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Angela Young

I am sorry to say that I only read about a third of The Book Thief ... before I stopped reading in severe exasperation. I had the same trouble with some of the language as you, Cornflower, but I also felt that Zusak's technique is lazy.

All those short notes in bold with their headings bordered by pretty colophons seem to me, speaking as a fellow writer, simply to be writer's notes towards a novel, not the finished work.

I am disappointed, because I too have heard and read much of the hype but I am simply left wondering how this book arrived where it has arrived in terms of sales and publicity. If I had edited the book I would have said to Zusak that he had a wonderful story but needed to go away and redraft the text at least twice.


I thought the same as well - the style was fragmented and jerky - too many short sentences. I finished the book very quickly and despite its shortcomings I did find the story absorbing. I've written a bit more about it on my blog today.

adele geras

Whew! I am so glad I'm not alone. I admit that I started writing down infuriating phrases on one of Dove Grey's bookmarks and gave up the book when I'd filled two of them with completely ridiculous, meaningless and quite unbelievably SILLY phrases. I gave the book up entirely about a hundred pages from the end. I think that probably in the middle there somewhere is a possibly moving and also interesting story but the dreadful writing, and the scrappy structure and the annoying typography and the dragging and unnecessary length of the whole thing wore me down in the end. I know some people have a great fear of Death, but in this guise, he's like a bore you move away from at parties.
I think part of the reason for its success is the subject matter. Critical faculties seem to fly out of the window when the Holocaust is the subject being written about. See The Boy in Striped Pyjamas which millions of readers adored (but not me)It's rather like the current fashion in teenage books about young people dying of dreadful diseases. The respect for the feelings of the bereaved and the horror of the subject makes you think it's a good book even when it sometimes isn't.
SO....this was a book I did not like at all, but I KNOW I like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Onwards and upwards, then!

Mr Cornflower

High marks for plot, characters and setting, but like many other readers I found the style irritating and mannered. I'd contrast it unfavourably with Owen Sheers' "Resistance" in terms of the quality and integrity of the writing - while Zusak has had I believe much greater commercial impact I think Sheers is more likely to be read in fifty years' time. But unlike some other posters I didn't actively dislike the book to the extent of being unable to finish it, and the narrative drive was strong enough to keep me interested to the end.

adele geras

A small PS....the Independent has Top 50 books for summer reading and Book Thief is at 27! It IS an enormously popular book. There you go!


I'm afraid I gave up after about 150 pages, when I realised I was only reading out of duty, and that I already knew that I didn't like, among other things, the portentous statements, the two-word sentences, the highlighted "snapshots". I too came to the conclusion that it's simply not done to criticise books about the Holocaust, and didn't consider that this was any more successful as a children's book than as an adult's. Miss Jean Brodie will come as a considerable relief!

Barbara MacLeod

A joy to read, totally engaging! The topic (life and death in village outside Munich in WWII and 554 pages long) would normally not appeal to me but the story worked for me because of the author's imaginative, light touch.

[1] The way Death, the narrator, was portrayed in the story intrigued me."Trust me" Death says at the beginning; I was pulled right in. I'd forget about his/its? presence until he would emerge with his human complaints: "I'm tired" (bombing of Cologne), "It kills me sometime, how people die" (switched seats in the army truck). And approaching the end: "Come with me and I'll tell you a story. I'll show you something."

I like the way the story was told by Death who had his work cut out for him but wanted to take you aside to tell you this one particular story: "There's a multitude of stories...that I allow to distract me as I work...." I was reminded of another storyteller who waylays a wedding guest: "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". To me, it gives the story a sort of urgency.

Death who picked up and carried off the souls of these humans, carried off Hans after the bombing: "His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do - the best ones..... Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have found their way to other places." I liked that.

Death admitted to being distracted by colours: on a grassy slope midst the fighting "The horizon was the colour of milk. Cold and fresh. Poured out, amongst the bodies." When Liesel died in old age "The sky was the best blue of afternoon." Others: Max's "tight-rope clouds", "the sky was dripping", "a rumour of sunshine". Wonderful.

[2] Apparently it is marketed for both adult and young adult readers. Another book in that category which I also enjoyed was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.


I loved this book and it is one of the most haunting and memorable books that I have ever read. I found the story of Liesel Meminger to be profoundly moving in its theme of the horrifying cruelty vs. the discovery of human kindness that she found in unexpected places. I do not think this book was a book about the holocaust at all, but a book about the humanization of ordinary non Jewish German civilians in the face of the destructive forces of Nazi Germany during WWII
I liked the author’s fluid use of simple words and the matter of fact tone tinged with quiet horror that was used extensively throughout the book. The imagery that these simple words evoked made a dramatic impact on me.
It is hard to believe this book was written for young people, and I think many potential readers are turned off because it is categorized as “juvenile” literature. To class it as such, is a disservice to both the book and author.


