The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A Good Read, A Dignified Cry

I’m baaaaaaaaack! I hope all of my fellow American bookworms have come out of their food comas! I know I’m still struggling. A 4-day-weekend is a glorious thing, but I want a weekend to recover from my weekend. Can we make that happen? Ah, well. I knew it was a long shot.

In the few months I’ve been wandering aimlessly about the blogosphere, I’ve been hearing about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In fact, I was told that I absolutely HAD to read it so often that I entered a contest to win the book for free. Lo and behold, my craptastic gambling luck abandoned me just long enough so that I could WIN. Many thanks to Jessica of The Bluestocking Society for running the contest!

In case you, like me, have been living in a literary cave… The Book Thief is about a young German girl who is essentially orphaned and lives with a foster family during World War II. Delightful plot quirk: the entire story is narrated by Death. You know, Death. As in, the Grim Reaper (although Death is amused and annoyed by the inaccuracies of humanity’s interpretations of his likeness.) I realize as I write this that I’m using a masculine pronoun to describe a genderless being, and my inner feminist is protesting. Whatever, Inner Feminist, “Death” in my head is a dude, okay? Gosh. Where were we? (Important Note! My Inner Feminist is NOTHING like Ana Steel’s “Inner Goddess” in 50 Shades of Grey. In fact, my Inner Feminist wants to beat the crap out of Steele’s “Inner Goddess.” Cage Match?)

Our protagonist, Liesel, grows up living a nomadic life. Though she doesn’t understand why, her father has disappeared and her poverty stricken mother moves Liesel and her brother around constantly. Though Liesel is 9, she’s never attended school properly and thus cannot even read. It’s revealed that Liesel’s father (at least, perhaps her mother too) was a Communist (or accused Communist… the truth of things never seems to matter much to totalitarian regimes.) Being an open Communist in Nazi Germany is a one way ticket to persecution, and probably death. Liesel’s mother is concerned for the welfare of her children so she travels to Munich to give up custody. Tragically, Liesel’s 6 year old brother doesn’t survive the journey, and his death fuels her desire to learn to read. This is the first time Death encounters Liesel. (Seriously though, Liesel’s Communist parents weren’t exactly picking between Club Med and Sandals. Escaping the Nazis to join the Communists? Stalin was damn near as murderous as Hitler, he was just quieter about the genocide. Humanity. What a mess.)

Excellent cover art! Death and Liesel are dancing!

Once Liesel is established in her foster family, the war begins to escalate. For young German children, that means school and compulsory participation in the Hitler Youth program. Even though Liesel and her foster family’s hearts are NOT into the Nazi party ideology, they have very little choice other than to do what is expected of them. German people who didn’t participate as expected were treated with suspicion at best- dissenters didn’t have a long life expectancy. Which is why the plot thickens so heavily when Liesel’s family takes in and hides a Jew. Max is the son of Liesel’s foster father’s WWI army buddy (seriously, what a CRAPPY time to be alive to deal with BOTH World Wars.)

In a lot of respects, The Book Thief reminded me of Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (which is amazing and you should totally read it if you liked The Book Thief.) War is a big fat steaming pile of suck. Poor Death is worked to… well, death… with all the warfare and chaos and genocide throughout this book. Anyway, what I think is interesting about these books is that they go behind “enemy” lines. Normal German people weren’t necessarily awful people by any means. They were stuck in a crappy situation. Some of them took the incredibly brave step of hiding their Jewish friends. Some resisted in other ways by refusing to participate in party requests. Some of them stole books out of Nazi bonfires (cough cough Liesel.) Most just tried their best to keep themselves and their families alive.

When I received this book in the mail, I couldn’t wait to tackle it. Jessica was kind enough to include a short note warning me that I’d need tissues toward the end… And oh, how right she was! I’m not going to go into major spoiler territory because I’m just not feeling like it. I will tell you, however, that I cried and cried while reading the end of this book.

It sounds really stupid to say that you love when books make you cry, but I do. I mean, a book must be exceptionally well-written in order to elicit that sort of response. Plus, my literary cry is very dignified. Unlike my real life someone was mean/something tragic happened/someone died cry, my book and movie cry is quite stoic. Minimal mucus production. Classy tear stream. No hiccups and/or howler monkey sobs. It’s my “dab with a hanky” cry. And I love it.

Anybody read The Book Thief? Anybody notice a difference between their book cry and their serious emotional cry? Tell me I’m not alone here!

36 thoughts on “The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: A Good Read, A Dignified Cry

  1. I LOVE this book! This has been one of the best books I’ve read in my entire life. I didn’t expect this book to be so powerful in words that it affected me deeply. I may not have cried, but after reading The Book Thief, I couldn’t move on to the next book. Furthermore, because of this book, have come to love Markus Zusak’s works. Try reading I Am the Messenger. It’s quite different from this one, but all in all, it’s a good read.

