Friday, 28 February 2014

Book Talk (#1): The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What are BOOK TALKS?
Book Talks are one of two features that I decided to use on my blog instead of a typical book review. In book talks, rather than critiquing the book, my aim is to discuss the book with other people who have already read the book. I aim for more of a discussion, or a "talk", rather than a review. 

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

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who 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.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Date Published: 1st September 2005  Date Read: 25th February 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction (World War II)
General Verdict? Something to be read by ALL
The Safe Non-Spoiler Section: 
When I started this book, I felt like I was one of the only people who hadn't read it, so I don't know what point there is in saying this but if you haven't read this book, you absolutely must read it. Like seriously, I don't care about what sort of books interest you, The Book Thief is just one of those books that has to be read by everyone. After reading it myself, I just feel that it is not possible to read this book and not have your heart touched by something incredibly special. 

I feel that I'm doing myself and this book an injustice by writing my first review for THIS book, because I just want to shove this book into everyone's hands and tell them to read it, and reread it, and then reread it again and again because it something that needs to be shared by everyone.

It's not an easy book to get into as The Book Thief has a unique writing style that does take time to get used to, but once you get past the Prologue you start to fall in love with how the story is told. 

Oh, and you're also destined to have your heart obliterated into a thousand million shards. 

I'm the type of person that likes to go into books knowing as little as possible, so all I'm going to say to those who haven't read it is:
  • The writing is so beautiful, that once you're sucked in, you realise you're reading something truly great.
  • You will grow to love all the characters in this book so deeply. They'll be unforgettable to you. 
  • And hell, this book is going to HURT.
Spoilers May Be Below!
Like I said before, I feel like I am one of the last people to read this book. I don't know why I kept pushing it away. My best friend from high school could never stop raving about it and so so SO many people across the bookish community were bowing down to this book and all its amazingness. But hey, I'm glad I finally read it. 

There are two main things that, to me after my first read, make this book what it is. And that is the writing and the characters. All things considered, I suppose the plot is relatively slow moving (until THE END oh be still my fragile heart) and didn't have as great an impact on me. 

the writing. 
I think one of the biggest things that I had to get my head around when I started this book was that it was narrated by death. We weren't having the story told to us by Liesel, or by Max, but instead death. And it was done so damn WELL. I think for me, this is one of the biggest aspects of the book that made me fall in love with it. It's just so damn unique, but so morbid at the same time. We see a personality...DEATH'S personality, but more on that later.

The main point for this section was...damn death. You're a good writer.
“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”
I'm not going to lie, initially it was a lot to take in, and I couldn't quite grasp my head around it, but once you get accustomed to it, it's beautiful. And that's the thing, you just have to sit with this book for a little bit, get through those first few pages, the prologue, maybe the prologue and chapter 1, but once you're past that..just wow.

the characters. 
Now this, THIS is what truly made this book earth-shattering for me. THIS is what made me feel all the feels and just cry my heart out until I was a weak, pathetic, ugly crying mess at 2am in the morning.  

Liesel Meminger
So even though the story wasn't TOLD by Liesel, Liesel really was our main character. Death followed her story. It was HER story being told.

The fact that Liesel was so young, I mean we started off the book with her at the age of 10, made us attached to her. You can't help but fall in love and care deeply for a child, especially a child as innocent and kind as Liesel, Liesel the Book Thief.

Liesel is a character who is struck by what seems to be constant tragedy if you look at it. In the first part of the book, her borther dies. Just like that. We don't even get to know him, we don't even know his name, nothing. And then suddenly he's gone. Then she loses her mother and has to deal with the realisation she won't be coming back. She's the only child in the school who can't read, she's plagued with constant nightmares, she befriends a Jew, she almost loses her Papa to the war because he stood up for the Jews and then when she almost has him back, she loses EVERYONE. This girl could just NOT get a break.

And she was just so, so so so strong throughout. Sure, she made mistakes. She wasn't perfect. But I swear each tragedy she faced made her stronger.
The nightmares ceased. She learnt how to read and how to write. And no matter how much the war tried to oppress her and condemn the Jews, she always held onto what she believed in. And yet, she was only a CHILD. It just amazes me that someone so young was capable of being so inspirational and so strong.

I just adore Liesel. I love her. She's a character so full of strength and goodness that it would be an honour to be half the person Liesel is.