The writing style is aimed at young people; a graphic novel without the comics.

Once getting beyond the jarring bold type interruptions and jerky narrative, the story and characters held my attention. I found myself snatching bits of reading time whenever possible.

Some of Zusak's sentences were charming, faintly reminding me of Vian Smith - the author whose stories made me aware of how words can make a sentence sing, as a young teen I devoured his books - but Zusak became too carried away with his sentence fancies. Why the editor didn't slash through many of the overwrought, sappy sentences is a mystery.

Barbara MacLeod

A topic I notice emerging relates to the role of the editor in book publication. In this book, what would you edit for? Clarity? Or are we talking about editing which is to do with the author's 'style', i.e. language conventions used. Given that this is a work of fiction (for young adult and adult readers) would you not be in a very weak position?


I hope I'm not too late to join in. I did wonder what to make of the book at first, with the unusual sentence construction and paragraph summaries. Once I got used to this, I began to follow the narrative and read the story quickly. I know nothing about book editing but I felt parts were being repeated and I was skimming over passages. I don't know any " older children" who have read the Book Thief and would be very interested to find out what they thought.

Susie Vereker

I only read two pages before I gave up, but will try again one day. I rather wish I had read the above reviews before ordering the book.


I only read this book to the end (3 months ago) because it was my reading group's choice for April. I found the tone of Death's narrative fairly patronising - even for a teenage audience I would have thought - and the bold type interludes felt like nothing but irritating 'interruptions'. While the level of violence, bullying and intimidation was well-presented overall, I felt it was also seriously undermined by the sentimentality underpinning the book: Rosa, the rough diamond with the heart of gold; practically everything to do with Max's drawings; Liesl's response to Rudy's death, etc.

I did enjoy Liesl's relationship with the mayor's wife though, which was possibly the most grown-up part of the book since Zusak didn't dress it up as anything that it wasn't! And I was impressed, at the end of the book, with how he presented the encounter with Death as an event which is not necessarily unwelcome or to be feared.

- What did all the stuff about colours mean? Another major source of irritation, that I really didn't 'get'.
- Why did the books that Liesl read have such odd titles? Were they supposed to have some meaning?
- The return of the plate to the mayor's wife seemed to signal Liesl's coming to terms with her brother's death. But why?!

Peter the Flautist

Agree with all the negative comments. A fantastic story with clunky dialogue and horrible typography. Easy to read however, I think I managed about 100 pages per night. Some of the sentimentality jarred a little with me too.

Dark Puss


I have visited you in a long while...shame on me! Coincidentally I am reading The Book Thief - it's in my daughter's summer suggested reading list! Just a 1/3 the way in to it.


I have to say I really loved the book and the descriptions and found the characters very plausible. I also liked the way it described everyday life during the war from a different perspective. I loved it so much that I am now listening to it on audio book!


Just as with other books, the author has decided what he wants to do, and he does things his way. It won't be to everybody's liking, but we are many who liked the book very much. I don't think you can edit away what people have mentioned here, without editing away the book.

My main gripe was the way he switched between using German and then suddenly translating even names into English, which could easily have been left, if only for "local colour".


I read this well over a year ago and had to look back and see if I posted anything about it. I'm afraid I didn't write much, and I think this was in great part to having mixed feelings about the book. Terrible memory--I don't remember all the boldings and unusual typography, and I didn't mention them when I wrote about them, so I guess that must not have made such an impression on me. It's the sort of story that moves along quickly, and at the time I wasn't reading critically, so I just moved along with the action. I thought using Death as a narrator was clever and enjoyed many aspects of the story. I read the book in the waning days of winter, no doubt this set my mood--at the time it felt like a very despairing book (and of course set in WWII--it would be), but somehow for me at the time it felt over the top. Of course if I were to read the ending/last few chapters now, I might easily have a different attitude. Still, it's one of those books that I'm glad I read, but I'm also glad I only borrowed from the library and not bought.


...or I should say 'didn't buy'.

Mark Thwaite

Not much to add to a great set of comments except ... you can read my interview with Markus here:

Narrative voice annoyed me, must admit!


I have read the comments here with great interest. I read this book early this year, and while I don't remember many specifics, as is my way, I do remember loving it without reservation and being completely absorbed in it. Recommended it to a friend who felt the same. All these differing opinions are making me think this would be a good one to suggust for my book club.

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  • Sidebar book cover thumbnail pictures are affiliate links to Amazon, and the storefront links to Blackwell's and The Book Depository are also affiliated; should you purchase a book directly through those links, I will receive a small commission. Older posts may also contain affiliate links to one of those bookshops. I am not paid to produce content and all opinions are my own.


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