The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Well the Chamonix Book Club is well and truly off the ground with a very successful second meeting! Our most recent book was ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak. This was chosen based on the interesting idea of the book being narrated by Death, and received very interesting and varied feedback.

The story follows the life of a young girl named Liesel during the Second World War. Early on she has to deal with the trauma of watching her brother die and having to leave her mother, as she is relocated to a foster family much to her despair.  Through the eyes of Death we watch Liesel grow and learn as she settles in to her new life, makes friends, and has to cope with all the problems that come from living under the Nazi regime. The book was a far cry from the easy read of ‘The Giver’, indeed at 550 pages it was certainly a weighty tome! Overall I would say that the book received very positive and thoughtful feedback, and raised many thought-provoking issues.

One of the questions discussed was what the main theme of the book is, as it struck a lot of us that this is not immediately obvious. We decided that the overriding theme is hope, and an interesting insight showing the kinder side of Nazi Germany. It was very interesting to read a book based during WW2, but not have this as the main theme of the book, showing that life did indeed continue as normal during the war, or as normal as it could be under the given circumstances. We discussed how after so many stories telling the horrors of war, and the evilness of so many, it was good to read a story showing that even in Nazi-ridden Germany there were still those who fought their own secret battles and fought the good fight to help others, despite this generosity putting them in great danger.

We all agreed that the book is very much character driven rather than event driven, in a complete contrast to ‘The Giver’. In essence, not a huge amount actually happens, but as a result, we really got to know each character personally, and could picture them in our minds. Because of this, since discovering there is now a film being made of ‘The Book Thief’, we are all feeling a little apprehensive about seeing how the characters will be cast, as is always the case with film adaptations of books. I find it is very hit and miss, sometimes the directors will choose the actors perfectly, just as you imagined, and other times you are left disappointed and a little disillusioned. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the original author, and how they paint those characters in to the story. Thinking back to the events in ‘The Book Thief’ it’s hard to believe that in over 500 pages so little could happen, but once some of the nuances and seemingly insignificant events were brought up and discussed, it was interesting to hear other people’s opinions and discover that maybe they had deeper meanings and relevance than first thought. It was widely agreed that the character of Max was incredibly important, and despite never leaving the house, and living a hidden, secretive and highly dangerous life, Max played such an important role in Liesel’s childhood, and really came to life as a person.

Of course as with every book there were those who were not so keen, and who found certain parts of the book less interesting or less relevant to the story. One of the group decided after 70 pages that he passionately disliked both the style and the language in the book, finding the voice of Death arrogant and smug. It was also suggested that despite many feeling that the ending was spot on and even tear-jerking, others were disappointed by the closing sentence, feeling that it wasn’t a suitable ending, and could have been made much more thought-provoking.

As an overall conclusion I would say that ‘The Book Thief’ was a great success. Everyone said it was a book they perhaps wouldn’t have chosen themselves, but really enjoyed it and were glad of the opportunity. I personally found it a very interesting read and a great concept, but often a little slow going, with many irrelevant parts that didn’t add to the story. I loved the characters and thought their development and description was rich and very well done. The discussion was very useful and interesting and we all enjoyed sharing our own ideas about the book and hearing everyone else’s. It was a great book for dividing opinions and creating discussion.

I look forward to the next choice!

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A great success!
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2 thoughts on “The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  1. Well I really hope you like it, it’s quite a long read but worth it I’d say! The Kite Runner is wonderful, both book and film, you should check out Khaled Hosseini’s other books too, they’re also fantastic.

  2. I have the book but have not read it yet. I’ve seen the movie, though, and thought it was really good. I wonder whether they kept in contact with the author, the way I’ve learned the director of The Kite Runner has with Khaled Hosseini. I just watched that movie the other day on DVD and the commentary was wonderful (with the director, the author, and the screenwriter).

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