book, re-reading highlighted passages and entire chapters. There are so many quotes I could share in this review, but I think they’re best read in the context of the story.

"Death" narrates the book and tells us of how he came to know the book thief. While a bit unconventional for a narrator, he is eloquent and, ironically, an ultimately benevolent and compassionate soul. I came to care as much for him as I did Liesel, Rosa, Hans, Max, and Rudy, each of whom is so distinctly drawn that I was left with a sense of deep love and tenderness for their individual roles in this story.

The Book Thief is the tale of a young girl, living with her new foster parents in Germany at the beginning of World War II. It’s a story about a Jewish man in hiding. And it’s story about German citizens refusing to follow along like sheep, standing their ground and showing love and compassion toward their fellow human beings.

This is a love story. Love of a family. Love of a stranger. Love of a playmate. Love of reading and books.

It’s a story about courage.

And it’s a story about death.

The Book Thief is an extremely emotional and draining narrative (how can anything about the Holocaust not be depressing?). I sobbed as the last pages drew closer. It's as moving as Schindler's List and The Pianist. But... I think it's worth the tears. It was just so damned good. I can’t remember the last time I was so affected by a book.

The Book Thief is classified as a Young Adult novel, but I believe it crosses over to contemporary fiction quite well. The young protagonist (Liesel) is reminiscent of Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Griff (An Unfinished Life) and I doubt I’ll ever forget her or her story. The dialogue is marvelous and the pacing is consistently steady, with just enough tension to keep the pages turning (and not as predictable as I thought!). I wonder if this will ever be taught in high school English classes. It should be; it’s so powerful and, I would think, suitable for that age group. (It maybe even be good for junior high school students, although perhaps they're too young to really get much out of it.)

This is definitely one to read again, slowly savoring the lyrical prose now that the final outcome has been revealed. Unless something else knocks my socks off (The Thirteenth Tale, perhaps?), I’ve found my #1 read for 2006. Absolutely phenomenal and achingly beautiful.


  1. I am so pleased to hear that this was so good! It is book of the month for November for a group that I am in.

  2. Les...I'm sorry, but I just can't read this one. :( I'm so afraid that I'll find out more than I want to. However, I'm sooo happy to see that it's rated an A+!!! I promise to read this post after I read the book. :)

    So why did I leave a comment, you wonder? Ahhh, just because I like to say "Hi" and that I'm even more excited to read it now. (grin)

  3. Anonymous2:22 PM

    Strong recommendation! It was already on my list (and I skimmed the review because, like Joy, I don't want to know too much) but the comparisons certainly put it WAY up there.

  4. Anonymous4:52 PM

    Based on your recommendation I will add this to my BookMooch list. I will say that so far I am enjoying The Thirteenth Tale VERY much.

  5. Anonymous11:02 AM

    I can't wait to read this book.

  6. Wow, rave reviews from you and Nancy/Bookfool!
    I'm glad I ordered this from Zooba!

  7. Marg, I suspect your group will have a fabulous discussion. Is it a f2f group or online?

    Joy, at first I thought you were writing to say you can't read the book. I was happy to see that you were referring to my blog entry! I'm pretty sure I didn't put any spoilers in the review (nothing that you don't know from the book jacket), but I understand your hesitancy. I rarely ever read reviews unless I've already read the book.

    Jenclair, I can't wait to hear what you think! Don't let the first few pages put you off. It took me a couple (maybe a few) to get my mind wrapped around that manner in which the story is told.

    Stephanie, glad to hear you're enjoying The Thirteenth Tale. I'm anxious to get to it, but quite honestly, I want to let The Book Thief sit in my heart just a bit longer.

    Iliana & Angela - you're in for a treat! I am almost tempted to read this again. Now!

    BTW, I wrote to Zusak last night and got a very nice response. I'm going to check and see if he would mind if I share it on my blog.

  8. Wow, Les, I'm glad I saw your review. Because I'm having difficulty getting into it with all the fragmentation. So far, I'm just making myself move along, hoping that it will make sense eventually. I will finish it, you know compulsive me, but your review gives me encouragement.

