Sitzbook Book Review: ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak

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When I see the title of this post, it’s hard not to think that the word “book” appears too many times, but that’s just how it is.

I read this book a little bit ago. It’s listed as my book for July, but I got a bit behind (and still am), and I actually read it mostly in September when I was visiting Colorado. But I had even tried to start it at the end of last year, but when I saw that it was over 500 pages, I decided to save it for this year’s Sitzbook project. And here we are.

I was in a bit of a rush to finish it before leaving Colorado since my sister had loaned the movie to my parents, and I wanted to watch it before I came back to Costa Rica. So I may not have had enough time to properly appreciate the book like I would if I had had more time. But I still liked it a lot.

It tells the story of Liesel, a German girl who lives just outside of Munich during World War II. Her dad is a friendly painter and her mom is a strict German woman with a heart of gold. During part of the war, the family helps hide a Jew from the Nazis, so when that part happened, I was pretty sure I knew where the story was headed. This, despite the fact that the narrator, Death himself, gave many indications and hints about what would happen along the way, including even the end of the story. Nevertheless, I was often surprised, which makes me a happy reader.

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Now that I’ve seen the movie, it’s hard to not mix up what I saw with what I read, but I remember being impressed how faithful the movie was to the story. Of course, there can’t be as many details, but the ones that were included were spot on. They also got Geoffrey Rush for Papa and some Canadian girl to play Liesel, and they were both superb. I actually thought the girl was German, so that’s pretty impressive since child actors, especially ones with movie accents, can often be crappy, but she was excellent.

Now, I’ve read a lot of books about the Holocaust and World War II, and I was pretty sure this one would be taking the story in one of those directions, also. But it didn’t, which was impressive in a strange way. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it almost exclusively focuses on how a small town lives through the war, focusing most of the time on Liesel and her everyday experiences. Yes, they do hide a Jew in their cellar, but like I said, that wasn’t the main focus of the story. Liesel was the focus.

When I was reading the book, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I liked about it, or what made it different, but I think it was the fact that I’d not read a story that takes place in World War II in Germany that wasn’t completely about concentration camps or the war. I do think that the world should definitely continue to pay attention to those elements, but at the same time, it was a bit refreshing to see the time through the eyes of a young girl at that time. Some may say that doing that hides Nazi and German culpability and whitewashes the war, but I don’t think people will come away thinking, “Hey, the Germans didn’t want this war, they were all like this sweet little girl.” The story does make it clear that many people in the town were big Nazi supporters, and they get their comeuppance by the end when the book and the story is over. However, it does show that not everyone in Germany at the time was a full-on Nazi, and some just went along with the crowd to avoid trouble. Unfortunately for those who didn’t resist, though, basically everyone got swept up in the bombing, and the bombs didn’t care if you were a Nazi party officer or a young girl.

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In any case, the book had a very interesting premise and I liked it a lot. It was a fresh look at a story that I actually already knew more than I wish I knew (getting an MA in German Studies and Literature involves reading about two thousand more pages about Hitler than anyone should have to read). Using Death as a narrator could have seemed gimmicky, but Zusak pulls it off somehow. And the cast of characters are all believable and manageable, unlike some stories that I’ve had lately with seemingly hundreds of minor characters who don’t really matter.

All in all, I’d recommend both the book and the movie. What about you–have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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Sitzman

Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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