bthr book club discussion: the book thief

Posted on Dec 27, 2012 in Lifestyle

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Good morning, everyone! It’s time for us to delve into some awesome discussion about December’s BTHR Book Club selection: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This discussion will have three parts. First up, I’ll share a series of book discussion questions that are you are welcome to answer in the comments. Secondly, I’ll share my review of the book. And thirdly, toward the end of the post you’ll find a link-up party to share your review post on your own blog (if you wrote one) so other members of the book club can check out what you had to say! And at the end of this post, you’ll find the announcement for January’s book club selection! Yay!

A warning: If you haven’t read the book, this post (and the comments) will be chock full of spoilers. So just skip on over this post! 

Ready?

the-book-thief

Discussion Questions

These questions come originally from the Gailsburg Public Library, but I edited them a bit to fit our discussion (and questions I have).

  1. Did you like the book? Why or why not?
  2. Which of the characters did you like the most? Which did you dislike?
  3. What is the symbolism of Death as the omniscient narrator of the novel? Did you find Death as the narrator effective? Why or why not?
  4. Liesel has complex relationships with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa. In what ways do they show how they feel about her and about each other?
  5. How does Max’s life give Liesel  purpose? At what point do Liesel and Max become friends?
  6. Liesel and the mayor’s wife have a complicated relationship. Eventually, the mayor’s wife leaves her a plate of cookies, and Liesel later returns the plate to the doorstep. Afterwards, “her brother never climbed into her sleep again.” (p 472). Why?
  7. Liesel lives to be an old woman. On the last page of the book (p. 550), Death says that he would like to tell the book thief “about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know?” How does her life represent beauty in the wake of brutality?
  8. Has anyone had an experiences that relate to places or experiences in the book?

Make sure to ask any questions you have in the comments. Happy discussing!

My Review

To be totally honest, I really struggled to get through this book. It wasn’t that I disliked the plot or the writing (both were amazing) but I’m just not sure this was the “right” book for me to read during such a busy time like December. I had to actually schedule time into my to-do list to read the book, instead of just wanting to read it whenever I had a drop of freetime. If I didn’t have the deadline of the book club, I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to finishing it until January.

Part of that I think is because I feel like the first half of the book moves at an excruciatingly slow pace. I realized that stuff was about to go down, just from the historical timeline, but still, it felt like the plot was moving at the speed of molasses. Thankfully, that sped up quite a bit in the second half. I was totally hooked in by the time Max Vandenburg came to stay with them. I’ve been fascinated for a long time with the stories of non-Jews who went out on a limb to hide Jews in Nazi Germany (so much compassion and selflessness), that I immediately got drawn in thanks to Max’s story and his friendship with Liesel and the rest of the family.

If nothing else, Zusak’s writing style was very unique. I went back and forth between thinking, “This is the most amazing writing I’ve ever read” to “Okay, this is annoying.” I particularly struggled with the death as the narrator aspect. It was very distracting to me. It would seem like we would go pages and page (chapters even) with it not being mentioned, and then suddenly, the fact that the narrator was death was important to the story. It always took me a few sentences to remember, “Oh yeah, this is death talking.” For the historical time period, it feels totally appropriate (and for the story, much more appropriate in the second half of the book), but at first, it was a difficult concept for me to grasp.

I felt like Zusak’s descriptions of feelings and events were so intriguing, different and completely accurate. So often I think authors get stuck using a handful of phrases to describe a character’s feelings and emotions, but Zusak did such a great job creating colorful phrases to really get at the heart of the moment. It’s the type of writing that made it so blatantly obvious that he is an insanely naturally talented writer. The plot itself (and the writing to describe the plot) really showed the power of words.

Of course, we all knew the ending was going to end badly, didn’t we? It wasn’t a matter of if they were going to die, just a matter of who and how. Even though Death has foreshadowed Rudy’s death for chapters and chapters beforehand, I was still totally crushed  when Liesel realized he was dead and he’s never get his kiss (well, living).

Overall, I really wanted to love this book, and I could appreciate the beauty of the prose, the characters and the story, but it just never grabbed me the way some books have in the past. Maybe it was a case of the right book at the wrong time, and I’ll reread it again at another time in my life and be swept away the way a lot of folks have been.