  9. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Hi, Les!

    From previous posts I know "The Book Thief" is your #1 read for 2006 and just based on that I procured myself a copy which I hope is winging its way to me even as I type this!

    I just read your beautiful review, Les...even better than "Kite Runner"? I've just got to read this book! I love the enjoyment you got out of it and the emotions the book evoked; it's been a while since a book moved me to the depths of my soul and all indications are that this one has the potential.

    I am not sure when I will read it (probably not until the new year) but when I do I will definitely let you know what I thought of the book! :)

    Thanks again for the truly wonderful review!

  10. So....you liked it then? I've heard so many good things about this one that I'm just going to have to read it.

  11. Wow, you did an excellent job of describing the book without giving anything away, particularly the emotions the book evoked. I can't imagine it's even remotely possible that another book will surpass The Book Thief as my #1 read in 2006.

  12. Bellezza, I'm glad to hear you're sticking with it. It does have a bit of a fragmented feel to the narrative, doesn't it? But it really doesn't take long to get into the flow. At least, I didn't think it did. I'm glad you'll finish it. I really hate to see anyone miss out on such a marvelous book.

    Aw, thanks Lotus. It was a fun review to write (don't y'all find that true of book you love?) and I'm just so glad Bookfool confirmed that I didn't reveal any spoilers! I suppose there's something in it that someone might say is a spoiler, but geez, the Holocaust was full of death (that was my one concern - saying it's a story about death). Anyhow, yes, it is most definitely better than The Kite Runner. I've been perusing my Top Ten lists and quite honestly, nothing compares.

    Carl, well... yeah. Just a little. ;) I hope you get to it someday. I'm still working on my hubby. He's not too sure about reading something that was obviously such an emotional read for me. Maybe sometime when our own pain isn't quite so raw...

    Sheri, you know, I think I'm one of a dozen readers who actually liked Atonement. But hey, you loved The Sparrow so I think you'll be ok with this. Not that they have anything in common other than the fact that they're both incredibly inventive and peopled with unforgettable characters, Death included. Looking forward to your thoughts. I've bookmarked your new blog.

    Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. You don't know how good it was to read your comment. I've been reading my review over and over again, hoping with all my might that I didn't reveal any spoilers -- at least not without a warning to the readers! Thank you for confirming this fact. Phew! I hate it when I accidentally stumble upon a review that gives far too much away. Publishers Weekly is notorious for this.

    I'm off to see if and when Zusak is signing books in the area. I REALLY want a signed copy. I have one with one of those bookplates that authors sign and send out to bookstores, but, actually, more than a signed copy, I'd love to meet this talented author. We've exchanged a couple of emails and he is very personable and humble. Geez, to have achieved what he did at such a young age. Can you begin to imagine what it might feel like to possibly write a book that might someday be considered a classic?? One that more than one person (me!) might think is better than To Kill a Mockingbird? I suppose if it were me, I'd be sighing a huge breath of relief knowing it wasn't my first novel. The pressure for the second would be overwhelming!

  13. Les,

    I went back to look at my review of The Book Thief and yours is a thousand times better. It's a struggle to describe, isn't it? But, you did a fabulous job. The Book Thief is such a rare amazing, powerful book that it almost seems to defy description.

    How did you find Zusak's email? I looked him up and all I found was a Random House page, back when I read the book. I'm all green with envy, here.

    You mention how difficult it must be to follow up the writing of a book that will likely become a classic. Supposedly, that's why Harper Lee never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird. My brain tells me I read that, somewhere - that she knew she could never surpass her own masterpiece, so she never wrote another. I guess if I wrote a classic I'd just be happy to know I succeeded at writing something special, even if that could never happen, again.

  14. Anonymous9:25 PM

    Wow - I read your rating and stopped there. This sounds like a definite must-read-now sort of book! I had purchased this book on a whim to read during winter but I think I'm going to have to bump it up!

