Book Review 27: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Does a novel that is highly recommended live up to hype?

Well, I will attempt to answer that question in my latest book review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

This novel has been one of the most talked about and most recommended by book clubs in the last few years.  I must admit I usually steer clear of novels like this…because I don’t want to be let down or have unrealistic expectations based off of the praise it has received.

However, I decided to read it because this novel received the most votes on my New Standards of Fiction List I posted recently.  Also, it was recently chosen as a book of the month on Goodreads and mentioned on several other book blogs I read regularly.

The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II. Standing at her brother’s graveside, Liesel picks up a book called The Grave Digger’s Handbook and that beings her love affair with the written word. Her love of books is so great that begins to steal them in order to learn how to read and eventually write her own book.

The characters in The Book Thief are the heart and soul of the novel.  Beginning with Liesel’s foster parents: Hans Hubermann, the kind-hearted, accordion-playing foster father who does an incredible act of humanity that shows best of us even in the worst situations; Rosa Hubermann, the foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails foster mother who reveals a surprising side of her personality during the story; Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s best friend, whom I believe actually steals the novel from her; and Max Vandenburg, the Jewish man who becomes an integral part of Liesel’s life and is unforgettable.

I have to write that through three-quarters of the novel, I was let down from the expectations I had before I started reading it.  However, the last quarter of the novel and some unforgettable scenes throughout the book changed my initial opinion.

For example, one of my favorite scenes in the novel was when Rudy Steiner decides to paint himself black so that he can become Jesse Owens, the hero of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.  Considering that Rudy was a blonde German boy doing an act like that during the time of Nazi Germany was beyond crazy.  However, I thought it was a realistic picture of how kids can cut through barriers unencumbered regardless of the political or governmental backdrop that was happening at that time.

In closing, I wrote in my last review that The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson was one of the best novels I read in 2012.  Well, I have to add The Book Thief to that list and I realized that something highly recommended can live up to the hype.

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