Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - Book Review #132

Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist- books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever they are to be found.

With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

Experimental fiction is what The Book Thief is called by many reviewers. Experimental fiction, which deliberately seeks to break established writing conventions, is not for everyone. Experimental fiction writers more interested in reinventing writing craft than in being understood. However, some of these literally experiments later on becoming established writing conventions for specific genre or style and some gets forgotten as an unsuccessful attempt. This is not for me to decide to which category The Book Thief will belong, this is time’s business. I can only share my opinion and hope to be either prophetic or afraid to be called improvident.

I read my fair share of experimental fiction. My reactions are always unpredictable: I might love the book from the first sentence and be surprised that it considered an experimental fiction, because it reads so natural to me; I might hate the book from its very beginning till its end, without even a vague clue why “that” was published and how anyone can call “it” a book; I might also start reading a book with a neutral attitude and by the end the book, the story might grow on me and I would call it an ok book. The Book Thief fell into the third category for me. Yes, I finished it and even did it without any disgust. However the only feeling left afterwards was * shrug *.


I am a soulless, heartless bitch that didn’t care about poor orphan girl’s story set during holocaust in Nazi Germany.

End of Disclaimer
and continuation of rant (what? You expected an actual book review?).

I guess the reason why I didn’t care about the story or cry, as many people claim to do after finishing The Book Thief, is my quite wide knowledge of the WWII events and stories –real people’s stories read from multiple non-fiction books, the story of my great-grandmother who lived through the war and real stories of veterans who went through this war. And the stories of these people were so much more horrifying, the situations of these people were so much more desperate than Liesel Meminger.

I wish I could at least say that Markus Zusak picked an original narrator for the story – Death, but I can’t, because Terry Pratchett (and he is not the only one, I just cannot remember anyone else at the moment) did this a decade earlier. I wish that I could call the voice of the narrator an original, but I can’t, because it reeked of cynicism and humanity, which a cliché portrait of Death in literature, movies and TV. I wish I could find some originality in the theme – the girl is saved from mortal danger by the words and books; and irony – the girl was put into this mortal danger because of the words and books, but I can’t once again, because this theme is as old as written word and probably even older.

I’m scrutinizing this book, because of countless rewards it got and because of innumerable fans that read and reread and cry over this book, so naturally my expectations were very high. I’m not trying to piss off this army of fans by saying that their beloved book was only ok to me and not very original, it just didn’t live up to my expectations. So the bottom line is – nothing to see, moving alone…


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