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February 26, 2008

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Book 11 of my 52 books in 2008

I'm a sucker, as I've said before, for reading books that are popular and prominently displayed in the bookshops. This one seemed to be getting good reviews, so even though it was one of "Richard & Judy's" book picks, I gave it a go.

I was also intrigued by the thought of a book narrated by Death, but this is just the SF/fantasy fan in me and Zusak didn't really give me much of a fix in that area. There is little cleverness here in the use of this trick, and in fact, Death is really just what other people would call an omniscient narrator.

How did 'normal' German people react to what was happening in their country during World War II? That could be the story told here,and was what I expected. It works to some extentr, except that there are very few actual normal people. A book full of normal people, and their reactions to extraordinary circumstances is possible, and I would have liked a few more of them. But this is in many ways written like a children's book. The characters are all larger than life, with many episodes constructed for slapstick comedic effect. On the other hand, maybe this is needed in a book otherwise fo full of dreadful themes. That's my main problem with the book; when thinking about it, I hate it, and I like it, and I think some things should be changed, and then I think maybe they are needed after all.

To the story. A young girl called Liesl is the titular Book Thief. She is adopted by a family near the German town of Munich in 1939. Her mother has abandonded her, and her tragically sad journey gives her nightmares for many months.

She soon adapts to the new life, but only really makes one new friend, a boy called Rudy. As 1939 turns to 1940 and onwards, the effects of the war are very strongly felt. There is rationing and everyone is very poor. Lisel is taught to read by her new Papa, and though she cannot afford books, manages to steal some, and these become the only things she treasures. I thought the whole book theme, paradoxically, was the worst part of this novel. It feels contrived and unbelievable.

Many of the shocks the book throws at us are cushioned beforehand. So when a major character is injured or dies (there is a war going on, remember), you are prepared, and it's not quite so upsetting. This gets overdone, and is almost annoying. I think the author is trying not to upset his younger readers.

In summary, I liked it a lot at the end, but many parts were clumsy. It was very readable, and never had a chance to get boring - the 500 pages do fly past. but it's more of a teenagers book probably than an adult one.

[This review has been the most difficult I've written recently, and has actually taken several re-edits to get even close to being finished, and I'm still really unhappy with it. So it goes]

Posted by se71 at February 26, 2008 12:43 PM


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