The Book Thief Readalong: Week One

October 4, 2013 2013, readalong, the book thief, Wendy 78

With the film adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief on its way in November, we’re reading the book together this month. We’re reading it for the first time, and we invite you to join us for the readalong! Re-readers are also welcome, as long as you’re patient with our never-ending questions.

This week we’re reading to page 123, or Part 3.

Somewhat surprisingly, K, Kate, and I all have somewhat conflicting feelings about the book so far.

How about you? Let us know in the comments below, we’ll be around to respond to your reactions later in the day as well.


The Book Thief Readalong: Week One

Pages 1 – 123 (Part 3)

Wendy: All right, so far this is intriguing, but I have to say that I think I picked a stopping point that came too soon. At page 123 the story still seems to be setting up, so right now I think we’re discussing more general reactions than anything else.

Kate: I am going into this with a prejudice against Nazi-themed literature because it makes me pass-y out-y.
Wendy: Definitely something you have to be in the right mood for, or in this case, motivation to read! We’ve all been meaning to read this for a long time.
Kate:  I find myself distracted by comparisons to Terry Pratchett’s Death. That character has been a big part of my life for such a long time (I know that sounds cheesy, but I’ve read around 40 books with this character in them–most of them more than once–including one of my all-time favorite novels, Good Omens) that it’s hard for me to accept a different version of him. I know the genres are completely different, but the Deaths are similar enough that it bothers me. It’s like watching a remake of my favorite childhood movie. I can’t get a handle on Death’s omniscience, and he reminds me of the narrator from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Wendy: I like some of the things we see from Death’s perspective, particularly when he’s coming to get someone for the eternal sleep. The omniscient POV is tricky for me, though–it’s sort of fairy tale-ish and I don’t love that for subjects like these. (Side note: I liked, but didn’t love Curious Incident.)
Kate:  I agree. It worked for me in Pan’s Labyrinth (so many of my friends hate that movie, btw), but here I feel a little bit manipulated. I guess I prefer Holocaust stories like Maus, where the narrator’s more frank. Truly horrific events like these don’t need all that sauce on them.
K: Agree as well. I don’t know how I feel about the end of the prologue, in particular, with the “come with me and I’ll tell you a story”. It has such a romanticized tone to it for such an intensely tragic topic.
Wendy: Exactly. Combining that with the random facts, passive voice, and a great deal of telling us how someone feels instead of showing us, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the writing style so far as whole, although there are some nice moments here and there. I prefer to interpret/feel things myself, rather than being told what to think. (Case in point: the significance to Liesel of The Grave-Digger’s Handbook spelled out at 5%.) Still, it’s early though and the story shows promise.
Kate: Calling out the title within the work makes me groan. There was a book I read recently where the name of the book was said like 25 times. It made me cringe hardcore.
Wendy: Referencing the title in the story is a big pet peeve of mine, too. There’s also a lot going on stylistically, between the colors, the descriptive writing, and shifts in timeline.
Kate:  The timeline shifts are really screwing with me. Going from the Jesse Owens story to the bed wetting confused me. And maybe that’s the point–maybe our narrator sees things in a confusing, out-of-order way–but if this is the case, then I think the author should have leaned into it a bit more. It almost reads like (and this is going to sound so snobby) this is the draft before the final one. Does that make sense?
K: I don’t think I have too a big a problem with that — it’s just flashbacks and as long as I concentrate on the chronology, it seems fine. Also, Rudy covering himself in charcoal as a form of blackface is hilarious. And super cute.
Kate:  I liked that, too (but the I was immediately confused by the timeline shift–I think maybe because there is nothing to show that we are moving back forward in time, and sometimes by the end of a flashback I have forgotten that it took place in the past.) The old man teaching the little girl how to roll cigarettes is an awesome scene.
Wendy: I also like the poetic description of the streets lined with doors with yellow stars on them, although of course it’s an ominous sign. (8%)

K: I loved them reading in the basement and writing words on the walls.
Kate:  Yes. Also, I was a bedwetter into my teens (I know), and I thought the bedwetting stuff was incredibly sweet, but also…like, that mattress is ruined now. It will continue to smell for a long time to come.
K: Haha, I know. Change the sheets but not the mattress — where the stuff really absorbed into.
Wendy: So far there’s been a lot of set-up, and I’m curious to see where these anecdotes will tie into the plot later.
Kate: I like the description of Rudy as (8%) “He was not the junior misogynist type of boy at all,” and later “THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN A BOY WHO HATES YOU A boy who loves you.” And “She was a girl with a mountain to climb” is a lovely way to describe her struggle to learn to read. (15%)

“Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children” is lovely.
K: That was lovely. Not using a formal and correct term, instead using a phrase that a child’s mind would use or say is very endearing.
Kate: I’m concerned about my ability to keep these German names straight when they DO tie back in. I have such trouble with foreign names. And I’m half German.
Wendy: Same here. Not one of my strong points.
Kate:  The device for defining German words and revealing expository information is great. I so prefer a book’s just bluntly telling me what things mean to trying to work it in in a way that is subtle in these types of circumstances. (I also really like when things just are not explained, and you have to look it all up yourself if you’re confused)
Wendy:  I like that Liesel is described as having dangerous eyes. (4%) Also, “a lemon-haired boy” (13%)
Kate: I like the imagery (7%) of the stars rising and floating on the surface of the sky like water, and “…the stars were dragged down again, into the waters of the German sky.” It makes everything feel upside down. 
Wendy: YES. And the burning of books and paper is sobering. I especially like the way he describes “blurry heat,” birds circling overhead, and “You didn’t see people. Only uniforms and signs.” (20%) Those scenes reminded me quite a bit of Fahrenheit 451.
Kate: Me, too.

