Saturday, 9 January 2016

Review: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

*WARNING: This review may contain mild spoilers.*


Although Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was one of the books that got me back into reading for fun after finishing my literature degree, it took me a long time to read. And I mean a long time. I started it at the end of my trip in America and didn’t finish it until the beginning of my travels in Southeast Asia, a whole four months later. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it took me so long to get to the end, because I loved the book, so much so that it made it into my 2015 favourites. But it didn’t quite captivate me enough to be a book I couldn’t put down.

In case you haven’t heard of The Book Thief (um, where have you been?!), the novel is set in Nazi Germany and centres around a young girl, Liesel, who has been sent to live with a foster family.

Although I can enjoy the book for its plot alone, it is the unique narrative voice that really sets the novel apart from others of its genre. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, and whilst it would be easy for such an approach to give the story a fantastical and perhaps slightly apathetic filter, Zusak’s projection of death portrays a sincere and poignant account of Liesel’s tale.

And it’s not just Death itself that makes the narrative interesting; its voice is compelling in both tone and the subtle revelation of important details, and there are frequent sections set apart from the rest of the text in the form of lists, often foreshadowing things to come.

Strong character voices are something Zusak achieves extremely well throughout the novel, and it’s not difficult to conjure these personalities from the pages. The only character I didn’t get was Max. I could understand his actions as a character and his purpose within the plot, but I just didn’t get a sense of his personality. Maybe that was the point, that as a silenced Jew he had become deflated and nebulous, but with Liesel being such charismatic individual, it didn’t seem right that she would become so fixated with a significantly weaker character.

One of my favourite characters was Rudy, with his stubborn ways and compassion and loyalty towards Liesel, but I’m glad their relationship is left where it is, and it doesn’t fall into any pits of predictability.

Even though a lot is set up and foreshadowed in The Book Thief, over the whole narrative as well as within individual chapters and sections, the novel is not once predictable or dull. And although I wasn’t immediately gripped, it becomes more and more of a page-turner towards the end, right up until the beautifully composed but crushing final moments.

The Book Thief will definitely be a book I return to in the future, and I have every confidence that it will continue to grow on me with every read.


Have you read The Book Thief? Or seen the film? Let me know in the comments, because I’m keen to watch the film adaptation!


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