The Book Thief

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I’d been meaning to read this for a year at least, but had never really gotten around to it.  Mainly because it’s about the Holocaust, which isn’t a subject I particularly enjoy, as I really don’t like sadness.  However, as the book was only a quarter at a yard sale, I decided to give it a go.

I’m actually really glad that I did give this book a chance, because it has a unique narrative style that I’d never seen before; the whole book is narrated by Death.  It’s not actually as bleak as it sounds though.  Death isn’t malicious or cruel, and provides an interesting perspective on human behavior.  Come to think of it, the whole book isn’t as unbearably sad as I thought it would be.  I mean, yes, it is sad.  I cried.  But it wasn’t as horrible as it could have been, and it wasn’t really gory or violent at all, which I appreciated.  I also thought it was interesting to see the Holocaust from the viewpoint of German citizens, as they are often portrayed as murderers or mindless zombies, and it’s easy to forget that not all of them condoned the cruelty their dictator encouraged.

The book is about a young girl in Nazi Germany who is sent to a foster family because her mother needed to go with the Nazis.  On the train ride to her new home two things of importance happen to our heroine: her brother dies, and she steals her first book.  Although she can’t yet read, Liesel develops an attachment to the written word, and as she learns to make sense of the words printed on the page, her hunger for books grows.  Soon she is stealing banned books from Nazi-enforced patriotic burnings, and sneaking into people’s houses in search of books to feed her growing need for knowledge.  A need that, combined with her compassionate heart and capacity for rebellion, may put her and her family in danger.

My favorite aspect of this book was the characters.  There was of course, a plot, but it wasn’t really like the buildup-climax-resolution arc that I was taught about in elementary school.  It was more like just the events of ordinary days in Nazi Germany, and the focus was on how the characters reacted to said events, and how those events shaped them.  This book is all about  characters.  Which actually makes sense, as a person’s true character is revealed through hardship.  The tempests raging around them serve first and foremost to shed light on the strength of character of some people, and to reveal who our heroes and heroines really are.

I’d recommend this book, because it deals with some weighty topics in a bearable way, and because it manages to be a fairly quick read and have well crafted language and thought provoking ideas all at once.  But don’t expect to come out of the book completely unchanged.

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3 thoughts on “The Book Thief

  1. I really like how you ended this review because a lot of my friends thought this would be a book that would change their life due to all of the hype. However, I felt the same as you. I’d recommend it, but it wasn’t death defying.

  2. While I agree that it’s dangerous to classify all Germans as anything, there seemed to be an agenda to this story – one that I couldn’t abide. There seemed to be an effort to claim the Holocaust as something that happened to the Germans. It is extremely well-written, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

    • I agree that it did have a very provincial viewpoint. I appreciated it because I already know what happened during the Holocaust, and had heard the story from the viewpoint of other countries, so it was interesting to see a new facet of the story from the viewpoint of ordinary German citizens in a small community. But I think your point is a good one, and it’s one we need to keep in mind as we read the story.

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