This is a sweet story set in Germany during World War II. Death starts the tale with his musings on life and color before launching into the tale of a young girls named Liesel. Death meets Liesel just threes times in her life, yet from those instances and a story written in a basement he creates a story and a world. For accurate summary see here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/387598058?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1
The book, while revered by many, was just too obnoxious for me. A little too see through. And apparantly it was meant to be funny? I didn’t see the humor in it at all, just an annoying narrator whose musing felt like an intrusion to the story. I guess your opinion of this book really hangs on the narrator, but for me it felt “forced literary” and the characters felt superficial. The act of Death constructing a story already written by Liesel felt gimmicky. The mechanics of the story seemed like they were laid bare and I could not immerse myself beyond it – perhaps it is me who failed as a reader in that regard.
Still I really love stories about the second world war. The war is very close to me both chronologically and geographically. Some of my favorite memories of my grandfather include sitting in their large brown 70’s couch and listening to his stories of biking to work with German soldiers inching their way through ditches.
Also, the unintelligence of this story saddened me. Hitler is a BIG EVILZ MASTERMIND and all the german people are just sorta there. Nothing about the complex politics that lead to an entire country vilifying a religion, nothing about the multiple people it took to sustain such politics. Just a single evil guy. And I hate that because such stories are dangerous; they imply that evil is easy to see, that you will always be able to identify it. It is merely a matter of pointing at the weird guy with the funny moustache.
And it becomes especially holier-than-thou when Papa is just the goodest good of good to ever good. I know the story is told through Liesel (but by death, because GIMMICK-reasons), but I couldn’t help think that sometimes maybe Mama was right and they could have helped her a bit more. Which leads me to my favorite feature when reviewing literature “ANGRY FEMINIST DISSECTS WOMEN IN BOOKS WHICH IS USUALLY REALLY EASY BECAUSE THERE’S ALWAYS LIKE TWO, TOPS, THAT MATTER.”
Mama is portrayed as verbally abusive, but she also loves Liesel. Yet Liesel loves Papa more. Because he plays the accordion? Look, Rosa runs the entire household, she cooks, she brings in money and it is her that takes in Liesel when she is given up for foster care (Papa doesn’t work much and what he earns he seems to spend on cigarettes). Still a running “joke” is how ugly Mama is and how horrible the woman’s cooking is. On foodstamps. During the second world war. Gimme a break. Finally when Mama dies and Liesel picks her up in the rubble she tells her “You were beautiful”, not “damn woman you worked hard, your heart was amazing in taking in a Jew and feeding him when you barely had enough for yourself”, no just “you no longer look like cardboard even though I spent an entire book talking about how ugly and verbally abusive you were.”
Also Liesel has no female friends. She steals things and plays soccer and fights. Her only friend is a boy. Who wants to kiss her.
Now the prose. We must talk about the prose as it was its own little character in the book. It was great. Sweet, imaginative and just too fucking much.
“The secret sat in her mouth. It made itself comfortable. It crossed its legs.”
“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”
“Please, trust me, I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”
Zusak also tried to up the authenticity-factor by including German words. Unfortunately the German seemed …unreal. Like a first-year student looking up words. Also, as someone who speaks (very little) German, having a common German phrase translated in the very next sentence caused the reader to read double. Not a good tactic in a book already filled to the brim with unnecessary words.
Also, I understand trying to highlight the culture in a poor part of a German town, but noone says I “saumensch” in every sentence to eachother. Either you come up with delightful, creative new insults or sometimes you just, you know, use people’s names. Perhaps it is to illustrate the construction of the story as cooked up by a very imaginative Death. However unreliable narrators need to be somewhat…entertaining.
The words were too much, seven metaphors mixed together to describe someone saying something to someone is too much. Often the prose just halted the story as you travelled in a huge circle of prose around what was actually said. A lot of it could have been cut, placed in a drawer and rearranged in poetry or sprinkled into some other little story. Prose is the spice of story, sometimes The book thief felt like an entire spoonful of cinnamon.
Still I’m glad I read it. At least I’m with the times now. Hip, you might say. Like the reader of a mediocre book drenched in regurgitated prose of little girls who are book thieves, but not really, also wars, bombs and *Spoiler Alert* everybody dies in the end.