The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The daughter picked up this book, Book Thief by Markus Zusak, towards the end of her school year and read it as part of her summer reading. She is quite the bookworm if left alone, though unfortunately, school work and her activities do not allow her as much time to curl with a book as she’d like. I can absolutely relate to the feeling.

However, one encouraging and habit forming part of the county’s curriculum is to read a book and review it. It actually counts towards the grade. How well you read, understand and perhaps enjoy the book translates into a document that will either impress the teacher or not and award the final grade. This could very well be of huge importance in the grand scale of the rat race we belong to. Sometimes more than one kid would read a book. In that case, it becomes subjective. The graded’s opinion and the grader’s decision. When such challenges are presented right from 5th, 6th grades on, children tend to get quite good at it. If not anything, our of sheer practice of knowing that their opinion is judged, makes them not only wary readers, but attentive ones too. Now imagine doing this sort of thing through childhood; through the formative years, when a person’s habits and persona can be molded. A habit as that, can only be rewarding in many ways.

If the children take this seriously enough, they ultimately become avid readers, sharp critics most definitely thoughtful, detail oriented writers. [I am filled with envy as I write this. Then again, I live vicariously through them.] While the daughter read this book, she’d squeal occasionally, or come downstairs with a dazed look on her face. On shaking her out of the reverie she’d exclaim “Oh Mom, you have GOT to read this book. It’s so cool!” She even went to the extent of suggesting her brother to read. That is a wonder in itself.

She renewed the book for me. Insisted every few days that I should start on it. Chiding me, scolding me and one Sunday afternoon berated me, before returning it to the library. I sincerely had made an effort. I managed 4 pages. 3 weeks flew by. Strange? It’s not the usual “no time” reason/excuse. I can explain, if you let me.

I love books. Unfortunately, some books just don’t love me. (..contrary to what I had earlier written here about books not having feelings!) It’s like they have a mood of their own, a mind even. There have been some classics, some really fine pieces of literature that I have diligently given my best, in terms of time, interest and focus. Yet, they evade me. Then when I give up all hope and turn my attention elsewhere, they creep back on me. Like the shadows in the mountainside. While you are admiring the sunset, there they steal in behind you, and before you know it, envelop you in their inky depth.

School started last month, and she wrote this review for the English class to be graded. She got an A. Mighty proud she was of it too, explaining that she was the only one who wrote it as a book review (as opposed to a book report), sustaining a mystery to the reader, and clearly the one who didn’t start with a sentence “Over my summer holidays, I read… ” .

Here is her review. She’d left it on the screen after working on it, and I happened to read it. It’s made me check the book out again, and this time the book loves me! I hope it feels the same way for you too.

ps: Please bear in mind that this was written by a 13 year old, who is still a child in very many ways. The review may not be the kind that you’d read as adults, but hey, she’s mine and I occasionally play the role of a proud mommy to the hilt!

“… It was raining on Himmel Street when the world ended for Liesel Meminger. The sky was dripping. Like a tap that a child has tried it’s hardest to turn off but hasn’t quite managed.” Page 497

The book in which this moving quote was taken from is The Book Thief. Written by Markus Zusak, this book informed the readers about a new perspective of World War II. This novel was set in Munich, Germany during WWII, under Nazi control. Categorized as a ‘historical fiction’ novel, this book takes you through the years of a young girl fearing the same fear as the young girl living in America during this time. It sounds interesting doesn’t it? For one thing, it’s the exact reason I chose to read this 592-page book.

