The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

I liked The Book Thief. I thought it was a little overhyped, but it was good. It didn’t, you know, change my life or anything. But I liked it.

What I especially liked was the perspective. Not the narrator – I’ll get to that in a second. But it’s set in Germany during World War II, so it gives you both compassion for the German people who were caught up in something awful, acting as a group in ways that they likely would not have acted as individuals (or acting in ways that they felt they couldn’t get out of because of the power of the group), and frustration/anger/disgust with the people who did go along with it, who did act that way. And that, I think, is realistic. That’s life.

I don’t quite know how to or feel like summarizing it, so I’ll steal the publisher’s summary.

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Something about this summary actually kept me from reading it before. I saw it when it came in last summer, and I thought it sounded intriguing, but there was also something about it that seemed a little too . . . light or trite or something? Maybe the accordion-playing and the fist-fighting. But then I heard great things about it, and I planned on reading it. And then my pastor’s book club chose it, and he started it and was enjoying it, so I finally finally checked it out.

Of course I enjoyed Liesel’s story of learning how to read, of what books came to mean to her. And I liked the story of the courage of her foster family, hiding a Jewish man and trying to stand for what was right. I liked her best friend, Rudy, and her relationship with the mayor’s wife, and the way that her foster parents were three-dimensional characters: she had a vicious tongue and he could be a little lazy. But they both loved Liesel, even if the mother didn’t always show it in the ways I would have liked her to. And they did stand up against the Nazi party in small but important ways. All of that was, I thought, more nuanced than I would have guessed the book would be.

What I am undecided about, though, was the narration. This book is narrated by Death, and I thought it was very effective, his perspective and the way that he talked about the war and taking people’s souls (so many people . . . I forget how many people died during WWII, not just the numbers from the concentration camps). It gave it a certain poignancy, to think about WWII from that perspective. And yet, it was a little gimmicky. I felt like I read the whole thing with one eyebrow raised, not quite able to buy into it. That’s probably my fault more than the book’s, but I thought I should mention it. (I told my pastor that I found Death a little gimmicky, and he said he wouldn’t be standing near me any time soon. hee.)

With that said, I do think The Book Thief was very good. The ending was very powerful, and I cried several times as I was finishing. The ending made me like the whole book more overall, I think. It’s not light or funny, but Zusak did his research and it’s a different perspective than I’d read before, so if the summary or what you’ve heard about it catches your attention, you should give it a try. The narration is a little choppy in the beginning as it sets up the story, so it’s helpful to be patient there – I flipped back to those first pages several times as I was reading, taking the measure of the story through that. It’s a long book, but it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. And I did feel it was worth the effort of being patient, even if I didn’t get quite as into the story as I had hoped.

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