Where do I even begin?
First, I am going to steal like Liesel and post the beginning of Goodreads’ user Tamara‘s review of The Book Thief (Is it stealing if I credit her? I mean, I don’t actually want to steal her words and her be mad at me should she ever see this!): “I give this 5 stars, BUT there is a disclaimer: If you want a fast read, this book is not for you. If you only like happy endings this book is not for you. If you don’t like experimental fiction, this book is not for you. If you love to read and if you love to care about the characters you read about and if you love to eat words like they’re ice cream and if you love to have your heart broken and mended on the same page, this book is for you.”
I have to say, if I had read those words before reading the book, I might have been more hesitant to read it. But the choice to read this was actually a whim, based solely on the fact that I found I could borrow it as an e-book from my library without having to wait, so I thought, Why not?
But… Not a fast read? Maybe I’ll read it later when I have more time. Not a happy ending? I definitely don’t want to check that out. Experimental fiction? Well, I don’t know how I feel about that.
But wow, the words… the way Markus Zusak crafts words in this story is truly magical, and as an aspiring writer, that alone makes this book a worthwhile read. But then there are the people inside, whose story is so simple and tragic and believable and you cannot help but root for them.
I could quote so much of this book, because the book permeates beautiful imagery that you experience with all five senses, but I will let you discover the words yourself when you read them. What you need to know is that the narrator of the book is Death, and despite what you might think, he’s not all bad. In fact, he’s fascinated by colors in the sky and by the spirit of humans who are living and dying. And he is particularly taken by the story of Liesel, a young girl sent to live with a foster family while living in Nazi Germany.
Her brother has died, she has been separated from her mother, she never knew her father, and she feels all alone in the strangers’ house with an empty bed beside her. But she grows to love her new Papa, she makes a best friend named Rudy that the people in town find strange, and she makes it her personal mission to learn to read the book that she stole at her brother’s grave site.
I won’t delve any further into the story, except to say that books, reading, and words all play an important part in Liesel’s life throughout the story. This is what carries her through hard times and what bonds her with certain people. I love when a book focuses so much on words.
I will say, however, that The Book Thief is not a perfect book. I actually found the pacing slow at first, because the story is so simple (and the first chapter or two is confusing I think because of Death’s narrative), but the more you read, the more you care about the people. Also, about halfway through the book Death gives you a major spoiler alert for the end. I guess in a way this was good, to soften the blow as he even says (plus he hates suspense!), and it made it less hard later. Yet, it also made it maybe a little less emotional as well. But don’t get me wrong, I still cried at the end.
And then there’s the language. There’s a lot of it, a lot more than I prefer. I considered knocking off a star for it, but it felt wrong to give this book the same number of stars as other books I did not feel nearly as inspired by, so I give it five stars with that caution of language. There were not any f-bombs, but there was a large amount of “moderate” language.
This book is very stylistic. If you can’t get on board with what the author is doing, you won’t like it. But I hope you give it a chance if you haven’t yet. And while the book is incredibly sad, there is some hope in the epilogue (without it, this may have been a four star review instead). Though it’s small and I wish there was more, it was poignant and was probably just the right amount for proper closure.
Stephen King once said: “There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.” I believe this book is both good story and good words, a book to treasure.
Language: A large amount of moderate language, as mentioned above. You can also read more about it at Rated Reads.
Sexual: None, except a mention of imagining someone naked, but there is no description.
Violence: Mild/moderate. There is death in this book, but it’s not described in too much detail. There is also some other violent incidents, some which are mentioned with some detail, but nothing too graphic.
I know this is a favorite for many. If you’ve read The Book Thief, what were your thoughts?
I was really unsure of this book once I finished for exactly the things you mention at the beginning of this blog. It wasn’t fast-paced at all and I kind of expected it to be. I look back now thinking that the slower-pace was a much better choice. It wasn’t a happy ending, in fact a friend was just telling me she cried over the ending. I’m still not sure how I felt about it – you’re right though, the sentences…impeccable.
I can certainly understand the mixed feelings. It’s not a light or easy read, and it does rip your heart out. At the end I think the reader has to decide for himself/herself if it was worth it all. I think the epilogue helped me a lot in feeling hopeful.
Wow, this is one of my favorite books of all time ever since I read it. But it took me a while to gather the courage to actually start it, because everyone was telling me how heartbreaking it was. It was totally worth it. The language, the story, the characters, the setting (the WWII by itself is a shocking event, full of different stories that could be told and many that never will). I’m not sure why, since I didn’t write the book or anything, but I’m really happy that you liked it despite it being unusual. You can go read my review of it if you want, but I think it’s pretty much me gushing about it! Haha 😀 Great review!
Ha ha, I’ll check out your gushing review sometime. WWII is a period in time that really fascinates me, and basically WWII was all I knew about this story when I dove into that. And that Death was the narrator, which I thought was interesting. I’m definitely glad I checked it out!
As I’m sure you know, I suffer from horrible book amnesia, so I don’t remember the bad language but I remember caring so much about each character and just bawling my eyes out at the end. I literally just had to force my boyfriend to sit and listen as I explained the entire story to him and how it pulled my heart around and yeah. I’m sure this one will be re-read in the near future, just because I don’t want to forget it. I’m glad you enjoyed it as well!
I’m more sensitive to language than a lot of people, but honestly if I didn’t write about it in my review, there’s a good chance I would have forgotten about it too by the time I re-read it. Since I have written it down though, I’ll probably remember, since writing things down seems to help my forgetfulness.
Yeah, at some point while reading I told my husband that I was reading a book that everyone said was heartbreaking and how now I knew what was going to happen at the end, and I think he was confused as to why I was doing that to myself! But I just needed to know that Liesel was going to be OK!
Magical and inspiring words? That sounds enchanting and I love the quotes you picked out! This is a wonderful review. 🙂 I’m usually an avoider of tragic books but I might have to give it a go.
I’m not usually a fan of tragic either, but I do think this one was worth it!
Great review, Amy! I adored this book, and this review really did it justice. I absolutely LOVED Death’s narration and the experimental prose. OMG. Those first few chapters were actually some of my favorites. They drew me in so much and really convinced me I was going to love this book. <3
Thanks, Kelley! I did find the very first few chapters interesting, but I think sometime shortly after Liesel got to the house I found it a little slow for a short while.
I was waiting for your review to try and decide if this would be a good book for me…but I’m still so conflicted! It sounds like a great read, but I really don’t like sad endings. Still, I do think the best books are the ones that make the reader feel some sort of strong emotion…I might just have to give it a try. Great review, by the way! 🙂
I’m sorry this ended up not completely helping! There are definitely strong emotions in the book though! Maybe you can borrow the book so you don’t have to buy, but it is a time investment. Good luck! 🙂
I was hearing so much about it, and I managed to borrow it from someone, and I can’t regret it. I didn’t cry at the end, mostly because I was in school and I was already warned about what would happen by Death. But I loved the prose, I love the writing, and I love the sweet and simple story, although there were times I didn’t understand it. But it was that kind of book that makes you say wow.
I do agree with you about it being slow, but I didn’t mind. The writing was enough for me to continue reading.
I think the prose and the characters really make the story!
On my TBR 🙂
Good! I hope you enjoy it!