A young girl residing in Germany, when 1/3 of the world is fighting against you. Whose life could that possibly be? Liesel Meminger’s of course. This orphaned child is the main character of the book. Liesel is also the book thief, because of her instinct to ‘borrow’ these books ‘secretly’. As she goes through her life, she meets friends that stay with her as long as death will allow them. Including her best friend, Rudy Steiner, who ends up being her stealing partner. Rudy finds that Liesel is the only child who can compete with him in anything. Unfortunately, Liesel finds herself lying to her best friend in order to keep one man safe. Max Vandenberg. Max is a runaway Jew, hiding from every corner of the country. Luckily, one of his departed dad’s friends was nice enough to take him in for a while. He and Liesel soon grow to be very strong friends. But who was the nice man to take this homeless Jew in? It was Liesel’s foster father, Hans Hubermann. Hans, the most caring character in the book, shelters Max in his basement, and educates Liesel as much as he can. Everything Liesel knows about reading is thanks to him.

War. This is what the book was truly about. The entire conflict revolved around that one word. There were bombs, shelters, destroyed buildings, and lots of souls flying everywhere. Throughout the story, the entire city of Munich undergoes ‘bomb drills’ except for the fact that on one occasion, the city is warned too late. The climax of the story is built up from these bomb drills. During the last 10 or so pages, though, is when it finally takes action. All I will say is that, Liesel Meminger is the one soul in Munich, that hasn’t been taken away. Unfortunately there was nothing to do about it. Instead, she just goes back to where she started.

This book was a very emotional novel. To me, it was all about friendship. This entire book was about sticking together. At first, there was Liesel and Rudy. In this story, without each other the title wouldn’t have made sense. Liesel would have never been able to steal all the books without Rudy’s help. Secondly, there is Liesel, Hans, and Max. If Liesel and Hans had decided to betray Max, then he would have been out of the story, in the beginning itself. Also, Liesel and Max. When Max was kidnapped, there was no way that Liesel would have jumped out into the line to try to talk to him, if she wasn’t friends with him, even though she was beat ferociously. Then there was Liesel and Hans. If those two hadn’t gotten it together, Liesel would still be wetting her bed, and also have no reason to steal books, since she can’t read. Without friendship the story truly wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

Though this book may seem sad and depressing, it is one of my favorite books of all time. For once, a novel doesn’t end with a ‘happily ever after’ instead, it does with a more thoughtful ending. This novel also grabs my interest because, in History, we learned about the War, from the Allies point of view. This time, readers received a different point of view and realized that the citizens of those cities feared just as much as we did of what was going to happen. Anyone who enjoys history, a little suspense, and some laughter will definitely enjoy this story.

Even if you don’t, once you read this book, I will guarantee that a few opinions will change.

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22 thoughts on “The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

  1. “…do not allow her as much time to curl with a book as she’d like.” I can totally relate to that too. After commute and work, I barely have time to talk with the family, or unwind. So, I started listening to audio books during the drive. I am actually consuming more books than ever before, and I am able to bear the long commute without any boredom. I actually look forward to doing it now.

  2. thats really good. I was reading Archies, Gokulam and Tinkle at 13 and may be occational Charles Dickens from the school non detail. We were graded for;

    Q: What did Tom Sawyer offer his first friend to paint his fence?

    If my answer was Apple I got my 2 marks…pitiable isnt it? Glad times are changing.

    I was so averse to book during my school days, thanks to the pressure of people telling *study study study* all the time, I eventually did’nt pick up the habit of discovering the joy of reading till 18 :(.

    Why 13!!, I guess I would have written
    “Over my summer holidays, I read…” even at 18 :D.

    sounds like an interesting book, will try to read.

  3. I got this book not once but twice from the library since I’d read very good reviews about it both on NY Times/Washington Post as well as The Guardian. But like you, the book just didnt love me. Have been unable to give it another shot.

    Even after reading this review(which btw, is terrific- specially coming from a 13 yr old)- I dont know when I will be ready to take it up. Will definitely let you and your daughter know when I do :-)

  4. Your thirteen year old has a really mature way of writing! You SHOULD be proud and posting her review was the most natural thing to do! She may probably be pretty embarrassed about it (if she has found out!) but I bet, she’s secretly really touched!

  5. nice, her style of writing is engaging, and she seems to make a connection with the reader rather than hanging on the “what I felt about this book” approach..

