I felt the need to write a new blog post because it’s been a while and this book has been bugging me all night; time to create some controversy. I recently read The Book Thief, a book that has come highly recommended to me, but I’m struggling to see why. As many people know The Book Thief is a young adult book by Australian author Markus Zusak that has been an international bestseller and has won numerous awards. The book tells the story of a teenage girl living in Nazi Germany who likes to steal books. While most people adored this book, I never was able to get into it and I wasn’t really sure why; this seemed to keep me up all night, so I thought I would share what I liked and didn’t like about it.
For the most part, this novel is well written; almost in a poetic way. But at the start of each part, I’m not sure why Zusak has to list every main character that will appear in the next section, it felt a bit like a screen play in that aspect and I really felt as if he was giving away the story before it actually happened. This was only a minor problem but it did bug me a little. As for the rest of the writing, it was an unusual style that took awhile to adapt to but it really did work with the narrative.
I never really got into any other characters in this book. I felt Liesel didn’t even need to steal books in the end but it didn’t really seem to stop her. Hans seemed to be a typical nice guy that didn’t know how to say no, Max didn’t really do much that was of interest, Rudy only cared about kissing Liesel and the only person that seemed to be colourful was her foster mother, Rosa. I thought all the characters were two dimensional and no one really had any depth. Quite frankly, I didn’t care what happened to any of them, the only person that seemed interesting was the Narrator; Death.
I like the fact that Death was the narrator; he did offer a unique perspective on some very dull characters. It took me a while to get used to the fact that Death wasn’t a dark character but a hopeful observer, but as my wife pointed out, Death wouldn’t be haunted by himself; it’s the humans that are haunted by him and we are the ones that think he represents an ending. It turned out that Death was haunted by humans, leading to some interesting themes throughout the book.
I don’t know if it was my need for the macabre, the fact I wanted a dark YA book or the fact that it was set in Nazi Germany; but I really wanted this novel to be darker than it actually was. Being in war time Germany, you would expect something exciting to happen. They hide Max; the Jew in the basement and there was some bombings but apart from that, there was nothing of a climax in The Book Thief, it felt like it dragged on and never went anywhere. I really thought Zusak was holding back and was too afraid to go to a dark place and it ended up been too light and fluffy for a war time story.
The Major Themes
While this does appear to be a light read, there are still some very interesting themes throughout this novel. The main theme that stuck with me is the way Death is trying to understand the two sides of humanity; while the Nazi’s are cruel to the Jews, one member of the party, Hans, shows nothing but kindness and compassion towards them. While this is confusing to Death, it really is an interesting theme to have in a YA novel, where the majority of the readers are at a point in their life where they need to find their identity. Other themes that showed up in the book included guilt and the value of works (as a reader and a writer).
The Book Thief is for the most part a nicely written YA story, but the potential was there for something far better. I understand the fact that holding back for a YA novel, but I’m sure the readers know that war is a dark and scary place and the writer could have used that to make this book a more exciting read. I hope people enjoy this book, but for me I expected much more. What did others think of this book?