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    Book Review: The Book Thief

    September 8, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    I was reading this book mainly because Karen mentioned that she liked it. When I heard it was a World War II novel, I thought that perhaps I could mix it into the upper grades when it fits with our history rotation.

    The writing is good. It is artistically done–well done. And it is unique, being that it is written in the first person, from the perspective of Death, or the death angel, or the grim reaper {if you like–he is not grim}.

    Another unique point is not just the choice of Death as a narrator, but also its choice of who to focus on, as far as characters. I think it humanizes the Germans who were just trying to get through the Third Reich as best as they could. Zusak himself {in the interview printed in the back of my copy} says:

    I…hope that readers of any age will see another side of Nazi Germany, where certain people did hide their Jewish friends to save their lives {at the risk of their own}. I wanted them to see people who were unwilling to fly the Nazi flag, and boys and girls who thought the Hitler Youth was boring and ridiculous. If nothing else, there’s another side that lives beneath the propaganda reels that are still so effective decades later.

    I liked it.

    The Book Thief
    by Markus Zusak

    Yes, it had some profanity. Yes, it is not for young children.

    It was touching, moving, and there are enough ideas in it to be worth discussing–I see many possibilities.

    At this time, I’m going to put it up on my shelf {well, after lending it to Aunt Rebecca, of course}. I don’t own many books written in the post-modern style {in which, for instance, time does not pass altogether chronologically}, and I’d like my children to learn to read books in that style before leaving home. I think this is worth keeping as an option for that purpose as well.

    It’s a hard time period to read about. Perhaps that is why I’m a little resistant to giving it an enthusiastic double thumbs up and all that. It’s a sober read, but, as I said, I’ll be giving it a well-deserved place in the library.

    Have any of you read it? What did you think?

    Future Reading: I’ve got all sorts of reviews I’m doing this month. I’ve got a nonfiction book called Raising Real Men, a DVD curriculum review of Body of Evidence: The Hearing Ear and Seeing Eye, and two children’s fiction books called Still More Stories from Grandma’s Attic and Treasures from Grandma’s Attic. This should be a fun!

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  • Reply Rahime September 14, 2011 at 12:00 am

    I guess I’ll be picking up this book soon too (once I’m done with a little more “baby this, baby that” reading).

    One of my students chose it for his summer reading (he’s now a freshman in high school) and RAVED about it. It’s so unusual amongst my students to hear an intelligent, thinking, child so excited about a new book, that I must read it.

    Most of what my HS and Jr. HS students choose for themselves is along the lines of Twilight…not exactly good literature…but every now and then there’s one who can recognize a good book.

  • Reply Silvia September 13, 2011 at 1:59 am

    Just to follow comments.

  • Reply Silvia September 12, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Karen. So nice to meet you through Brandy, who has a talent for finding the best blogs, places and books. Thanks for that Brandy.

    I’ve subscribed to your blog and now I have a treasure to enjoy slowly.

    A few of my favorite friends and writers in the net or virtual world are very unnoticed. Some are a bit more popular, but fanciness or popularity are not the decisive factors of a person I admire or a person with talent. I guess we could say that you are a Monastic Individual? Was that the term used by Berman.

    The first time I saw your name, and I linked to the article, was in what you wrote for Susan Wise Bauer, and then I read it in posts by Brandy and some writings you have contributed about classical education.

    About postmodernism, I have not studied it in college. I simply read. And then I know about postmodernism as a philosophy and something present in all spheres of life, and like you say, I could say I do not like anything that has a postmodern whiff. But when I read The Great Gatsby I googled postmodern literature, and they say for example, that a postmodern attribute is the writer as one of the characters, or the main character, and they say very long novels, but also very short… I guess they have grouped together many of the recurrent postmodern techniques, and they have also looked for some books that had one of those characteristics as very salient, like Hamlet, and consider that there are ‘old’ postmodern authors.