Wendy: Here are things that confuse me: I don’t know whether I missed it, but I’m not sure why Liesel doesn’t know how to read? And why exactly she needs foster parents? There was mention of her mother being sick without money, but then again, the foster parents receive a stipend, no?
K: Well, near the end of Part Two, it did mention that her mother was most likely taken and interrogated either for being a communist or having connections…maybe they were just trying to get rid of the child? Sorry, if that’s totally off and I missed something. 

Wendy:  Yes, you’re right, we were told that. I just want to be told more explicitly what is happening, hah. But it is a somewhat effective if you look on it as a child probably wouldn’t know the specifics of everything that is going. But what about the reading thing?

Kate:  I’m just generally confused by everything surrounding Liesel’s past. Maybe I’ll research what was actually going on foster parent-wise in Germany around then and report back in the comments. It’s really confusing to me that the mom rode with them on the train.

I think we don’t know anything from before Death first meets Liesel. It’s weird, though, because, again, we’re being told what’s going on in her head. In a limited way? And I guess her dad didn’t die anywhere near her.
Wendy: Yes, maybe that’s it. And I guess not–no mention of him at all, from what I recall.
Kate: I’m also a little confused because Death says he only saw the book thief three times, but it doesn’t sound like she died that third time. Maybe I mis-read.
Wendy: No, I remember him saying that, too. Maybe she’s the sole survivor.
Kate:  But he still would see her another time, then, right? On the day of her death? Am I too stupid for this book? I also am constantly reminded of The Sound of Music. The stuff with the Hubermanns’ son felt a bit like what happened with Liesl’s boyfriend (Rolfe?).
Wendy: Oh, I didn’t think of that, but yeah–I see the similarity. I was surprised at Hans Hubermann’s reaction to Liesel’s saying that she hates the Fuhrer. It was unexpected.
Kate:  I expected it because (15%) we were warned that there would be “a slap from a trusted hand” after the blood-soaked ankle. This is a problem I have with this style of narration–it just really is not compatible with how my brain takes in information.
K: I was actually very moved by Han’s reaction to Liesel’s remark. I think you kind of have to read between the lines but as soon as I read that, I saw the deep feeling this strange, foster father has developed for her. I think in that moment, he became terrified of what would happen if there had been someone else to hear — because obviously that is a very dangerous mentality to have. All for the Fuhrer!
Kate:  I understood his reaction and why he did what he did, and I think it was actually a loving way for him to behave, but having been told it was coming really lessened the effect it had on me.
I adore Rudy. He is absolutely, 100% going to die, because this is the kind of book that makes you love people and then kills people. I will eat a ham sandwich with mayonnaise on it if I’m wrong.

K: I’m already trying not to be too fond of him. It isn’t exactly working.
Wendy: I wouldn’t take those odds. I’m sure pretty much everyone we meet is going to die. Except maybe the wicked foster mother, hah.
K: Ah, yes, but not so wicked. I love the weirdness of Rosa. She’s horrendous and absolutely abusive yet she has moments when she’ll yell all the way down the street, calling out Leisel’s name and asking if she’s dressed warm enough for later when it gets dark. And maybe I’m wrong, or I’m just romanticizing the relationship between Hans and Rosa, but maybe below all that hostility is underlying affection…? maybe?
Kate:  K, you are being so sweet to Rosa, and she absolutely has not earned it. I love it. But she and her lovely husband were married initially for a reason. I wonder what has happened to her to make her the way she is–presumably she was once fiery and hilarious but still kind.

Oh yeah, her village ends up in rubble, doesn’t it? And the soldiers throw her book on a wagon or something.

On a side note, my mom used to hit us with a wooden spoon when I was growing up, and I have a really hard time, now, when this happens in books. It triggers me a bit. Interestingly, I recently learned that a friend of mine doesn’t cook with wooden spoons for the same reason–he can’t bear to look at them.
Wendy: Yikes. I can see how that would be a huge trigger.
K: All the side notes by Death is kind of distracting. He’s involving us in the story but then taking us aside by handing us these tid bits of information. It’s jarring, especially when you’re trying to emotionally engage with the characters. Kind of annoying.
Wendy: Agreed. It’s like when you watch a film and there’s a prologue narrated by one of the characters looking back on events that have passed, except in this case it’s the whole freaking thing! This style is very old school–I feel like there are a lot of classics that have an omniscient narrator, and it’s very hard to execute in a way that doesn’t feel somewhat stilted.
Kate: I agree, too. I would have liked this book WAY more when I was a teenager, I think.
K: But there is some seriously, beautifully haunting descriptions in this book. Example:

The boy.

Liesel was sure her mother carried the memory of him, slung over her shoulder. She dropped him. She saw his feet and his legs and body slap the platform.

How could that woman walk?

How could she move?

That’s the sort of thing I’ll never know, or comprehend — what humans are capable of.   (p.25)
Kate: The weird thing for me, K, is that the descriptions feel like they’re SUPPOSED to be haunting, but I don’t actually feel haunted. Does that makes sense? And I know I must be wrong because everyone in the world loves this book, but it kind of leaves me cold.
Wendy: Yeah, I’m in that camp, too. I’m curious about what is happening, but I don’t feel Liesl’s pain or confusion at all, and I desperately want to.

K: No, I understand what you’re saying. I haven’t exactly warmed to this book yet, either. It’s Death, really, that gets in the way. I’m not a fan of his voice (Ooo, who says he’s a he?). Also, what with the prologue, it kind of sets us up for this “special” story — only “one of a handful” as Death tells us — so we’re made to feel like we’re supposed to feel and understand everything that goes on. But then we find out Death sucks at storytelling. Oops.
Wendy: Hah hah hah. Death better step it up in the next part.
Kate:  Oh shit. You know what this reminds me of (the “Death may be female” thing)? When I read a book that makes zero reference to most of the characters’ skin colors, and then I complain about lack of diversity in it. When the blame is on my dumb brain.
Wendy: I find it interesting when authors spend a huge amount of time describing physical appearances, because they rarely register with me when I’m reading either. More often than not, spending a great deal of time describing the color of someone’s hair or skin or whatever is a substitute for great character building. But I digress….

