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The Book Thief – Book Review

Source: Amazon.com

Yes! My first book review! Being busy with exams and whatnot, I haven’t been able read a book in a looong time. But now that it’s the holidays and I have lots of spare time, I have started reading again. The first of these was ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak which I recently finished. Having heard good things about it, I was quite looking forward to finally reading it. I don’t know what I expected, but all I can say is that it’s not bad but not that great either. Before I read it, I only knew very vaguely that it was about a person who stole books (hence the title), and it was during the second world war. But when I read it, I realised that the books weren’t a big part of the story, and the story was mainly focused on the happenings in a small German town in the second world war when Hitler persecuted the Jews.

The story is narrated by Death and mainly follows the protagonist; a nine-year old German girl Liesel Meminger. Spanning the period of 5 years, it tells of what happens to the girl after she is adopted by her foster parents as her mother didn’t have the ability to raise her anymore. Her foster parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann aren’t rich, but they both treat her well and loved her as their own child. The genre of the novel is drama historical fiction veering on slice-of-life.

Although it’s called ‘The Book Thief’, the books stolen by Liesel aren’t too significant and only serve as bookmark to specific parts of her life. She is also not a ‘real’ book thief as most of the books she ‘stole’ were either left-behind, unwanted, or left deliberately for her to take. Instead, the novel mainly follows Liesel’s life as she lives with them. Liesel makes friends with the boy Rudy Steiner who lives next door to her and romantic feelings between the two is also hinted (but never materialised since they were both only young).

The other plotline is when Hans Hubermann decides to hide an early twenties Jew Max Vandenburg in their basement. Liesel and Max quickly become friends over their love of books and the story portrays the harsh times during the war. The aspects of war and Jews hiding in the basement isn’t too cliché and doesn’t really resemble Anne Frank’s diary (which is the first book that comes to mind when talking about World War 2).

The relationships between Liesel and all her family and friends are explored with great depth and you could literally see the love between her foster-father Hans and herself. Her foster mum Rosa berates her often, but there is also great love in the scoldings. Liesel’s friendship with both Rudy and Max are portrayed in the novel and through their actions, you could tell that it was true friendship.

 The realistic conditions and emotions of both Max and the people risking their lives to hide him, are shown clearly in the novel and what the Germans who did not believe in what Hitler did, was also shown. Those who opposed Hitler’s views were shunned by the community and part of the reason why Hans Hubermann could not get much work as a painter was because he helped the Jews in their town before they were taken away.

Huge spoilers come after this so don’t read on if you don’t want to.

Around halfway through the book, I had a really anxious and foreboding feeling like everyone was probably going to die. I couldn’t stand it anymore so I flipped to the end of the book. Sigh. I was right. Nearly everyone died. Rosa Hubermann. Hans Hubermann. Rudy. Everyone on the street Liesel lived on except for Liesel and Rudy’s father. There are also a lot of foreshadowing in the novel, so even before you’re half way through the book, you start to feel depressed with anticipation for what is to come.

The ending was bittersweet. As Max had to move out of their house due to the Hubermanns’ being scared that their house would be searched, Max wasn’t there when the bomb struck. Thus, he was the only one who didn’t die at the time. Liesel also survived because she was in their basement writing the story of her life. When Liesel became devastated at the knowledge that she was the only one who survived, readers also become extremely sad.

However, in the epilogue, it is shown that Max survived the concentration camp (where he was taken to when he was caught after he left the Hubermanns’) and reunited with Liesel. I guess that is the only bit of happiness and hope for the readers.

I think the ending is a little bit rushed and maybe the author could have written a bit more about what happened to Liesel after the bomb: how she recovered and what happened after Max reunited with her. I usually don’t read these ‘realistic’ type of books, and only read chick-lit, but although it was a bit slow, ‘The Book Thief’ wasn’t too bad. The relationships between people were portrayed in a warm realistic way and the dangers during the second World War was also shown. However, it still isn’t as good as how other people have said it to be.

All in all, 6.5/10

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