    To me, the filth of contemporary postmodernism is what I can’t stomack. Zusak picked a realistic topic, and a postmodern author could and probably would have mixed it up with some ‘magic’ or that out of the real realm elements. But wait, isn’t ‘death’ in his book a bit of a ‘supernatural’ element. It’s hard to tell. Maybe Zusak has postmodern style as a young and smart writer that makes use of techniques and style at a poetic level even, I venture to say, but his novel is not morally postmodern. His handling of right and wrong, morals, and history, is ‘old school’ as I told Brandy at Google+.

    Like Brandy, the more I think about the book, the more I believe is a book that will stay as to understand WWII, specially at a time when many groups are determined to eliminate it from textbooks and social conscience. I’m glad the book is there for the time when my girls are adolescents or young ladies.

    I’m also looking forward to reading his new book since it won’t be historical topic, or maybe it is. But the way he talks about it, he reminds me as I told Brandy too of a young Tolstoy.

    Mary Lawson is the author of Crow Lake and The Other Side of the Bridge–that’s what I get for typing in a hurry. Awesome books, and not remotely post-modern, highly recommended.

    Thanks, Karen. Now I have some great reads to look forward to.

  • Reply Karen G. September 12, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Brandy, I’ll keep my eyes open think about the non-linear story line. I have only read a few books that scream “post-modernism”, and they were told in perfectly straightforward, chronological fashion. If you’ve read my blog posts about them, there are certain things I think are peculiarly post-modern, but I’ve never thought about the treatment of time, and it deserves some thought.

    Mary Lawson is the author of Crow Lake and The Other Side of the Bridge–that’s what I get for typing in a hurry. Awesome books, and not remotely post-modern, highly recommended.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I have to admit that the more we talk about this book, the more I like it. {Silvia and I discussed on Google+, too. She had a lot of good things to say.}

    Anyhow, I could definitely be wrong about non-chronological stories being postmodern. It was just a pattern I thought I noticed over the years. I am sure someone somewhere did this before the PM era really hit. In my mind, there has *always* been foreshadowing, but it seemed a new thing to actually show some of the future in advance. In PM writing, this seems to be standard practice, though admittedly I have only sampled so perhaps I am wrong.

    I was thinking about this when I was reading Peter Leithart’s Behind the Veil the other day {on the epistles of John}. He was discussing the use of chiasm as a literary device–I *hated* mapping chiasm in seminary, but this time around Leithart made sense to me. Basically, because the device points to the center, the main point can be placed there, instead of at the end. But the end is important also, and so we end up with a double-emphasis: what we learn at the end, but the most important being what we learn in the middle {as if the end points us back to the center}.

    I was thinking about all of this in regard to the mixing up of chronology and specifically of showing “the end” at some other point in the book {even though it is often shown again in its proper place}–I think it changes where the “lessons” or primary ideas of the book are, and allows the placing of emphasis to happen in other spots. Does that make sense?

    In this specific book, I also think it adds to the train-wreck-we-can’t-stop feeling. Especially since we all know the history, we know it can’t be good, and then the author rubs it in with all of his literary devices!

    Okay. Now I have to leave for church. πŸ™‚

    I really think that this is one of the more tragic books I’ve read, but the more I think about it, the more I see how beautifully done it is.

  • Reply Karen G. September 11, 2011 at 7:19 am

    I’m catching up on my blog-reading after a month-long visit from my mom (her first to Poland in 7 years), and so the first post I find links back to me, and I find comments asking about me, too. How flattering is that for such an indifferent blogger as myself? Karen G. is Karen Glass is Krakovianka is me. πŸ™‚ (–but don’t hold your breath waiting for my random spates of posting.

    What I *really* wanted to comment on was referring to non-linear story development as post-modern. Is it really? I adore stories told in non-linear fashion, or stories that shift back and forth in time, with links that are revealed later in the story. Is that really post-modern? One author who uses the technique effectively is Mary Crow–The Other Side of the Bridge and Crow Lake (I wish she’d write another book).