My favorite quote so far: 

Smoke was rising out of Liesel’s collar…

Beneath her shirt, a book was eating her up.

To sum up: I think all three of us are in agreement at this point that we are interested in Liesel’s story, but some of the stylistic choices aren’t working well for us, although we do like some of the imagery and find some of the characters compelling. 


What Do You Think?

All right, what are your thoughts on the first 3 parts of this book? Do you agree/disagree with our reactions so far? What do you think will happen next? Discuss with us in the comments below!

Reminder: Next week, on Friday, October 11, we will be regrouping to discuss to page 303. It’s the longest reading stretch for this month, so I hope you’re up for it!


78 Responses to “The Book Thief Readalong: Week One”

  1. Vivien

    *facepalm* Ok I forgot a few things. I understand the ‘slap’ may come off very badly. And in this day and age, it’s something really taboo. However, from what I’ve learned from my family, this was absolutely acceptable during this time. Even my mother who grew up after the Hitler regime, still struggled with abuse from her mother. So while it’s tough to read/listen to, I find it fits the setting very well. The times were tough and abuse was very rampant and everywhere. I feel that if the author hadn’t included a glimpse into this, it wouldn’t have felt accurate.

    Also, the flashbacks really drew me out of the story. I had to figure out exactly what was going on multiple times and it made the book feel disjointed.

  2. Vivien

    Ok ok ok. I know I’m late. But I’m here now :) I’ll give some background on this book and myself. I’m German. Was born on a US Army base. My mom’s side of the family survived by fleeing Prussia during this horrific time period. It hits very close to home.

    When I first heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I tried to listen to it about 5 years ago when I was first getting into audiobooks. At that time, I struggled immensely with the narrator and the beginning of the book itself. So I shelved it, knowing that I would try it again at a later time. Cue about a month ago when I first saw the movie trailer. This made me want to immediately read the book because the movie looks like it’s going to be pretty fantastic.

    So, last week I picked up the audiobook again. Again, the beginning was tough to get through. The narrator isn’t the best, but certainly not the worst I’ve listened to. Honestly, I just wish there was more cohesion in the beginning. As a reader, it was mighty confusing and the shifts were tough to keep up with. I have such a hard time with the omniscient pov. If it isn’t solid which I don’t feel Death is, then it can really take away from the whole point of using omniscient. And honestly, I didn’t know what was going on until I was really far into listening to the book. I do think this is due to listening to it rather than reading it. I might have caught on sooner if I could see the format. But the audiobook did help me get through the beginning. If I were reading it, I might have struggled even more.

    So, I’m torn. At first I thought that using Death was clever, then it felt gimmicky because I was really lacking a connection to the characters. (Side note: I ironically picked up Between Shades of Grey to read at the same time that I was listening to this book. I did this without knowing what BSOG was about. And while that book’s writing is drastically more simplistic than TBT, I did feel a connection to the characters.) I’m not sure how I would have felt about this book as a younger reader. Some say they would have enjoyed it more, but I think my age gives me the appreciation to enjoy the more literary aspects of this novel. Another book that comes to mind is Once by Morris Gleitzman. The protagonist in this one is completely unaware of what the Nazi’s are doing. The naivete was shown (in my opinion) very well (I also listened to this one).

    But, even with my struggles, which I’m glad to read that I wasn’t the only one, I am glad I read the book. I can see why many people love it. I understand why Death acts the way he does, and appreciate his dry wit. I’m just not sure we should be in his head for the majority of the book.

    Ok, on to Week 2’s discussion post. lol

  3. Michelle

    I really enjoyed reading your discussion girls. So far I kind of loving this. There’s something about it (maybe the narration or structure) that really clicks and makes me just want to keep reading. I agree that I would like to get more of a measure of Rosa’s character and background. I feel like her anger is a mask and I like seeing the tender moments she has with Liesel. I also feel like the relationship with her own children may have a bit to do with it – like she’s insulating herself against more hurt/rejection?

    Although the slap from Hans did shock me, I saw it as a protective measure. After all, he realises how dangerous a statement like that is and is trying to protect her. I’m finding the relationship with his son interesting and want to find out more about that. I like that we’ve got more of a measure of Hans’ character so far.

    In terms of the structure, I’m actually loving it. I think it may be the fact that it’s different from other YA books about that era I’ve read (The Boy Who Dared. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). I also loved Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller and again that was written in a rather unusual format.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where the next part takes us :)

  4. mareemusings

    I really enjoyed reading your discussion girls. So far I kind of loving this. There’s something about it (maybe the narration or structure) that really clicks and makes me just want to keep reading. I agree that I would like to get more of a measure of Rosa’s character and background. I feel like her anger is a mask and I like seeing the tender moments she has with Liesel. I also feel like the relationship with her own children may have a bit to do with it – like she’s insulating herself against more hurt/rejection?

    Although the slap from Hans did shock me, I saw it as a protective measure. After all, he realises how dangerous a statement like that is and is trying to protect her. I’m finding the relationship with his son interesting and want to find out more about that. I like that we’ve got more of a measure of Hans’ character so far.

    In terms of the structure, I’m actually loving it. I think it may be the fact that it’s different from other YA books about that era I’ve read (The Boy Who Dared. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). I also loved Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller and again that was written in a rather unusual format.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where the next part takes us :)

  5. mareemusings

    I really enjoyed reading your discussion girls. So far I kind of loving this. There’s something about it (maybe the narration or structure) that really clicks and makes me just want to keep reading. I agree that I would like to get more of a measure of Rosa’s character and background. I feel like her anger is a mask and I like seeing the tender moments she has with Liesel. I also feel like the relationship with her own children may have a bit to do with it – like she’s insulating herself against more hurt/rejection?

    Although the slap from Hans did shock me, I saw it as more of a protection, after all he realised the danger saying that would put Liesel in. I like that we’re getting a insight into his character and I’m interested to see what will happen with his relationship with his son.

