Book Thief Readalong 1

1. What’s your first impression of Death as a character/narrator?
Its a little hard because my first impression was a long time ago.  I remember feeling a little apprehensive and thinking ‘Is this just a gimmick?  What is this going to be like?’  Now on my 5th read through I welcome his sarcastic, slightly bitter tone.  I think it is the only way you could create a nuetral voice in a story about wwII, especially one set in Germany. I know a lot of people struggle with death as the narrator but I think in a book like this you just have to go with it.
I love how the he describes the colors and flavors of the sky when he takes the people.  I can’t explain it but I know exactly what he is talking about.  Different moments in life do have colors and flavors.  Brilliant.
2. What’s your first impression of the unique writing style?
When I first read it I was in a rut where I felt like all book seemed the same.  I found Zusak’s writing to be so different that it was intoxicating. I didn’t want to put it down.  I love how many characters he manages to keep interest in and he doesn’t bog down in details of setting or time but allows the reader to picture a lot of that herself.
I love how death brings makes the reader think.  For example he asks us about fate? Is it the cause of the tragedies:
Of course not.
Let’s not be stupid.
It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds
3. Which character stands out to you the most so far and why?
I loved Rudy.  His innocence with the Jesse Owens stunt and his friendliness with Liesel.  He doesn’t understand what it means to be jewish, catholic or even black.  He in many ways is the opposite of the jaded death character.
I also immediately loved Hans.  My heart always opens to characters with pure intentions.  Hans is a good soul.  He even loves Rosa!
4. What do you think the author is trying to say about the power of words?
Well throughout the book there is a theme of stealing words.  Liesel says she is  “watching the words” when she first learns to read.  Then she steals books throughout the story.  When it gets to the story of the word chaser we see that even the fuhrer cannot stop the power of words and yet he created words.
5. How do you feel about all the foreshadowing that’s going on?
Gripping. Some of it is outright like with Rudy and the kiss and others are more subtle like Liesel learning to read the Gravediggers Handbook or her first book.
6. Also, how do you feel about all that German swearing?!? 
Honestly this I could have done without so much of it.  It really made Rosa a hard character for me to like and it makes the book harder to recommend to younger audiences.  Still, in a way it makes Rosa a more dynamic character.  I couldn’t figure her out on the first 2 readings.  I didn’t like her and still bristle at some of her behavior.
7. What do you think about the relationship between Hans and Rosa?
Rosa is perhaps the most complex character in the novel.  Why is she such a beast and yet she hides a jewish man and a communist’s daughter?  There has to be some good in her.  I couldn’t help but think of some old couples that I know where the man/woman is all gentleness and lightness but their partners are tough and more practical.  It seems like a combo you see a lot.  They don’t give you a ton of her backstory or explain her character motivations.  She works hard and is tired.  Its almost as if she is the death character on earth.
8. What do you think about the relationship between Rudy and Liesel?
Rudy is one of my favorite characters.  He is so sweet and lovely.  I think him and Liesel match well as friends.  They both have a nonchalance that is very appealing and both do not seem to care what others think about them.  I love the moment where Liesel finally unwinds the grief of her brother to Rudy.  Not to an adult but to a fellow-sufferer.

9.  What are your feelings on the politics of the time that we’ve seen so far?

I think Zusak does a good job of keeping the politics and even the setting as a eerie background.  We all know what is meant when Hans and Liesel take the washing to Dachau.  We know what the 3rd Reich did.  As readers we are all just waiting for the characters to figure it out.  Figure out the evil amongst them.  Hans and Rosa know that’s why Hans plays his accordion.  When will the children figure it out?

Death says that the Nazi’s came into power because Germans enjoyed burning things.  “Shops, synagogues, […] personal items, slain people, and of course, books”.  I can see how destruction has its own sense of power and control.  In a time of economic nothingness power could be extra intoxicating but Zusak doesn’t get caught up in these historical details but it is an undercurrent.
10. What images and/or symbols stand out for you in this story so far?

There are a lot.  You have things like the  jewish star, heil hitler, jesse owens, the colors of the sky, everything.


What did you guys think of the first part?  Here is the page on Suey’s books with her thoughts.  Enjoy!



9 thoughts on “Book Thief Readalong 1

  1. Your fifth time through?? Wow! It’s fun, though, to see so many different things all the different times we read it. I love it. Thanks for the awesome answers to all the questions!