    I will have to undergo a huge mental mind-shift if this concept is indeed a post-modern one, as I will then be forced to admit that I like something post-modern, and the post-modern novels I have read are of a very different character (The Road, Blindness).

    I agree with you that this is not a book for children. I have at least one child who read it as an older teen, but I’d never hand it to an elementary-aged child.

  • Reply Jennifer September 10, 2011 at 4:10 am

    I don’t think I could take the weight of that book at this time in my life, but I do so enjoy figuring out the things that you find interesting.

  • Reply Silvia September 10, 2011 at 12:45 am

    What is Karen Glass’ blog, Brandy?


  • Reply Heather September 10, 2011 at 12:13 am

    I still own all the Grandma’s Attic books that I read and re-read a bazillion times as a young girl. I got rid of the Mandie serial books, but loved my Grandma’s Attic and want my girls to read them. When you mentioned you would be reviewing them, my sentimental self shrank with fear that they would no longer merit such fond memories, but alas, your thoughts so far, seem only good. My favorite memory is a story about Ma piling apron over apron until the evening when Pa suggested she looked fatter than in the morning and the laughter that ensued as she pealed off each soiled apron down to the original apron from that morning. I might have to go back through those books now and relive a part of my childhood. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Meredith in Aus September 9, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Hi Brandy,

    I haven’t read this book, but I’m going to put it on my reading list and the list of my kiddoes. We studied WWII back in second term (April-July) and, as mine are older, it sounds like a good choice for them since we did read a lot about how influenced most of Germany was by Nazi propaganda. It would be good for them to see that not everyone was. Thanks for the recommendation!

    I hadn’t really thought about non-chronological literature as being post-modern. An interesting thought to ponder.

    Thanks again.

    In Him


  • Reply Heather September 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Another neat book that does not progress chronologically is Holes by Louis Sachar. I would recommend it for ages 14 and up. It’s a fictional story, there’s nothing education about it at all except in the writing style. But I loved it for its style.

  • Reply rebecca September 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Yippee, another book for me! Guess I had betterr get busy on the other two you lent me.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts September 8, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Silvia, Most of the profanity was in German; I think it would have bothered me more if it was in English! I really think I’ll be saving it for high school; right now, at least, it still seems old even for 7th or 8th, but maybe I will change my mind in time?

    So far we’ve read two of the Grandma’s Attic books and they are pretty perfect for little girls. My 4yo especially loves them. They are sort of like the Little House on the Prairie series, but simpler and more direct about teaching lessons.

    Heather, Yes, that is THE Karen Glass. She will say that she is a “bad blogger” because she forgets to blog, but most of what she writes is so worth reading that I’ve subscribed for years so that I know when she’s in the mood to write. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Heather September 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    I didn’t finish this post yet, but I was wondering if the “Karen” you link to is “Karen Glass” or another Karen G.? I wondered if she had a blog that you all read. Off to read to rest of your posts as I am a bit behind around here. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Silvia September 8, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I loved the Book Thief, but the ending is very proper of a man, a woman writer would have probably given it a different ending. However it was a wonderful modern living book. I’m waiting to see what he writes next… maybe he has something out and I haven’t been alert to know that’s the case.

    I don’t remember the profanity. I read this in Spanish, but YES, I definitely remember it’s a HARD book, not for children. I don’t know what age, I still have very little girls and I don’t know when the maturity for the book will come. It’s very depressing in a sense, that it’s just because of the topic. But it presents topics in optimism too. I truly LOVE this book.
    I read it after the Boy with the Striped Pajamas, or I forgot the exact title in English, and oh, boy, they are books I can only read when I’m in a good place in life for they immerse you in the sobriety and harshness of the times when they happen, and both are about the most horrendous genocide in history.

    I saw you read Grandma’s Attic Stories. We got it last year for a bargain, and I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but I know it will be nice.

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