    When it comes to the unusual structure of the book, I’m actually really liking it, maybe because it’s different to the YA WW2 novels I’ve read (like The Boy Who Dared, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). Earlier this year I read Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller and loved it, despite the heartbreaking story. That was also written in a rather unusual format and I think that was part of the reason it was so appealing. So, yeah the way the book is set out is actually really appealing to me, but then everyone’s different :)

    I’m excited to keep reading and see where this takes us!

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m so glad you are loving it, Maree! Now that you are presumably about caught up to Part 6 for tomorrow’s discussion, you probably know that you and K were right about there being more to Rosa–Kate and I may have judged her too quickly.

      Yes, the slap was shocking but I think your interpretation that it was protection is right, too. I LOVE Hans so much, particularly as the story progresses.

      I haven’t read Striped Pyjamas yet, but have been meaning to. (Haven’t even heard of the other Boy.) I’m afraid I had a terrible experience with the one and only Picoult book I read, though, so I’ll leave you to that one, hah.

      So glad you’re reading along with us, Maree!

  6. lisalikesbooks

    I feel the same way about it as you three. The story is interesting, but I hate the writing style. I wish it were written differently. It was actually so hard for me to get into that I almost quit reading it. Other people told me to keep reading though. It’s just so loved in the book community, so I feel like maybe I’m not comprehending it correctly or something. Or maybe it’ll be a delayed gratification type thing. I don’t know, but I hope I can get used to the writing. I feel like the writing is trying too hard to be poetic. A lot of times I have to go back and read sentences over because I’m unsure I read it correctly the first time. It’s pulling me out of the story and making it hard for me to feel anything toward the story and the characters. Alas.

    It, it, it. I used that a lot. Haha. Sorry.

    • Wendy Darling

      It is pretty hard to come into a book like this when it is so beloved. I’m rethinking this whole readalong business when it comes to books we haven’t read yet either, it’s kind of a bummer to have so many things we’re questioning in the first post.

      On the one hand, I’m glad we’re not the only ones who are somewhat frustrated and not sure what’s happening, but on the other hand, I’m sorry for the way you’re feeling, too! Like you, I had some trouble getting into it at first, too, and in fact I’ve started this book several times before and never stuck with it. I am glad we’re reading this together, though, because at least it’s motivation to finish. And who knows, maybe we’ll end up seeing what all the fuss is about soon!

      But yeah. The writing style and confusion is obscuring an interesting story for me at this point, too. Fingers crossed that our experiences improve.

    • Kate Bond

      I feel both guilty and stupid for not absolutely loving this thing so far, but I’m glad that several of us are in the same boat, and it actually sounds like a lot of the people who LOVE the book felt the same way we did about the first quarter of it.

      And yeah, the prose is kind of just this side of purple. It makes me uncomfortable.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, thanks Una Eve! I hope you do give it a try anyway, it’s a book beloved by many, so don’t let our mixed reactions thus far dissuade you.

      Thanks for the awards nomination, too–we don’t really participate in stuff like that because we just don’t have the time to keep up, but we sincerely thank you for thinking of us!

  7. Shannelle C.

    I enjoyed it a lot, because I even though I didn’t really get everything Death was saying, did I love all those statements. They’re just too beautiful.

    And aah, Rudy. Every single scene with him killed me a little inside. He’s just too lovable. Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy it. The Book Thief isn’t for everyone, but I really hope you’ll like it. And if you don’t the movie trailer looks amazing.

    • Kate Bond

      I cannot handle how lovely Liesel’s hair is in the movie trailer. I know it’s not realistic (she should look more run-down), but I love it anyway.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, thanks Shannelle. It could be one of those cases where I end up liking the film better than the book (bite my tongue, I know!), but I am still hoping to get attached in the coming weeks. We’ll just have to see…

  8. Melanie

    Rudy <3 I love him so much! You ladies are getting closer and closer to being not-lame! *is proud*

    I hope you start to enjoy it more, it gets better and better IMO.

    • Kate Bond

      Mel! You visited us! Hi!

      General consensus seems to be that we quit reading right before the main story really kicked in, so I’m excited about seeing what happens moving forward.

      And Rudy is just such a good character. I really, really like him.

    • Melanie

      I always visit TMG :) It feels like not much is happening at times but yeah…I’m just gonna stop before I blurt out spoilers.

    • Wendy Darling

      25% closer to not lame, Mel! We’re getting there, hah. But if we end up not liking the book, where do we fall in the lame category? I’m afraid of the answer. :(

    • Melanie

      YAY! But if you don’t like the book *voice shakes* I won’t even want to know you guys. You’ll be lamest of the lame!

  9. Lisa

    Yay, I made it, but now that I’m here I’m not sure exactly what to say. My opinion of this book is all over the place. I’m intrigued by where the story is going. I like Hans and Rudy, especially Rudy, and if he dies I’m probably going to get choked up at the very least. I also like that Liesel is a strong character, and she’s strong in a way that feels authentic. In a book that has a lot of telling, I feel like Liesel’s strength is something that is mostly conveyed through showing.

    That said, I knew when I saw that Death would be narrating the story that I was going to have trouble connecting with the characters, and that’s exactly what’s happening. Because I’m being told what the characters are feeling I’m not able to vicariously experience their emotions, at least not yet. I also feel like I’m being told what to think about each of the characters. For example, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to like Rosa despite her abuse and negative attitude, but I don’t think her actions have justified anything but dislike. On the other hand, I do like that she’s not wholly bad. It makes her more three dimensional. I’m also very interested in her history and how she and Hans got together because at this point I don’t see what he sees in her. I found myself speculating about their history as I was reading.

    As for the writing style, again, I’m torn. I love the lyricism, but I don’t know that it fits with a story where people are called assholes. Sometimes the story feels too modern (though it takes place seventy years ago) for the writing style. Some of the descriptions are very beautiful, but some of the others seem as though they were added to sound poetic, but when you actually read them they don’t make any sense or describe anything in any sort of meaningful way. They just sound pretty.