    1. Thank you for starting the read along. I took a break to read Blackmoore and now need to get caught up. Happy reading!

  2. That is a great point that Death is the most neutral narrator for a WWII book. I love reading your perspective, since you know the book so well! I love Rudy right now so I’m happy it sounds like we’ll get lots of more of him in the story. (It’s my first time reading it) 🙂

    1. So is this your first reading Kathy? Its one you can definitely come back to and get more out of each time. I basically read it twice right after each other, one time on paper and one time on audiobook just to have further insight into the characters and story. Rudy is definitely one of my favorite characters. What amazes me is how many well developed, dynamic characters Zusak creates. That’s really hard.
      Its a sad story but I felt like the tears are earned. We really love the characters and go on a journey with them. Please keep me posted as you read.

  3. 1. I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, but I was curious to see how it would work in practice.
    2. I agree with your thoughts. I love reading it. It’s so delightfully idiosyncratic and it makes sense when I learned how much Zusak edited the book.
    3. I love Hans Hubermann, too. There’s a part on my blog where I suggested starting a Hans Hubermann Appreciation Society.
    4. Those are my impressions, too.
    5. Honestly, the foreshadowing can get annoying. But it’s mostly just very interesting, how he tells us so much of what will happen next we know even Max Vandenburg’s name long before he appears. He seems to enjoy painting a road map for us of where the story is going to go. I don’t think this worked very well when Liesel stole the second book from the Nazi burning, though, because we had already been told the whole story so having this as a last chapter to the part felt decidedly lackluster.
    6. I thought it was amusing, a light running gag. I doubt it matters except in Germany, since most Americans wouldn’t recognize how vulgar the words are if they heard children saying them. That Rosa would swear so heavily and Liesel and Rudy kept copying it I found funny. Rosa taking her frustration at her washing customers out on Liesel and beating her with a wooden spoon made her harder to like for me.
    7. I’ll have to read it further. Also this segment gives away material in Part Three and following despite this being dedicated to Part One so I’ll stop here.

    1. I just realized I didn’t respond to this post. Sorry about that. And sorry if I gave away parts of part 3. What did you think of the rest of it? I will check out the blog.
      It is a very style-heavy book but after reading scores of the same books it was just so refreshing to read something so different. I haven’t read his follow up but I wonder if he will be the one hit wonder of books. It seems like a hard thing to pull off twice.
      What I especially appreciate about Hans is Zusak allowed him to just be good. Many modern novelists feel a need to tag on negative traits to characters because that supposedly makes them more ‘realistic’ but it drives me nuts. You end up with nobody to root for.
      Rosa is a complex character and I don’t give her a complete pass but she is tough to figure out so that is interesting.

  4. 8. I like the dynamic between Liesel and Rudy a lot. I like this description of Rudy because I was best friends with several girls when I was young, so I can relate to it: “He was not the junior misogynistic type of boy at all. He liked girls a lot, and he liked Liesel (hence, the snowball). In fact, Rudy Steiner was one of those audacious little bastards who actually fancied himself with the ladies. Every childhood seems to have exactly such a juvenile in its midst and mists. He’s the boy who refuses to fear the opposite sex, purely because everyone else embraces that particular fear, and he’s the type who is unafraid to make a decision. In this case, Rudy had already made up his mind about Liesel Meminger.”

    9. Zusak portrays Nazi Germany as an ordinary time and place with the politics being kept in the background and treated casually. I like how much we can relate to it. I have seen a man taunted for buying a Glenn Beck book by management at my local story and attempted to end heated political discussion I got into by suggesting it is foolish to judge others by their politics and been responded with “I judge people by their politics all the time. Mindbending, I’m sure”. And many of these people are fans of The Book Thief, and I wish they would realize Markus Zusak does judge people by their politics constantly, but not by saying he’s so much better than them because he doesn’t like Hitler. Rudy’s dad supports the Nazis for reasons we can relate to, and Hans’ son is a typical rebellious teenager who supports Hitler for reasons we can relate to, too.

    10. The frequent emphasis on colors, mainly. The focus of the descriptions seems to be based on the feeling of something rather than simply describing the actual thing in question.

  5. Also…

    “Many modern novelists feel a need to tag on negative traits to characters because that supposedly makes them more ‘realistic’ but it drives me nuts. You end up with nobody to root for.”

    I don’t think I’d recommend The Casual Vacancy for you lol.

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