Book Thief

book thief

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog how much I love The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I can confidently say it is the best book published in my lifetime.  I can’t think of anything that even comes close.  My favorite book is still North and South but this one is a very close second.

The reason why I wanted to profile it today is because my blogger friend over at Suey’s Books also loves this novel and is doing a read-along in September.  There will be insight posted daily with discussion questions, twitter chatting etc.  I will be participating and I thought some of you might enjoy it also

The other news on the Book Thief front is the trailer for the upcoming movie came out.  In some ways I’m optimistic (I really felt it was an unfilmable book) but in other ways very skeptical (how can you not have death in the trailer!).  Those who’ve read it what do you think?

If you are one of the few people who haven’t read The Book Thief let me tell you why it is so spectacular.  It is set in WWII Nazi Germany but it is not a Holocaust book; although that certainly plays into the story.  That alone makes it unique.  Then it is narrated by death as a sarcastic, scary, biting, politically neutral force.  It is a brilliant choice as narrator not simply a gimmick.  Who else could be neutral about WWII?

Then you have a little girl, Liesel, who’s parents are communists so she and her brother are smuggled onto a train where the brother dies and Liesel stumbles upon her first book.  Unable to read she takes it anyway and shows it to her new foster parents The Hubermans.

Rosa and Hans Huberman are quite the couple.  Hans is all loving and sweetness; while Rosa is somewhat of a tyrant.  However, you know that she is helping this girl and a Jewish man named Max who hides in the basement so she can’t be all bad.  Later Liesel becomes friends with a little boy named Rudy who adores her and the mayor’s wife Ilsa who has a whole library for her to explore.

WWII unfolds for these characters with all kinds of moral challenges, sweet moments and tragedy.  You have to read it.  The thing that amazes me about The Book Thief is how many well developed characters there are.  Most books are lucky if you have two dynamic characters.  This book has at least 6 maybe more.  There are characters that only appear for a page or two and yet you see a whole story arc and feel for them.  It’s amazing.

Then the book has so much to say.  First, its a commentary on war and the baseness but also grandeur of human nature.  Death teaches the reader about all he has learned about mankind at his job, especially in the busy season of WWII.  A character like Rudy shows the innocent and loving side.  Rosa shows the complex but deeply human side.  Hans shows the brave side.  Everything around them shows the horrible side.

The Book Thief also has something to say about books and the power of words.  Liesel is a book thief but in a way aren’t we all.  We take the inner most thoughts of the author, absorb it and then make it our own.  In the book-within-a-book that Max writes for Liesel, The Word Shaker, we learn about a group of people who have the power to throw words at people. One particular girl climbs a tree and the fuhrer tries to chop it down but despite trying multiple axes he cannot cut the tree or destroy the word shaker.

(See why I think this movie is unfilmable).  Anyway, Zusak’s point is that words create evil and have the power to save humanity.  We should in the end all be book thieves like the word shaker. Maybe such tragedy shown in the book wouldn’t happen if we did.

I hope that isn’t any spoilers.  I tried.  Its such a great book.  I’ve read it 4 or 5 times and each time I have a full spectrum of emotions including weeping.  Not a small tear but actual flooding. And its a good kind of crying.  A crying where you have been truly moved, not manipulated. Second to last time I read it I was listening to it (a great audiobook btw) on a greyhound coming home from a swim in Vegas and at certain point I started to cry.  I couldn’t help myself.  I wonder what those bus riders thought of me!

Anyway, take this chance with Suey’s read along and read The Book Thief.  You won’t regret it.  I’m reading it again and I look forward to being dazzled all over again.  Happy Reading!

Please put in the comments what you think of the trailer.  Hopeful? Skeptical?



11 thoughts on “Book Thief

    1. I agree the casting looks really strong in this movie. That gives me hope but weren’t you surprised to not have the narrator at all? It seems so perfect for a trailer and is so important in the book. I love Emily Watson so that should be interesting as Rosa. It’s such a tough character. Hard and cold but a tenderness in there. Tough acting job for her. I’m optimistic but I really thought it was unfilmable. How do you think they will do the standover man and the word shaker?
      I’m excited too and a little nervous.

  1. I’m feeling about like you. I don’t think the movie can possibly come near having the same impact as the book, but I think it will probably be a good movie nevertheless. I try to treat movie versions of books as something totally separate. If it were the same as the book, it would suck as a movie, while if you made a book that was exactly like a movie it would likely suck as a book. I hope I can enjoy the movie without feeling gyped if it doesn’t leave me with all the same feelings as the book! We’ll see how that goes . . .

    1. That’s a good outlook. Most of the time I can do that but its hard when its a particularly favorite book. I hope it will be good. There are a few cases where I think the movies actually improve on the books- Sound of Music, Perks of Being a Wallflower. Movies can do a good job providing scope or atmosphere to a story (think Les Mis) that a book can’t show but they usually aren’t great at inward monologues and asides. The fact that death isn’t in the trailer baffles me. Don’t you think that is a strange choice?
      Still, the filming looks cool. The cast great and its right around Oscar season so the studio must have some faith in it. Fingers crossed!
      Didn’t you just love this book? A lot of people thought it was sad, which it is but its so profound. I also love that it was a unique experience. There are so few things these days that don’t feel like a derivative or copy of some other source. It may still be good but its so exciting to actually have an authentically original experience. Reading the Book Thief did that for me. So amazing!

      1. I was surprised death wasn’t in the trailer as well, but I’m honestly not sure how they would go about doing that.

        This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in the last ten years. The only real criticism I’ve heard that I kind of agreed with is that the WWII setting is overused, but I think that’s forgivable since Zusack does approaches it so differently than others. It’s rare to find a book that has both eloquent style and a strong story to tell. It’s really a work of art.

        1. I think Jeremy irons would be a great death. Can’t you just hear the voice of Scar talking about the confusion of mankind? They really should have consulted me for the movie 😉 I’m glad they picked an unknown for liesel.

    1. I will definitely read all of your entries. This post was just my introduction so make sure to check out my later posts. It’s certainly the most stunning modern novel I’ve ever read. What blows me away is its depth. He develops real emotion for the most minor of characters and you get a whole story arc from at least 10 characters. That’s so hard.
      In a world of sameness it was so refreshing to read something so different. Exhilarating!

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