    All in all, I am tentatively enjoying the book. I’ve been able to get through it pretty quickly (for me, slow reader that I am), and I’ve become more engaged as the story has progressed. I’m cautiously optimistic about the remaining story.

    • Wendy Darling

      Hi Lisa! *waves*

      I like some things about this book, but I’m frustrated by others for sure. You’re right about Liesel’s character (at least her strength) being shown rather than told, though–and the same could be said for both the foster parents. Regardless, I feel very disconnected from the characters and the story thus far, although I do have a soft spot for Rudy! (And…I would bet good money you’d better get tissues ready, Lisa. I could be wrong, but that seems to be the way these things go.)

      I knew I might have trouble with the Death as narrator thing, too. :/ We’re hearing that the POV changes a bit later, though, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll like the storytelling style better later on. (Agreed on Rosa. And about being told what to think or feel.)

      Some of the descriptions are very beautiful, but some of the others seem as though they were added to sound poetic, but when you actually read them they don’t make any sense or describe anything in any sort of meaningful way. They just sound pretty.

      I agree with this, too. Quite strongly, actually. Some of the imagery is nice, but thus far I’m not finding it hugely moving or framed in a way that is truly poetic or transformative. It’s like seeing fragments of something lovely instead of a complete thought or emotion.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it nonetheless–I think we’re feeling very much the same way. The next part is a big chunk of reading (till page 303), so I’m guessing we’ll have a lot more to discuss plot-wise at that point, and perhaps thematically as well.

    • Kate Bond

      It’s like you wrote this comment from the inside of my brain.

      But I gotta tell you, Rudy has a 0% percent chance of survival. I NEVER eat mayonnaise. I can’t even eat sushi that has mayonnaise in it. I can’t eat ranch dressing because it has mayonnaise in it. I do not place mayonnaise-based bets lightly.

      Rudy will die. Harden your heart right now because there have been like four adorable Rudy anecdotes already, and he cannot survive a Nazi-themed book being that sweet and kind.

    • Lisa

      There’s another person out there that doesn’t eat mayonnaise? I thought I was the only one. It grosses me out so much. I wouldn’t eat sushi with mayo in it either. Yuck.

      Back to the topic at hand. I know the odds are Rudy’s going to die and that just sucks because right now he’s the only character I have an emotional attachment to. And it’s probably going to happen in some really tragic, heart wrenching way. Wendy’s right, I’m going to need tissues. I don’t think I can harden my heart. He’s just such an endearing character.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m pretty sure these are the tears everyone keeps referring to. And it makes sense, because he’s the only one that I feel anything major for so far, too.

  10. Lyn Kaye

    Man I love this book. I haven’t (sadly) read about Death in TP’s books (I swear I am trying to get to them!!) but I have heard a comparison between the two in the past!

    • Kate Bond

      Lyn, TP-wise, the first two Discworld novels are tough. I’d start with Good Omens, which is not Discworld but a standalone novel co-written with Neil Gaiman, and then I’d skip the first two Discworld novels because they are bad.

      Lyn! Keep following along with us on this readalong! I want to hear your thoughts as we go!

  11. Kate Bond

    OK, ladies, my research has taught me that while communists were sent to concentration camps, their children, being German and non-Jewish, could be considered untainted and sent to live with foster families. So Liesel’s Dad is probably in a camp. And maybe her mother, too, although…I’m just so confused. Because she was on the train with Liesel. I think that maybe I am too stupid for this book.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah hah. Thank you, Investigator Kate, that is very helpful to know. Even though I’m still confused, too. (Why are we so confused? It seems perfectly clear to everyone else.)

    • Lisa

      I’m confused too. When did Liesel’s dad disappear? It was when Liesel was very young since she doesn’t remember him. Would it have been after 1933 because that’s when the first camps were created. I’m confused about what age Liesel is in what year because of all of the time jumps. As for her mother, my guess is that she knew that the Nazis were coming for her so she decided to place Liesel and her brother in foster care in anticipation of her being taken to a camp.

    • Wendy Darling

      Okay Lisa, I am glad to hear we are not the ONLY ones confused! I’m not sure about Liesel’s age either. I’m willing to give the book a pass on the dad for now because he hasn’t been brought up (apparently hasn’t been part of her life in a long time), but I wish the other stuff was more clear.

      I like your theory on the mother placing Liesel with foster parents because she knew the Nazis were coming. I’m curious whether we’re actually ever going to be told, though.

  12. Stacy

    Well I say… This book IS strange. For one thing my original prediction of estimated reading time was off, way off. I’ve just reached Part 5. After a 2-week-long hiatus during which I’ve read a YA novel to cheer me up.

    I’m unsure whether such state of affairs is depressing or not. Because I like this one. A whole whooping lot. It’s macabre and strange but oddly compelling.

    I have no problem with pretty much anything. I’m incapable of keeping up a running comparison while I’m reading, unless it’s a blatant rip-off. So I really can’t compare notes on that account. (Granted, I absolutely loved Death in Good Omens. Especially his face-off with Adam. And how he showed up in the end? “Who me? Just passing by…”)

    I like Death, with this particular one I think we’d hit it off. Granted that sort of thing is unlikely to happen – no plans of imminent death here, move along now…

    I don’t have any problems with:
    – time-jumps
    – random bits of information inserted throughout
    – fragmented narration
    – omniscient POV
    – a great number of things you guys mentioned in here

    Actually, I’d say that as of now I can feel the rising unease and building tension. Although I don’t feel emotionally involved like you seem to be expecting from a good story. And there’s ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT! Because it’s different for every book. I’d be a total headcase if I got that involved with every book I’ve read.

