The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


The Book Thief is the most wonderful book. I’ve only come across one person who wasn’t completely enraptured by it, and I’m still completely bewildered by their lack of adoration. This is probably going to sound gushy throughout so I apologise in advance, but it really was brilliant.

I first read The Book Thief in 2011, and I reread it to coincide with the release of the film, because I was originally intending to do this as a Book Vs. Film review (I think it was released fairly late in the UK). However, being as disorganised as I am, I managed to miss it at the cinema and so never watched the film, although actually now I’m really glad I didn’t (for reasons which I’ll go into later).

The story is told from the point of view of Death (who is very busy in Nazi Germany), and focuses on a young girl called Liesel Meminger. Liesel becomes separated from her parents after her father was accused of being a communist, and is fostered by Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel gets up to many exploits with her best friend Rudy, most of which are based around football, thievery and Rudy’s attempts to be the next Jesse Owens, but she mainly steals books by herself. She also has a Jew, Max, hidden in her basement.

It’s quite a strange book, because it ‘spoils’ itself in many ways. We know from the outset that Death will visit Liesel three times, and we are also frequently told of a particular character who dies, although we’re not told how. All of this is quite obvious during the first read through, although when I was rereading it I picked up on a few other clues relating to character deaths which I’d missed first time around. It brings an awful sense of dread because you know all along that a character’s going to die within a certain time frame, and you’re willing it not to happen even though there’s nothing you can do about it, which is probably why I was so emotional when it finally rolled round. I’m quite a weeper when it comes to books anyway, but The Book Thief was unique because it made me cry a lot in the final sections the first time that I read it, but then I couldn’t stop crying because I was sad that I’d finished it, and that’s never happened to me before. I manned up a bit second time round, although I still cried a lot during the final sections. It’s also really interesting to read a book from the perspective of Germans who are really scared and unhappy to be living under Nazi rule. It’s a viewpoint that you don’t tend to see a lot in books set during that time period, but the uneasiness (for lack of a better word) is definitely portrayed well through the eyes of a young girl (with a little help from Death, of course).

To be honest, I’m really not sure how well The Book Thief would work in film form. The book’s written in such a way that I think would be really hard to translate on to the screen. For a start, the writing’s very vivid. The descriptions of the colours of the skies and the souls were a really lovely, individual touch, and I don’t think that could be conveyed as well without the power of words. Plus the characterisation was really strong. I had such a clear idea of all of the characters, and I could never be satisfied with the casting. I liked that Geoffrey Rush was chosen to play Hans, but I was discussing it with my mum and she didn’t agree with that choice at all. On the other hand, I really didn’t agree with the casting of Liesel. I’ve only seen the trailer, but she doesn’t look at all how I imagined her, and she didn’t seem rough enough. That’s the problem with adapting books into films, everyone has their own individual idea of what a character should look like and the finer details of how they should behave, so it’s absolutely impossible (a lot of the time) to get it ‘right’ for enough people.

However, the main reason why I don’t think the film will work well is due to the actual style of the book – the fact that it’s narrated by Death (which is actually really important); the way it’s broken down into such small sections; the way the chronology skips around to give snippets of what will happen to certain people without giving away all the details; the fact that the book’s basically written as if it was written in hindsight. All of these things are what make it so enjoyable and so unique, but I just don’t see how they could be included effectively in a film. It wasn’t until I reread the book that I remembered just how much I love it, which is why I don’t think I’ll ever bother watching the film. I just don’t think they could do it justice, and I would probably be disappointed by even the finest efforts.

It’s a very powerful book, and one that I find quite emotive and extremely memorable. One scene in particular, where Rudy finally gets a kiss from Liesel, almost makes me quite teary just thinking about it. It’s just a brilliant book, extremely well-written and very effective in the way that it’s written. It works so well, when everything about it seems to tell you that it shouldn’t. After all, it tells you in advance which characters will die, so where’s the suspense in that? And yet there’s loads of suspense, because you know it’s coming but you don’t know how or when (and you spend the whole time desperately hoping it won’t happen). I thoroughly recommend it, it’s a cracker and a very fast-paced read. It’s easy to whizz through it because it’s divided into such small sections (each of which has a brief break-down of key events/chapters that will be included), and of course it’s so compelling that you won’t want to put it down anyway. Definitely check it out before bothering with the film, although I’ll include the trailer so you can decide for yourselves if you want to. If you have seen the film I’d be intrigued to know what you thought of it though, and whether it worked for you.

See previous Book Review, featuring Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.


4 thoughts on “The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  1. Pingback: Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart | The Steel Review

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