Max Vandenburg
Oh Max. Oh Max oh Max oh Max oh Max. Where do I start with Max. Where can I start with Max. I mean, when you have a Jew in World War II, you know that his character is not going to be fine and dandy. His character's story is going to be full of pain and hardship. It's not going to be a happy story. It's going to break your heart. Max's broke mine as well.
His dad died when he was young. His family struggled to make any sort of living. He had to leave his family and then carry that grief around while he spent many years in hiding. Then he was captured...urgh. Oh Max oh Max. You broke me.
“I..." He struggled to answer. "When everything was quiet, I went up to the corridor and the curtain in the livingroom was open just a crack... I could see outside. I watched, only for a few seconds." He had not seen the outside world for twenty-two months.
There was no anger or reproach.
It was Papa who spoke.
"How did it look?"
Max lifted his head, with great sorrow and great astonishment. "There were stars," he said. "They burned by eyes.”
Hans Hubermann (Papa)
Papa is a man to be adored by all. When you find out that Liesel is going to be living with foster parents, I admit I was initially concerned. I was worried that whoever she was going to be with would be cruel to her. But they were so good to her, particularly Papa. Who doesn't love Papa. It's just not possible to love this guy. I mean even when he dies, even DEATH thinks he's something special. 

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do - the best ones. The ones who rise up and say "I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come." Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”
The way he looked after and cared for Liesel was so perfect. He truly was everything a real Papa could be to Liesel Meminger. This man taught her how to read, even though he barely could himself. This man taught her to be firm with what she believed. This man was so caring and so loving to everyone around him and was honestly just perfect. You just can't help but love Papa.

Ruby Steiner 
Ruby Steiner. Lemon haired Ruby Steiner. The reason for my incoherent sobbing for 20 minutes at ungodly hours of the morning. You gorgeous, flawless, wonderful boy. Liesel's partner in crime, Liesel's best friend.

Oh when he died I was so broken. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Wars have casualities. We know that. So many other children died in World War II, but when I grew as attached to Ruby as I did, his death just broke me. I was crying with Liesel as she lay over his dead body. He was so good, and truly loved Liesel. He would do anything for her. He stole with her, he defended her...the way he got into that river and fished out that strolen book for her, the way he held her down to prevent her from rushing off after the Jews which would have gotten her nothing but a severe beating...and the way he just kept wanting that kiss. That one kiss from Liesel MEminger, that he never got until his death. SOB SOB SOB.
“She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist's suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers...She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on...”
the major events. 
...Just...looking back at the book. And everything that happened, particularly in the last third of the book. It just leaves me in this awe, grief-stricken state. When Max had to leave, when Papa was sent to the war, when Ruby's father was sent to the war but didn't come back when Papa did, when Michael Holtzapfel committed suicide because he felt so guilty for wanting to live, and then the end. When everyone died except for Liesel.

This book just pounds you again and again with grief. With sadness. With devastation.

Yet somehow these characters move on, they overcome these things. Especially Liesel. Even if every story didn't have a happy ending, I felt that Liesel in particular grew and developed to become such a strong character. Her life was clouded in death (literally, I mean it FOLLOWED her story) but she kept moving on and she kept striving forward.

There are so, so very, very many additional things I could say about this book. I could talk about the themes, I could talk more about the writing, I could talk about these aspects of life and death and humanity and war that we saw through death. I could talk about Max's fantasies about him fighting with Hitler, and how he felt about the power of words and how he felt about Liesel. 

This book is just a book of endless discusison and awe, and this post is already INSANELY long. 

I know that this book is something that I have to re-read again today, to appreciate it more. There are so many elements I didn't pick up on. Relationships, plot points, perspectives, just an endless supply of things that make this book great, make this book the brilliant story it is. When a book finishes and you continue to cry for the characters that died for an extra 10 minutes, you knew you were truly attached and touched by something great. This book shoves you into a reality faced by many 70 years ago and just leaves you reeling.

So talk to me guys! What did you think of this book? Did it move you, change you as it did me? Did it touch you and leave an imprint on your heart?
Cause I seriously need to know. I need to talk about this amazing piece of work with people. 


  1. I love this book! I think I read it back in 2009 after I had read Hitler's Daughter & Once in English class in year 8. I then choose to study it for HSC because I loved it so much & wanted an excuse to re-read it. I loved the story & how it was told, death telling the story made it the way it is. I think that you would really enjoy Hitler's Daughter because you enjoyed this one

    1. Isn't it just so perfect and amazing? <3 Death telling the story really does make it what it is - if it was told by Liesel or Max it wouldn't be at all the same. I'll definitely look into reading Hitler's Daughter though! :D

  2. I haven't read this one so I only read the non-spoiler section. :) Everyone has been RAVING about this one so I'll have to get to both the book and movie soon! I'm glad that it stuck with you in a way and I'm super excited to get into it!:D

    Aimee @ Read by the Undead

    1. Aimeeeeeee! You have, have, HAVE to read it. You're going to love it I know. I haven't actually watched the movie yet but I'm hoping to get around to it sometime soon! I'm sure that this book is going to stick with you in the exact same way, it is just so beautiful and amazing.