    Overall I’d say the book suits my autumnal mood: thoughtful and slightly detached. But I will probably end up reading something to cheer myself up after finishing this one

    • Kate Bond

      I feel you. I think my expectation of emotional engagement comes from the way everyone I know who has read this book talks about it–they tend to be SUPER into it how much they cried. And I am a crier. But maybe that comes at the end.

      I’ve found that I respond very strongly to small stories that allow me to put myself inside the characters, and this one–at least this part narrated by Death–is leaving me detached in a way that I find puzzling considering the story’s centering around a little girl. I’m seeing some clusters of tiny, poignant moments, but the story as a whole is not pulling me in, and as a result I–and I’m envious of your enjoyment here, I gotta tell you–am feeling ambivalent.

      I’m willing to bet that I will become much more engaged as soon as the Jewish people start to show up.

  13. Keertana

    Wow, I don’t know where to begin when it comes to this analysis! Let me just say that I struggled a lot with the beginning of this novel – and have probably never re-read it because of that – but I didn’t think Death’s perspective or the anecdotes would work for me, but they all tie back in at the end and sort of sucker-punch you when you least expect it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed you all love it! It’s always interesting for me to see the perspectives people have of over-hyped books and while I think this book deserves all the hype it has received, I do think reading it with expectations vs. no expectations is a very different experience. I love this post, though, and can’t wait for more of your thoughts!(:

    • Wendy Darling

      I think describing this is “analysis” is overly generous, Keertana. :P I think I’m still trying to get accustomed to the voice, and that I also didn’t pick a good point to stop for the first discussion post. (This thing is so long, though, and I was worried about people dropping out if the first requirement was 180 pages!)

      I’m actually pretty good at managing my expectations hype-wise, too, and I have to say I have picked this up several times before without sticking with it, so it’s not entirely a surprise that the style isn’t entirely working for me thus far. BUT so many people have told us that they struggled with the beginning as well, so I’m very hopeful that we will end up loving it as much as most people seem to!

      Readalongs of unread books are a dangerous affair, hah.

    • Kate Bond

      Haha, analysis.

      I’m having a little bit of trouble with expectations, mostly because I frequently do not enjoy books (Yes, Gone Girl, I’m talking about you) that become huge crazy hits, regardless of when I read them. And I think I may be painting The Book Thief with that brush a bit prematurely.

  14. kate

    Like you, Kate, I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s Death, but I didn’t find the similarities between Death and this narrator particularly off-putting. I think it’s a clever choice for a narrator, since it offers a reason for clairvoyance by a character who is actually present at some of the events rather than just having them magically know what other people were thinking because…reasons?
    The style is a bit herky-jerky, but I think that’s more interesting than a straight narrative would be. It’s nice that a book aimed at a younger audience isn’t playing to the lowest common denominator.
    Other than that, I think it’s interesting that there is no immediate antagonist, no one person who threatens Liesel in particular. Instead there’s an atmosphere of impending doom which is as much a product of the reader’s knowledge as the book’s events.
    I’m enjoying your discussion, and I’m glad there was finally a kick in the pants that got me to read this book. Thanks!

    • Kate Bond

      I don’t think it’s the similarities that are putting me off; I think I’m maybe being a bit of a brat because he’s not the version of Death I’m used to. It’s like when they re-cast Doctor Who, and he’s the same character but played differently enough to feel wrong. David Tennant is my Doctor, and Terry Pratchett’s is my Death.

      I think I would have enjoyed this much more as a young reader. Normally when this is the case I am able to put myself into a younger state of mind while reading, but I think the seriousness of–and my familiarity with–the subject matter here is throwing that off for me. I think it’s important that authors continue to write new stories about this for new generations, because young people need to learn certain lessons, but I just am not going to respond emotionally the same way a person newer to stories about the Holocaust will, so I am perhaps not the target audience here.

      A lot of the comments from people who’ve already read the whole book say we’re getting to the good parts soon, and I’m excited for that.

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s nice that a book aimed at a younger audience isn’t playing to the lowest common denominator.

      I do agree with this. And plenty of people DO love this writing style, so maybe we’re just cranky pants, hah.

      You’re right, it is interesting there isn’t a driving primary antagonist so far. Well, except for the Holocaust and Death, maybe.

      I think Kate’s onto something with familiarity with the subject matter playing into my response to this book as well. It’s not like I’ve read a zillion books on the Holocaust, but certainly I’ve read Elie Wiesel, and I still think Miklos Nyiszli’s Auschwitz is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

      Within the YA/middle grade books that I read as a kid that dealt with this time period, I remember being affected by Summer of My German Soldier, Number the Stars, etc., and of course Anne Frank. I’m curious if I’d still feel the same way about them as a more seasoned reader. I still need to read Between Shades of Grey too, I remember K responded strongly to that one.

    • Wendy Darling

      You have about a month to finish it before the movie is out, Savy! Hurry up!

      I have had a copy of the Pan’s Labyrinth book forever, but somehow never got around to it.

  15. Bonnie R

    Gosh there’s so much I could say but I’m not clear on where you guys are so I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that I did have a rough beginning in this book and I actually stopped reading it completely but opted to finish with the audio and it was waayyy better. I think the story is told from Leisel’s POV more often in the middle vs. Death being the sole narrator which I preferred. Death was an odd sort and the fantasy like qualities were strange and ill-fitting at first but he grew on me. I think the back and forth in timeline was because of Death and his lack of a complete grasp on time maybe?

    • Wendy Darling

      We stopped at Part 3 for this post, Bonnie!

      I am really glad to hear that you struggled with this in the beginning, too. Hmm, I didn’t even think about doing it as an audiobook–maybe it would feel less segmented that way? As you saw, I don’t love all the random asides.

      I’m SO glad we get Liesel’s perspective later, too! Oh, I’m so glad, I didn’t know–I thought this was going to be the style for the whole thing. You’re right, Death does feel a bit fantasy-like (maybe why Kate found so many scifi/fantasy references) and it was jarring to me. That guy really needs to sort out his dates and facts. :P

    • Bonnie R

      Yeah I really didn’t even notice different segments with the audiobook. But yes, the story gets told from the POV of Liesel but it’s done in a way that Death is still narrator but… hmm it’s like he introduces the section but then let’s the story tell itself. Does that make sense? But there were times where I almost forgot about Death until he popped up and did some random bit of foreboding. Which was a bit irritating.

