Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Sometimes I feel I am on the wrong side of the line when a book that has won accolades from a huge number of readers, fails to make a significant impact on me.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak falls in that category for me. To tell you what the book is all about, I am quoting the blurb:

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. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s ground-breaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meagre existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbours during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

 I have not read a lot of Holocaust fiction. In fact, I had read my first on it just last year. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne had the kind of impact on me, a holocaust book should have. I think what worked there was the innocence of the narrator, how he was oblivious of the things happening around him. Another one on the subject, Beatrice and Virgil byYann Martel was the most bizarre book I have ever read. The author tried an innovative approach, but for me it failed completely to convey the message. The Book Thief falls in between these two books. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It was just another book that will fade from my memory as time passes.

Holocaust is one of the most horrendous periods in human history and to read about it is not a joyful experience.  Stories about it should wreck and wrench the reader’s heart (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne did exactly that). This book didn’t live up in that aspect. I like the idea of Death being the narrator and the Holocaust being the busiest period for him. But, somehow the story didn’t hold together as one. It kept me engrossed till half the way through the book and then it faltered. I found it a bit monotonous and bland. Not that I expect Holocaust fiction to be spiced up, but I felt it just went on for the sake of it. Even if I skipped a few pages, it didn’t affect the flow of the story. 

It summed up to this - Even Death was sorry to see the state of Jews in the Holocaust period, how could humans (who have a heart and a soul) inflict such atrocities on their fellow beings and be oblivious to their sufferings.

Having said all this, there were some things about the book that made me kept reading. The observations of the narrator - Death on the human race were often profound and even witty. Here are some:

“I am haunted by humans.”

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

“My heart is so tired”

“A small fact:
You are going to die....does this worry you?”

“People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spot blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”

“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that's where they begin. Their great skills is their capacity to escalate.”

“I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.”

I hate writing a bad review. But, this is not one. I just can't pin point at any thing in particular, as to why I didn't enjoy reading this book as most people did, or as much I hoped I would. I would give it a generous 3/5.


  1. Have heard of this book... yet to lay my hands on it

  2. I think based on this review, I will skip this one..

  3. It happens with books , i also rate this book as an average one.


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