The Book Thief – Markus Zusak + Buddy Read with Joe from Stories of Storeys

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(Markus Zusak, 2005)

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

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind 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 accordian-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.

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

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How could that woman walk? How could she move? That’s the sort of thing I’ll never know, or comprehend – what humans are capable of.

What I Liked

  • Literacy
    • I love the focus and tie in to literacy. Liesel couldn’t read at the beginning of the book. She was teased about it. But through lots of late night practice with Papa she became a lover of books and words. It is a consistent theme throughout the story, and interwoven throughout all the characters. It was a nice change of pace from other kinds of fluffy stories I have been reading lately.
    • “Where Hans Hubermann and Erik Vandenburg were ultimately united by music, Max and Liesel were held together by the quiet gathering of words.” 

  • History
    • I am a lover of history, so historical fiction, especially stories centered around war, always intrigue me. It find the content devastating but so important. In many ways, I also feel much more connected to the characters because even if they specifically were not real, their were people like them in the same kinds of situations, living in that very real time. So in a way, they feel much more real to me, because they have that connection to the real world. That can absolutely be applied to the characters in this book. I can only imagine what life was like in Nazi Germany as the poor, and as someone of Jewish faith. But stories like The Book Thief help us to really put the pieces together and get a much more accurate picture of what that time was like.

What I Disliked

  • Pacing
    • I felt like this book dragged on forever, especially since the narrator at many different points in the book, references and teases the ending. At about the halfway point I was so tired of the story that I actually had to borrow the audiobook from the library and listen while I read to try to keep myself engaged. Most of the book is a day to day look at poor life in Nazi Germany which would be fascinating but I was more focused on the other stuff to really enjoy that slow burn journey.
  • Death
    • Unpopular opinion time: I did NOT enjoy death as the narrator. Don’t get me wrong, the idea was cool, and in some ways I liked it. I liked that it was mostly an outside perspective to the lives of these characters. However, many times throughout the course of the book Death hints and teases the death of the characters. Then he throws it away with “we’ll talk about that later” or some similar phrase. I didn’t like knowing from the beginning who was going to die, and eventually I stopped guessing the ending because I figured I would be spoiled before I got to it. I just didn’t like the way in which the story was told I guess. Not so much about death himself, but the way in which he told the story I guess.

They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.”

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Buddy Read

I was lucky enough to participate in a buddy read for this book. Joe over at Stories of Storeys and I were talking about another book we had both recently read (Dread Nation) and really enjoyed the banter. We decided it might be fun to do an actual buddy read the next time, so we compared TBRs and found The Book Thief as a common book between us. And so it was decided that we would read it together in the month of March.

Joe split the book up into sections of 40 ish pages (per day) and we were to talk at the end of each section to get out some thoughts and initial feelings. Our reading experiences were almost complete opposites from the start but to be honest, it made the reading experience feel much more rich, at least for me. He liked it a lot more than I did, rating it an entire star more than myself. But we both felt that we were expecting more from the ending. The time spent on each character, developing them into people we loved and cared for, we expected bigger, more dramatic endings for them. We knew some of them would die, that is a given when you read about war. And the narrator does tease the deaths for almost all the characters throughout the entire book, but somehow we both felt let down by the actual event.

To be honest, I probably would have DNFed this book if it weren’t for Joe. I am really glad that I pushed through though. I even ended up rating it an entire star more than what I originally wanted to, because of the experience of reading it together.

Final Thoughts

Like I mentioned before, I don’t think I would have finished this book had it not been a buddy read with Joe. And actually, Joe made me realize feelings that I didn’t know I had. For example, I really didn’t believe that I cared at all for any of these characters, but in actuality, I did! I did like reading about them, getting to know them. I just didn’t enjoy the narration of their lives I suppose. It was much too slow, and I could not hold on to interest while reading it. I mean I liked some parts, but I never had that “need to keep reading, one more chapter” kind of mentality for this book. It was just ok for me.

I know that this is an unpopular opinion because a TON of people in this community love this book. It could probably even be considered a quintessential read, but it just didn’t click with me. I liked the historical element, I liked the literacy focus, I even liked a bunch of the characters, but it just didn’t add up for me. There was always a disconnect somewhere that prevented me from really enjoying this book. I am glad that I read it though, and I am especially glad that I read it with Joe. I think that it was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to many more in the future.

Where was someone to alleviate this robbery of his life? Who was there to sooth him as life’s rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet?

No one. There was only me.

As a side note- does anyone who has read the book have any opinions about the movie? Was it worth watching? Please tell me what you think so I don’t waste my time on another crummy adaption :]

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on deck book On Deck:

Bookmarked is doing their very first (live) Book Discussion at the end of this month, and their book choice was Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid. Since I still have some time before the live discussion, I think I will pick this up and try to finish it quickly.

8 thoughts on “The Book Thief – Markus Zusak + Buddy Read with Joe from Stories of Storeys

    1. Yeah that is about the gist of what I seem to get from everyone who has read any of his books too though. I know a lot of people who loved The Book Thief really not like any of his other books, so I am hoping it will work the opposite for me where I will like the other ones, and just not TBT. But yeah, it definitely is interesting that TBT seems to be the determining factor for liking or disliking his other work. I wonder why that is.

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  1. I’m actually a bit happy to see that you were not really a fan of this one.. I never felt the interest in reading this but because everyone loves it, I kinda felt like I have to read it haha. Now I feel a bit less pressure :p

    (www.evelynreads.com)

    Liked by 1 person

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