  16. Kim

    Oh I am so excited but also very nervous for this! The Book Thief has been sitting at the #1 favorite all time book for me for 5 years. But I realized recently that it’s been so long and I’ve changed so much…if I read it now would it be the same? So I have a certain amount of anxiety as I’m going through the read along. I don’t want to love it any less.

    Reading all your thoughts and comments so far, though, has brought memories flooding back. I remember beginning the book and having a fair amount of confusion and difficulty connecting to the writing the style. I really wasn’t all that into it at first. It was probably right around where we’ve stopped for Part 1 of this readalong that I really became immersed. It really turned into a magical and captivating experience for me.

    As you’ve already seen, Death jumps around a bit in narrating chronologically. He, in fact, spoils some rather large details at certain points under the justification that he is softening the blow for you. I hope that won’t ruin things for you all! In retrospect, when I finished I noticed that I had barely taken in the times Death literally laid out exactly what was going to happen already. I was too enthralled to the story. When I finished this book, I was reading sneakily at work, I was bawling so hard I had to run (run!) to the bathroom and hide. “Why on Earth were you reading the end at work, Kim? Death told you what happens!” I had completely forgotten.

    I think if you’re confused about certain details (like what happened to Liesel’s mother, why she’s being sent away) it’s because at that point in the telling Liesel herself doesn’t know. Death is basically recounting to you the book Liesel is writing in all of the references to her writing in the basement. He picks it up from the rubbish heap mentioned in the prologue and reads her story. He only knows what Liesel herself wrote and his personal experiences meeting her three times (so far). I think, at least. I might be getting confused now too!

    Gah, sorry for all the rambles. I hope TBT ends up captivating you all as much as it did me years ago. I hope I love it just as much too :p

    • Wendy Darling

      Kim–oh thank god you’ve come along! I felt kind of bad that the first post for this readalong skewed more to middling reactions, I probably should have picked someplace further in the story to stop. Knowing that you also had some initial confusion and difficulty connecting with the writing makes me feel better, though. My friend Bonnie seemed to go through the same thing you did–I remember her early GR status updates being somewhat lukewarm, and then she was crying by the end. I hope that happens to us, too! “Magical and captivating” are what I want!

      Like you, I barely noticed that Death had spoiled one part for us, though–Kate is the one with the eagle eye, so maybe I’ll eventually get used to the narrative. Thanks for confirming (well, from your POV as someone who’s read the whole story) that we only know what Liesel knows so far. That makes sense for some of the things we’re wondering about–but I still want to know why she doesn’t know how to read! She knows that, right?

      And PLEASE come and ramble at us anytime, hah. Your perspective is very reassuring. But yes, I’d love to hear what you think of it as you reread, too.

    • Kate Bond

      And I agree with Wendy–I feel very reassured by your perspective here. I’ve been worried that I’m the wrong type of reader for this style of narration, because my brain catalogs all the information it’s given, so nothing is allowed to be a surprise. Mysteries are frequently ruined for me for this reason, too.

      I think a big part of my confusion is that Death SHOULD know more about what’s going on, but he’s choosing, for some reason I can’t figure out, to only tell us what Liesel knows. Why wouldn’t he include his own knowledge as well?

    • Wendy Darling

      YES. That’s it exactly–I’m having trouble reconciling Death as narrator, with mostly omniscient perspective, vs. the selective knowledge about Liesel’s past. Hmmm.

    • Kim

      Hmmm, I don’t think it’s ever literally spelled out but the impression I received is that Liesel’s never been to school before because she, her mother and brother have been constantly moving and on the lam since her father was taken away/murdered. “Boarding houses” is mentioned in the plural and “No matter where they went…” from pg 31 of the US paperback. I just got the general impression of them being constantly on the move, trying to evade the govt, with no ability or time to educate the children unfortunately.

      And I’m so glad I can reassure you! I’ve started in on the readings for next week and I’ve reached the part where I remember my heart first felt wrung by this book and its like “ah yes, here we go. This is what I remember reading TBT felt like!” I even skimmed to a scene that happens toward the end of the book that I remember as emotional and tears immediately sprang to my eyes despite not having read it in years and years. So I’m feeling relieved that the emotional connection is indeed there :)

      As for Death and what he chooses to reveal…his knowledge of Liesel, what she’s thinking, of what happens to her is limited to only what he read in the book she wrote that he picked up. He has no idea what’s going on in the minds of other characters unless they tell Liesel. For instance, at one point in what we’ve just read Death informs us that Rudy was thinking: “Just don’t kick me in the eggs.” (Hahah. Rudy. I LOVE Rudy) and Death narrates “That’s what he was thinking but he didn’t tell Liesel that. It was nearly four years later that he offered that information.” So Death only knows Rudy ever thought that because Rudy tells Liesel later on and she wrote it down in her book. So Death only knows what’s going on in his personal experiences of dealing with the dead every day and what Liesel wrote down in her book about her life on Himmel Street from 1939-1944. If he’d never read her book he wouldn’t know any of this and then we wouldn’t be sat here reading a story narrated by Death :)

      He’s trying to present the story to you the way Liesel wrote it and intended it to be told. Her story is from the perspective of a child and so you get the child’s perspective without Death going “And btw her family were totalllly Communists and that’s why both of her parents eventually disappeared” before Liesel herself understands. It’s to be immersed in what being a poor child, in this small German town, during WW2 felt like. How did children understand that world? What did they make of what was happening? Of their neighbors, their parents, their friends?

      Does that make sense? Did you already understand all of that and now I’m embarrassed because I’m the one who doesn’t actually understand *your* question? haha. Oh no! The trials of written communication.

