The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A while back, the wonderful Tay posted a review on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I read the book, and thought it was so wonderful and special that I simply had to review it myself. Tay's awesome review can be found below mine, so you can compare our experiences with the book.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is the inspiring story of a young German girl who is growing up in the midst of World War II. Abandoned by her mother, underfed and constantly reprimanded by her loving but fierce foster-mother, Leisel Meminger is a girl who finds all the brightness of life in words. Words are her greatest love and her most infuriating enemy—words are the things that allow her to live but Hitler to control and rule.

Hitler, Leisel realizes, can change a country’s image of Jews by using words to warp them into something disgusting, malicious, and sub-human. He can take a country that is scared and off-balance, and use words to soothe and hypnotize. Hitler uses words as his single greatest weapon, and without them, he would be powerless.

On the other hand, Leisel uses words to explore and grow. She uses words and books as her sanctuary in the fear-filled world of Nazi Germany. She uses words to light the eyes of the frail Jewish man in her basement, reminding him of sunlight and happiness as she describes clouds that resemble ropes and a brilliant dripping sun. Leisel uses words to spark happiness and gain knowledge—without them, she would be powerless, too.

This tale of words and power is told in the point of view of an unlikely narrator—Death himself. Death is not God, nor does he even decide when one will die; his job is simply to carry away the souls of the deceased. The best souls, we learn, sit up to meet him, reluctant to die but accepting all the same. Death is in the perfect position make to such striking observations about death and war—he likens himself to the best Nazi, killing and killing and yet still being asked for more.

For the first half of the novel, I was fairly interested in the subject of the story and intrigued by the unorthodox choice of narrator, but was not bringing the book with me everywhere as I later would. It was no chore to read, but it was no great treat either. However, once half of the book was finished and I was now fully acquainted with the cast of characters and the author’s writing style, the story began to pick up. I found myself increasingly interested in the events that took place and by the end of the novel I was practically ripping at the pages, shaken and moved by the beautiful description and the heartfelt dialogue. The author introduced the story’s ending about three quarters in, but the warning did not dilute the power of the end, it made it more poignant. Somehow both times the ending was explained (the first merely an outline, the second fully fleshed out) it was shattering and breathtaking.

The Book Thief takes a while to get started, but once you’re hooked, you simply can’t stop reading. It’s a powerful story of loss and happiness, love and heartbreak, reading and rule and life. Four and a half evil daggers.



Set in Germany in the early 1940’s, The Book Thief is the heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a foster child, fourteen books, many colors, an accordion, death, a Jewish fist fighter, a basement, two wars, a kiss, and a boy with hair the color of lemons.

Liesel Meminger has witnessed more than her share of horrors. Her father disappeared when she was little, and an aura of mystery still surrounds his name. Her brother died on a train on the way to their foster home in Molching, Germany. And there are more horrors to come, though Liesel has no way of knowing. Through it all, Liesel turns to books as a refuge from the death, abandonment, and fear that fills her life, and the lives of all those around her.

Liesel’s long and illustrious career in book thievery begins with The Grave Digger’s Handbook, stolen from the snow at her brother’s burial. Next comes The Shoulder Shrug, stolen from fire. Liesel continues to steal books wherever she can find them. But her personal peace cannot last, and soon the danger of the war looms closer, lurking even within her own home, drawing her always closer to the inevitable. Liesel’s life becomes one of secrets and lies, and truth comes from the most surprising places.

This book is simply amazing. The author has a way of making the smallest details- the color of someone’s eyes, or the texture of their hair- the most important, and mystery is interwoven with every event, no matter how tiny. The unusual format, cavalier use of foreshadowing, and, shall we say, unconventional narration make the book a bit confusing in places, but really drive the point home. On the whole, this is a fabulous, yet absolutely heartbreaking book, and an unusual perspective on World War II. I give it the full five daggers, reluctant that there are no more to give.



The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Spoiler Warning: If you have not read all 7 Harry Potter books, read at your own risk. (I may be an evil cousin, but no one should be robbed the experience of reading the Harry Potter series.) However, if you haven't read them by now, shame on you. Stop reading this review and go read the bloody series!

We've all heard such timeless (Disney) classics as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. These are our beloved childhood bedtime stories, our fairy tales. Well, Wizards and Witches have classic fairy tales too! Five of which can be found in the Wizarding classic The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Just like Muggle fairy tales, each of the five stories deals with a different theme and teaches a lesson. However, as a Muggle, it may be difficult to truly grasp all of the lessons taught by Beedle the Bard. To help us better understand these magical tales, Albus Dumbledore has kindly given extensive commentary on each tale. (The commentary was published without Dumbledore's consent. It was found among his other belongings after his dead.)

Anyone who has read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is at least vaguely familiar with this book of tales. Hermione receives a copy, from Dumbledore if I am not mistaken. Well, Rowling decided to publish a copy of Beedle's tales for Muggle enjoyment. All the sales go to the Children's High Level Group, a charity that provides support to children in need. The children tend to be poor, disabled, or from ethnic minorities. If you want to support a lovely charity AND get a little light-hearted reading on the side, or vice versa, this is definitely the book for you.

If you are still not convinced that this book is worth the buy, here is my criticism of the book (which happens to be mostly good).

The tales themselves are nothing special. They're mostly just cute. The stories are imaginative, but they're nothing like the books. The books are very long, detailed, and everything mentioned seems to have some significance before the series ends (which is one of the reasons I love Rowling's writing so much). These tales are short. There's no time for that kind of no-loose-ends writing. However, Rowling makes up for it by adding Dumbledore's commentary. His words are thoughtful, witty, and all around awesome! Not only does he add insight into the theme and lesson of each story. He also rambles on about little side notes (from letters between himself and Lucius Malfoy to his criticism of Madam Bloxam's revised version of Beedle's "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot"), both of which were quite humorous to say the least. Dumbledore will keep you alternating between the thinker pose (hand stroking the chin) and simply laughing uncontrollably and a variation of a giggle fit.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Beedle's tales. The book is a very quick read, which was rather disappointing to me, but it's still a great little book.

I give The Tales of Beedle the Bard a respectable 3.5 daggers out of 5.

Yours without magic,
Gabriel Gethin