The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Number of pages: 550
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.

* * *

I tried reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief in 2011, a little over a year after I got the book. Then I stopped, because I wasn’t in the mood to read the book yet, so I shoved it back into my TBR with no concrete plans of reading it. I knew it was good, but I didn’t know when I’d have the time to read it. Two years later, the book was selected for our book club’s discussion this month, and I figure that’s why I didn’t read it back then.

The Book Thief is a World War II story, set in Nazi Germany, about a little girl who steals books because of her love of books and words. But it’s not really that simple, because of the war, and all the other things going on around her and in her life with her foster parents. The story is also a little bit more complicated because it wasn’t narrated by the girl or any other people surrounding her. Instead, the entire story was narrated by Death, who was very busy collecting souls at the time of war and yet Liesel Meminger the book thief caught his eye.

I don’t like WWII stories. I’ve read several books but they weren’t books that totally focused on war or the casualties of it. I never really read much about bombings or the people dying, and I never liked reading about them because it saddens me, and quite frankly, it gives me the creeps. I didn’t know what to expect with The Book Thief, except maybe that people I know who read and loved them cried at the end…so maybe, I will cry too?

Here’s the thing: I thought that having Death narrate this story is quite ingenious. Sure, Death is quite snarky and he loves giving spoilers, but it gives the story a little bit of a different perspective, than say if Liesel was the narrator. I actually liked Death’s segues and the random facts, although it took me some time to get used to. There also wasn’t as much war in the book as I thought it would have, and it was good…but there were enough to make me stop reading for a while and breathe because I felt horrified at what I was reading. War is never a pretty thing, after all.

The little neighborhood in Molching, and the people in Himmel Street grew on me, some quick like Hans Hubermann and some took a while, like Ilsa Hermann. I was constantly holding my breath, hoping against hope that nothing bad would happen to them…but like I mentioned, Death loved giving so many spoilers, so even if I managed to spoil myself accidentally while we were having the online discussion for this book, I realized that getting spoiled early on didn’t really matter because the narrator would do that for you. But in a way, this builds the right expectations, and somehow, a part of me still didn’t want to believe what Death said would happen. Oh how I wished it wasn’t so. I’m also particularly fond of Rudy Steiner, too, and …that boy really just broke my heart.

The Book Thief made me reflect on several things, especially with how words and reading played such a big deal in the characters’ lives. That was my favorite part, how there was so much emphasis on reading and the power of words. I liked how it was illustrated in the book and how it showed that even if words were used for evil, you can use it for good, too, and using it for the latter touches so many people, even Death himself. I’m all about words, you see, and I could really relate with Liesel when she found her words and how she “…would wring it out like the rain.” (p.80) It made me wonder if I can still remember how it is not to have words at my disposal, and not to have the books where I have access to so many words. Furthermore, it made me wonder: do I use my words like the Führer? Or do I use them like Liesel?

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.

I didn’t bawl at the end of The Book Thief, but I did shed some tears, and it took me a while before I could move on from the story. I suppose, like Death, I was haunted. And I think that I will remain haunted by it for a little while longer, because there’s really so much in this book than what was written on the synopsis, or from its black and brown (at least in my edition) cover. It’s not just a WWII story, but more, and I’d rather that Death the narrator would spoil it for you rather than me.

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

One last thing: I hope that when Death comes for me, he’ll find my soul sitting up.

Rating: [rating=4]

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
The Nocturnal Library

In My Mailbox (3)

And…it’s another week is with good stash! Strangely enough, my wallet isn’t screaming bloody murder at me for buying so many books this week — maybe it’s because I got some extra funds from my freelance work. It’s not enough to get myself custom laptops, but it’s enough to get new books! :) That, and I got myself a Fully Booked discount card, so yay!

In My Mailbox is a weekly book meme hosted by Kristi from The Story Siren, where bloggers post about what books received that week, be it via  mailbox, library or store. Here’s what I got this week:

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…”The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure.

I wasn’t planning to buy any book this week, but Fully Booked sent me a message and told me my book is there…so I couldn’t just not get it. I also got my discount card that day, so I got another 5% off from the book. Awesomeness.

Audrey, Wait! by Robin BenwayAudrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

California high school student Audrey Cuttler dumps self-involved Evan, the lead singer of a little band called The Do-Gooders. Evan writes, “Audrey, Wait!,” a break-up song that’s so good it rockets up the billboard charts. And Audrey is suddenly famous!

Now rabid fans are invading her school. People is running articles about her arm-warmers. The lead singer of the Lolitas wants her as his muse. (And the Internet is documenting her every move!) Audrey can’t hang out with her best friend or get with her new crush without being mobbed by fans and paparazzi.

Take a wild ride with Audrey as she makes headlines, has outrageous amounts of fun, confronts her ex on MTV, and gets the chance to show the world who she really is.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed.But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets.

The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.

So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

Critically acclaimed author Rick Yancey has written a gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does a man become the very thing he hunts?

The day after I got my freelance pay, I had this weird urge to go to the bookstore. Okay, it’s not weird, but there’s the urge. I really just intended to browse, but then I saw Audrey, Wait! and I know there were good reviews for that, then I saw The Monstrumologist and remembered it was posted on the Fully Booked newsletter. Looked promising. I had to debate between that and The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, but the cheaper book won.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long lost half brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London, where he belongs. Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as mad as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. But he’s not just tall …he’s a GIANT. In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.

I found out about this one from Chachic and Tarie, and I was interested but I planned on waiting for it, but my editor asked me to review it. I got a copy of the book in Powerbooks Trinoma, after the Goodreads Filipino group meetup (will post about that later! :) ). I finished this one today and…well, expect a review, soon. :D

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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.

And my last purchase for the week. Highly recommended by…well, everyone, actually, so I thought it’s about time I got myself a copy. Plus I liked the sample, and the idea that the book is narrated by Death. I also have a feeling I’m going to cry in this novel — maybe it’s because of the WWII references? This is my second WWII novel (first one being The Last Time I Saw Mother by Arlene Chai, but I’m not sure if that counts).

And that’s it for this week. I think I’m going to curb my book buying after this…okay, maybe after I finally get that copy of  The Demon’s Lexicon in Fully Booked Eastwood. After that, I promise to stop! :)