    The opening quote and third para’s start with emphasis on “war” is commendable.

  6. All: Thanks for your encouraging comments. Will get her to read all. Hopefully, am alive neough to come back and let you all know how that went. :)

    BG: As I said, 13 year olds have been doing this since they were 9 years old. Thanks! :)

    Pavan: Thank you. :)

    Roshni: Thank you and welcome. :)
    Yeah, I plan to show her the comments. “touched” not so sure at her age, but thrilled with a hint of ‘bragging rights’ could very well be on the horizon.

    Altoid: Oh, I know, it is a hard book to plod through. I imagine the subject and setting is a little hard if you aren’t familiar enough with it.
    Wars are all that they study these years.

    Praveen: lol@Tom Sawyer :) I know, I wish our school curriculum made it easier for us to fall in love with books.

    Baph: Try as I might, it was hard for me to focus on the narrator. I guess I could give it a shot again and see.

  7. yayy for bookworms! I have found that a lot of recently published children’s books are really very good. Have you read the books by Blue Balliett (Chasing Vermeer and the Wright 3)? Great stuff.

  8. I have heard of “The Book Thief,” and am proud to say that it is on my list of books to read. I am in love with historical fiction books with stories that revolve around the many great historical wars! I just finished reading “Bedlam South,” by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson (this book is scheduled to be released on October 7th, but I was able to get a copy to pre-read before October 7th). It is a great story centering around the Civil War. Very well researched and very well written.

  9. Wow! As a 13 yr old all I could squiggle down on paper was ‘My India’, ‘Science – Boon or Bane’ or some other cliched, done-to-death ultra-puerile topic. I knew squat about book-reviewing then, although I read them! I see a potential blogger in your little girl. Why don’t you ask her to do a guest post sometime? Should be really nice to read what goes on in today’s 13 yr. old minds. :)

  10. Stitha: haha, so did I, but then if the interest is there, I guess we turn out okay in this area :)
    This was a guest post ;-)

    becky: Thanks for commenting! Will let the daughter know. :)

    bookworm: Nope, haven’t heard them at all. You the bookworm here. :D
    Will look them up.

    Bpsk: This is what I understand.
    A book report is more of a descriptive narration. You get into the details and the whats and the whens and whys of the tale. Look at it as a quick gist of the book.
    A book review is one where you tease. You give only sparing details and only enough to make the reader want to go pick it up and experience it.

    Sort of marketing and piquing readers’ interest.

  11. That’s the sort of review that makes me want to read the book rightaway. I’m going to see if it’s available at my library! :) I dont claim to know what you mean by “she’s still a child in many ways”… but to me this is not a childish review at all. It’s an insightful, engaging write-up. Your young lady seems pretty mature – do tell her that her bragging rights are well earned! :)

  12. I could never write as a kid, never had the patience to do so. I wonder how i write gargantuan posts these days though…

    Simiarly I never had te patience to read a book, I still dont. As a 13yr old all i did was badger other kids at debate competitions and boy was I blunt or what!

  13. max: Becoming a good debater takes skill and confidence. That’s worthy in itself :)

    Shyam: Thank you. Just by this alone, you know she hasn’t taken after the mom! :)

    Naren: Daughter says PSP/XBOX is boring, but the boy will agree am sure :)

    All: The daughter read these comments. Her 1st reaction: How could you? That was MY review!”
    Then she goes “Roshni must be 13 years old too!, maybe not, am not “touched”, geez, Mom!”
    On showing her the guest blogger option, she clarified “I don’t want to be a blogger, am going to be a journalist!”. With that she left the room!

  14. I’m so jealous! You have a child who can write. I don’t see any such spark in my 10-year-old, and the school here doesn’t encourage book reviews nor does it give them a reading list for the holidays. Son’s vocabulary is limited to the way he talks – “It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s awesome!” Maybe he’s a late bloomer. Daughter can’t read yet and lives in a pink, poufy Barbie world, but I hope at least one child can string words together.

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