  15. Hi Les, I totally agree with you about The Book Thief. I didn't know anything about the book beforehand, but I liked the title, read the first page in the bookstore and made a beeline for the register.

    Re: one of your earlier posts...if you haven't bought Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, I'll send you my copy. It's really a good read.

  16. YAY! I'm glad you loved it as much as I did. We had a field day with it in my Adolescent Lit class--specifically in our discussion of whether or not it's really adolescent lit. I think you're right--it fits nicely with contemporary fiction.

  17. Nancy,

    I just re-read your review for The Book Thief and I think you did a great job! I agree, though, that it is such an awesome book, it almost defies description.

    I found Zusak's email at the Random House site under Q&A (there's a link to his email addy if you have a question or comment).

    Amelia, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And I hope more adults read this book. It would be such a shame if it went unnoticed simply because it's shelved in the YA/kids' section of the bookstores. And, hey, it's almost winter!

    Bybee, have you reviewed The Book Thief? I looked on your blog and didn't see it. BTW, are you still in the States or back in South Korea? Thanks for the kind offer to send me Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. I'll get in touch with you via your email. Thanks!!

    Andi!! I think you were the first to get me interested in this book! A huge thank you for leading me to the best book I've ever read!! I'll bet your Adolescent Lit class had a lot to discuss. It's definitely worth reading again and again. I'm sure I missed a lot of the nuances as I was rushing through to see how it would end.

  18. Anonymous8:43 AM

    Wow. With a review like that I am going to have to add it to my list!!

  19. First Bookfool's review and now yours are so glowing. I had to interlibrary loan Book Thief. I should have bought it last weekend when I was in the city, but I already had several and I didn't want to push my husband's good graces too far, since he was paying this time. I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival.

  20. Danielle & Booklogged, I hope you both enjoy the book as much as I did. I think this is one I'll plan to read once a year. Looking forward to your reviews.

  21. Anonymous3:43 PM

    I just finished it - Wow!! Just Wow!

  22. Anonymous4:12 PM

    I read it based on your recommendation... and, wow. I've already passed it on to my YA writing friends.

    What you said about the number of quotes... I had to write them down. My favorite goosebump one is when Death says that most soldiers think they are running toward each other. "They are running to me." (paraphrasing).

  23. SuziQ - My sentiments exactly!

    Kristin - I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did. That's a great quote, btw. I was thinking about reading it again, with a highlighter in hand, but I'm afraid the entire book would be highlighted! I can't get Liesel out of my mind. I wonder if this will be a book I read several times a year...

  24. I may just have to make this our December book group read after such glowing reviews.

    I have been thinking about this one for a while now and you've convinced me.

    overdue books

  25. Michelle, it's quite an emotional read, so you may want to put it off until after the New Year. Just a thought. I literally sobbed as I read the last chapter or two. But it was so worth the tears -- and... I have been known to cry while watching House, MD and Grey's Anatomy :)

  26. Anonymous7:33 PM

    Les, I saw this book when it first came out because I was trying to get it to fit into the Young Adult section at the bookstore and I liked the cover so I opened it and read the first page and was hooked. I agree it is one of the best books I've ever read and reread. My only disappointment, not in the book but in life, was that Helen (Sara's mom)had already passed before I read it. I felt when I was reading it that Helen was reading it along side of me.... and the tears I shed during the book and at the end of it, were partly from my own sorrow of not being able to share it with Helen in person. She would have loved the book also. (You know the scenes in the movie City of Angels where the angels are reading along side of people in the library? That is how I felt Helen's presence.)
    I don't know if it's better than To Kill A Mockingbird but it certainly is equal to that book.
    I continue to look for more books that I enjoyed as much as The Book Thief and so far, haven't found one. If I do, I'll pass it along to you. Take care, jackie

  27. Jackie, what a wonderful surprise to see your comment! Lee mentioned that you had read The Book Thief (and enjoyed it). I gather he's just started it and I have a feeling he'll love it just as much as we did. It's funny that you mention Sara's mom, as I thought about Rachel several times as I read the book, thinking how much she would have loved to read it. Good to hear from you!