      Some of the ways Death chooses to describe things are using Liesel’s own words, also. For instance, and we’ll find this out on our own eventually, calling Rudy’s hair “the color of lemons”. That’s how Liesel describes it in her book which we do get to read snippets of later on! Little bits of 1st person POV from Liesel!

    • Wendy Darling

      Maybe the book is too subtle for me, hah. I remember reading the “on the move” part but I didn’t connect all the dots! I mean, literacy is a huge thing, and it would seem to me to be more of a prevalent issue for her.

      BUT YES, what you’re saying does make sense re: Death presenting the story as Liesel wrote it. Mostly. I still have questions, as is natural at this point, but I have a much better understanding now of what was intended. I’m the one who is embarrassed that I had trouble grasping that for some reason. :P That’s kind of cool that the color of lemons description is later revealed to be all Liesel, as I really enjoyed that image. I feel much better about all this now, thank you for being patient with us.

      I’m VERY glad to hear heart-wringing parts are coming up, too. :) I’m going to try to start on the next section tonight if I go to bed early enough–I’m happy for you that it’s still making you cry. Which sounds weird, but you know what I mean.

    • Kate Bond

      Wendy, I think we find out that we’re reading from a book written by Liesel later–she hasn’t started writing it yet–so I’m going to hold off of feeling like a dumb-dumb about at least the part for now.

      And yeah, Liesel’s dad is most likely in one of the concentration camps they tossed all the communists into when Hitler came to power. That’s the piece I was missing. I am still confused by her lack of schooling, though. Maybe her mom was always out trying to get work. I’m really over-thinking this. WHERE IS LIESEL’S MOTHER???

  17. Tracey Joseph

    I agree that the narrative is sometimes jarring. I had to go back and reread more than once. All in all, I’m enjoying the writing. I’m so used to reading books from the main character’s point of view that this is a nice change.

    There were moments in the story that made me take a real liking to Liesel, like when she beat up Ludwig Schmeikl. I loved seeing her stand up for herself in a way I never could at her age, though I don’t endorse violence.

    Hans Hubermann’s reaction to what Liesel said about the Fuhrer shocked me too at first. After some more thought I understood why he did it.

    “Smoke was rising out of Liesel’s collar…

    Beneath her shirt, a book was eating her up.”

    This is my favorite quote so far as well. The description of Liesel’s mother holding her son was a really good one, too. Markus Zusak’s way with words is inspiring.

    I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I’m intrigued. As for Rosa, I’m still not sure what to think about her. She’s cruel, but I’m not completely sold on her evilness yet.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts ladies. I will be back next week if I make it to page 303 or not.

    • Wendy Darling

      You know, I do appreciate that with books like these, you have to slow down your reading speed considerably. I had to reread a few passages as well, Tracey, and it’s is nice that the story is unfolding at its own pace instead of revealing all its secrets at once.

      I like some of the glimpses that we’ve gotten into Liesel’s character, too–and that Ludwig scene must be the one we see briefly in the movie trailer. I was a quiet, bookish kid at that age, too (so weird because I was such a tomboy until I was maybe 10), and I never could have done what she did. We introverts can live vicariously through her, hah.

      I don’t know what to think of Rosa either! K seems to think there’s more to her than we’re seeing. Should be interesting to see what happens next!

      Thanks for joining us, Tracey. :)

    • Kate Bond

      I really want to know what Rosa was like as a young woman, and I hope that in the next chunk we get more of a feel for Liesel–right now she feels a bit like I’ve assembled all the edge pieces of a puzzle, but don’t know what the inner picture is yet.

  18. Mel@Thedailyprophecy

    Oh no :( I’m sorry to hear that some things doesn’t work, but I hope you will reach a point where this book hooks you on the story. I guess it’s also personal taste, because I really love this book and the writing-style :) I can’t wait to see what you guys think when you are further into the story!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, don’t worry, Mel! I think we are all in agreement that the story is intriguing so far, and despite some of our early reactions, we do want to see what happens next. With so much set-up in the early chapters, I think we were concentrating a lot on our initial reactions/confusion, but I’m sure the next 180 pages or so are going to be jammed full of discussion points plot-wise.

      Anything could happen at this point. I know a lot of you love this book for a reason, and we are looking forward to the rest of it!

    • Kate Bond

      Everyone’s telling us that we stopped just short of the point where people really get hooked into the story, so I think we may be singing a slightly different tune next week.

  19. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Referencing the title of the book within the story is definitely cringe-worthy. Kind of like those singers who have to say their names in their songs. Really, people? Really?!? When I started this book, I knew it was more literary than I usually read but it’s inexplicably intriguing as well. And those descriptions are gorgeous!

    • Wendy Darling

      I wondered at first whether I was having difficulty for the same reason, Mary, because I read mostly YA? But then I realized that when I do come across a very literary style, I still enjoy it (Marcus Sedgwick, Elizabeth Fama, and many others come to mind) and of course still read some adult literary fiction as well. I think it’s more of a style thing.

      But yes, I want to find out what happens to everyone, and there are some really lovely bits of writing. I just wish they were not so obscured, I guess, by the omniscient narration and structure. It might come down to whether those two things work for you or not!

      But like I said, I think next week’s chapters and discussion will probably have more meat to them. I’d expect this is where things start to get really interesting.

    • Kate Bond

      I actually really enjoy a lot of really literary stuff, as well–I liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell enough that I immediately re-read it after my first reading because I thought it was so lovely, and most people are too bored to get through that brick of a book even the one time–but maybe this just isn’t my TYPE of literary? I’m looking forward to getting into the meat of the story next week.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, dude. I really liked the writing and was intrigued by the story, but I gave up on Jonathan Strange after 200 pages or so. NO BOOK NEEDS TO BE THAT LONG.

    • Kate Bond

      Ha. David tried to read it because I’d loved it so much, and he made it up to the first full page of footnotes and gave up in anger.