Thursday, April 17, 2008


In 1939, ten-year-old Liesel Meminger is placed with a foster family in a poor suburb of Munich. As Liesel grows up, the Nazi party becomes a larger and larger force in her life, and the war descends on her dingy city street. Liesel, her adoptive parents, her best friend Rudy, and a stowaway Jew named Max do their best to survive and be good people in an atmosphere of misery, oppression, starvation, and fear.

This is an important new, fresh treatment of World War II (and some parts of the Holocaust) for Young Adult readers. I believe strongly in the periodic publication of books like this, because I know I, for one, need reminders about World War II, what happened, and what humans are capable of (on both the good and bad extremes). I can see THE BOOK THIEF being to this generation of young adult readers (not to mention adult readers, of whom there are many) what NUMBER THE STARS was for mine.

Zusak has created an unusual narrative structure which leant the book some interest for me. Death is telling the story (in an unexpectedly sensitive way), and although this felt a little clumsy at first, the construction opened the door for a lot of valuable and poignant insights throughout the book.

I particularly admired Zusak's recreation of "everyday" life during the Nazi regime. He shows very clearly that there were many, many ways to die during World War II. The protagonists of the story are all indefatigably likable "good" Germans, and the book becomes a piece of heart-rending homage to the fallen (and the survivors).

I would recommend this book and I do think it's a good read. I didn't love it quite as much as I hoped, though. The language often irritated me--it was often gimmicky and/or redundant (Liesel is always "handing out" words) and feels like it fed heavily on Jonathan Safran Foer. In some ways, I wish the whole book had been a little more straightforward and a little less impressionistic. But these concerns do not weigh on me heavily for this book because the author has done such a thorough and commendable job executing his very difficult content.

An added bonus--the bookishness element you would assume from the title. Liesel is a word lover (she begins the story illiterate) and it is reading and writing that gets her through the darkest times of the war. A charming aspect for book people. (Like everyone here.)


ChristineEldin said...

I'm so glad you posted a review of this book. It's been a while since I've read it, but I truly loved it. I didn't feel it was gimmicky. I felt that since the main character was so young, that it had to be told in this way.
I remember reading this in one sitting.

ChristineEldin said...

Moonie, could you add me to your sidebar as a link of reader blogs?

moonrat said...

woops! sorry. should have been up there long ago!