  28. Yes yes yes in with a serious chance of being my best read of the year and that's after more than 100 books and still a few weeks to go. I did so much reading around the Holocaust and Nazi Germany last year and this book fits into the canon of books that should be read on the subject.Still not really known here in the UK yet but it should be.It's got a lot to live up to with all these rave reviews but I have absolute confidence in it.

  29. dovegreyreader, I'm surprised it hasn't gotten more press in the UK. I wonder if it's because it's marketed as a Young Adult book rather than general adult fiction? I haven't read quite as many books this year as you, but nonetheless, this is still my #1 for 2006 and I don't see anything bumping it out of that position.

  30. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. BTW, your review is quite lovely! I might like to link to it if I write a follow-up post to this book, if that's alright with you.

  31. Anonymous4:08 PM

    It was so boring i fell asleep on the first page.

  32. Anonymous4:47 PM

    I saw you comment on The Book Thief in another post, so I thought I'd read your review. I have a ticket to see Zusak at the Dallas Museum of Art on Sunday. I can't wait. I loved the book.

  33. Kristy - I can't wait to hear about this event! I was really tempted to fly down just to see Zusak, but we had other plans and I thought we were going to be out of town. I hope you had fun!

  34. Anonymous10:31 PM

    I'm about halfway through this one and you're right. It is wonderful.

  35. Bookgal - I just read your review. I'm so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! It's truly a remarkable, unforgettable book.

  36. I run an online book club. The Book Thief is currently our featured book! Come read and discuss The Book Thief at http://teenbookworm.blogspot.com/

  37. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I just finished this--in my high school English class. So yep, it's being taught here ;)

  38. Anonymous - What grade level are you in? How did your class like the book? Mixed opinions or did everyone love (or hate) it?

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

  39. I just thought you might like to know, that this book is being used to teach in High School's. I am a year 10 student and I have been studying this book for an entire term! I found it a very compelling and heart-warming story, which I would like to read again and again.
    It was a great read, and I can tell you also enjoyed it, I just thought that I would let you know that it is being used as a teaching resource (:
    Hope you have a lovely day,

  40. Cara - Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed The Book Thief as much as I did. I definitely plan to read it again (at least one more time, if not more!). Our community has nominated it for their One Read selection, along with 4 other books. I'm really hoping it wins. Maybe Zusak will come to town, if it does!!

  41. Anonymous10:19 AM

    I have to completely disagree. I did not enjoy this book the narrative was irritating and it was very slowly paced. I read about 3/4 of it but then gave up as I just wasn't enjoying the plot and didnt find the characers compelling enough. However!!! With so many people raving about it and with it recieving such positive reviews I will attept it again :)
    ps Howwww can you compare this to The Kite Runner and Attonement?!

  42. Anonymous7:44 PM

    I just read this book and your review is 100% spot on, it's one of the best books I've ever read and it definitely reduced me to tears by the end!

  43. anonymous - Yay! Another fan. I sold another copy yesterday and I keep thinking I should read it again. And, yep, that ending is very moving!

  44. Anonymous2:38 PM

    you are so right about this book being amazing. i just finished reading it in my 8th grade literature class. at first i thought the book thief wasnt going to be good, but i ended up loving it! even though im only 13, i got a ton out of this book. i totally reccomend reading it!

  45. Anonymous - I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the book. I work in a bookstore and am constantly asked what I would suggest for a 12-13 year old. I always go with this book, so it's good to know that I'm guessing correctly!

  46. Anonymous11:08 AM

    I felt that this book was very tasteless and dry. It has very little resemblence to modern life. The book to me was colourless and did not display any signs that make a book great. I storngly advise you to not read this book because it is a massive waste of time.

  47. I just read for summer reading in my high school it was good but it wasnt THAT good. I mean it was boring n dry at some parts but it was alright....but its not better then to kill a Mockingbird....evryone was saying this book is so good and this that and a third, but i was dissappointed it wasnt what it was hyped up to be.


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