  2. Hi Katie! It is so funny that you did a post on this book now, because my friend Kristin and I were in Barnes & Noble yesterday when I picked up this book and ALMOST bought it, when Kristin told me she would send me the e-version. So, I have not yet read it, but am about to! Also, yes, my reading cry is much more dignified than my life-changing moments cry. Or, as I like to call it, my ugly cry. However, there is one book that made me cry like that. And it’s a humor book! “My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me” by Hilary Winston. Well, technically, it was not the book itself that made me cry, but rather the epilogue. In it, Hilary tells the tale of the death of her beloved cat whom we readers get to know throughout the rest of the book. And let me tell you, Brian thought someone we actually KNOW had died when he heard me crying in the other room the night I read this epilogue. HOWLING cries from deep in my gut. I guess because I am such an animal lover, and Winston describes the intense love and pain and loss that comes with losing a pet, is why I could not control myself. So, long story longer, you are not alone. Book and movie cries are dignified for me, save this one instance of literary tragedy.
    Anyway, back to happy thoughts, I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving, and your package will be on its way to you today! I got wrapped up in Christmas decorating this weekend, so I’m sorry I got lazy :/

    • Hahhaha no worries about the package, Shana. I was knee deep in holiday decor this weekend myself. We got 2 and a half trees put up. Only one and a half to go. So much joy! (I’m sorry you had your heart broken by the cat story. There’s something about animals. The closest I’ve come to my normal cry while watching a movie was Marley and Me.)

      • So many trees!! That is awesome. We live in a 2 bedroom condo, so only one small one will fit, but I do dream of one day having one of those big houses where there is a tree in every window. Enjoy all the twinkly lights and ornaments and smelly-tree goodness!

  3. I’m still living in the non-The-Book-Thief-reading cave. I’v heard great things about it, but somehow I didn’t actually know what it was about until now! It sounds amazeballs, and I am finally adding it to my list!

  4. I read The Messenger first, so while I expected The Book Thief to be excellent, I didn’t know what is was about when I started it. One could be forgiven for thinking “not *another* book about the treatment of Jews in WWII” but while this does have moments of sadness and despair and disbelief, it also has moments of love and beauty and courage. And as someone who can barely remember a time I didn’t read, witnessing Liesel learn to read brought a smile to my face.
    I definitely cried over this one (I am also a crier), and there may have been actual sobbing involved.

    • You are so right! There were so many little moments of happy in this book. Rudy and the Jesse Owens thing. The accordion. Max’s books. Maybe that’s why it was so touching. Because it balanced the happy and the sad.

  5. I agree a very sad book, but I enjoyed it. However I’m not sureI enjoyed it as much as most people. I’d give it 3,5 stars. There one thing that intrigues me is that this book is marketed as YA. Did you know that? Do you agree with it being marketed as YA? Hope on the treadmill to geth through that tight gut feeling and drink lot’s of Green tea. Sounds like the turkey came out good. Was it accompanied with cornbread dressing or sausage stuffing? Happy reading… :)

    • I heard that it was being marketed as YA and I’m just not sure I’m on board with that. Sure, the writing style is a fairly easy read, but the subject matter is awfully mature. I don’t know. As a kid I read all kinds of things that were “too old” for me and now I see kids and I’m all like “oh they’re just babies!” I’m probably underestimating their abilities to deal with things. Lord knows I wasn’t permanently scarred by reading beyond my age bracket. Who knows?

  6. This is beginning to turn all kinds of ‘Jane Eyre’ colors. We just reserved this from the library so the jury has yet to hear the case…stay tuned.

  7. I’m gonna have to check that one out! It’ll be weird for me, though, because the protaganist has my name. she even spells it the same! Because I have such an uncommon name, I don’t hear it that often and I think when I do it’s weirder than it is for most people. :D Thanks for the review!

  8. I haven’t read the Book Thief yet, but I have read Stones from the River. I will have to get this one.

    I totally think of death as a dude too.

  9. My book cry is the most reserved. Silent tears.
    My movie cry can range. Titanic? Sobs. One Flew Over the Coo coo’s Nest? Happy tears.
    Real life crying? Like a dam cracked open and the townspeople are fleeing.

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  18. I just finished The Book Thief last night. I cried silently because I was reading it in the living room while my husband watched TV and I didn’t want to alarm him by sobbing like my best friend had just died. I teared up in LOTS of places over the course of the book. I have to see the movie, but I’m scared to see how they handle the ending!

    Burning question, though – do you think Liesel married Max? I’ve been googling trying to see if Zusak ever addressed it, but haven’t found anything yet.

    • I didn’t make the assumption that Liesel married Max, though it really doesn’t say either way. It was so so so good! I think I will chance it and go see this one in the theater… With a pocket package of kleenex, of course.

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