January 2013 Book Announcement

Last month we voted for the book for December, but I’m breaking away from that a bit for January because we have a unique opportunity to chat and interact with a brand new author of a book that is skyrocketing in popularity. The January 2013 BTHR Book Club Selection is….

terra-final-ebook

Follow Terra Rhodon through a dystopian future where the planet’s natural resources have been depleted and the rich and powerful have fled to cities in the sky. Eighteen-year-old Terra makes her living as a scav, collecting valuable recyclables to turn in for profit. Terra’s life is changed forever when a routine scavenging leads her to a discovery that turns her world upside down. From there, she finds herself being rapidly introduced to a world she never knew, as well as to Adam, a boy unlike anyone she has ever met. But Adam has secrets, and with him, Terra embarks on a journey that will lead to an earth-shattering revelation – one that will test the bonds of friendship, family, and love.
The first book in debut author Gretchen Powell’s anticipated Terrestrials series, Terra is action-packed, full of intrigue, and sure to leave you waiting breathlessly for the sequel.
You can find our how to purchase your copy of Terra on here. The Kindle version right now is a whopping $4.99 and totally worth every penny and more! Well come back together on Thursday, January 31st for a discussion of Terra. Happy reading!

 

10 Comments

  1. I LOVED Terra!! Great choice for the second book in your book club!

  2. Okay, I am saving this for next month. I just got The Book Thief from the library!

  3. I just finished Terra last night :) Can’t wait for the discussion on it.

  4. 1. I did, at first I also found it slow to get into. I really enjoyed hearing the experiences of children who were not Jewish during the war and how their experience differed from those of say Anne Frank who I know a lot more about from school.
    2. I loved Max and the Mayors wife because of their profound impact on Liesel. I also really enjoyed how compassionate Hans was. I liked Rosa much less than the other characters and despised Liesel’s real mother.
    3. I often forgot that that Death was the narrator so when it would become apparent I found it jarring. However given the time frame it was very effective to create an overshadowing, dismal voice.
    4. I was touched by the relationship between Hans and Liesel especially with the night time reading and closeness. It seems to me that the relationship between Hans and Rosa should have been stronger as they don’t always create a united front. I think that time and their own children being out of the house has separated them.
    5. It gives her something of her own to believe in and want to help. It also helps her deal with her demons from losing her own family. She can look at Max and be thankful for what she has, like the ability to see the weather.
    6. I think that for Liesel finally owning up to her “book thieving” helped her come to terms with her brother’s death in a final way.
    7. Liesel’s life going on despite losing all she had many times and everyone she knows. I can’t imagine anything more brutal than Death taking her family and then her adoptive family as well.

  5. Awesome!! I love book clubs! I am a recent blog reader, so I’ll be participating in the January book club :)

  6. My favorite book I read in 2012. This book is dark, it is narrated by death himself… yes, that was creepy. However, the main character, Liesel develops profound relationships with her foster parents, a young boy with a crush on her that later she develops a crush on, the weird yet important relationship with the Mayor’s wife and of course Max, the Jewish man her foster parents hide in their basement. Any normal person would have broken down in Liesel’s life, but she finds comfort in learning to read with the first book she stole after her brother’s death, and she continues to find comfort in other books she steals… later, she gives others comfort in reading to them. Does this book have a happy ending? No. This book actually gave me a really bad nightmare one night after I read it… after the bombings. I am surprised I liked this book so much, given all of the gloom in it… but, I think what I liked best of all was Liesel and her strong and charming personality that never wavered in the book. She was true and determined to act out her beliefs and devoted to her family and friends. You will definitely walk away feeling differently after you have read this book.

  7. While I didn’t participate in December, I just used my new Amazon Gift Card to purchase Terra! Thanks Santa! When do we have to have it read by for the discussion?

  8. Did you like the book? Why or why not?

    I liked the book…I did not love the book. I am having a hard time articulating why I didn’t love it. It was a good story, sad of course, but there was something missing for me, though I don’t quite know what.

    Which of the characters did you like the most? Which did you dislike?

    I liked Hans a great deal. He was a man of conviction, humor and love, despite his surroundings. I actually didn’t care much for Liesel. Perhaps that is why I didn’t love the book? Her character annoyed me with her inability to move beyond her past and engage in her present. Eventually she begins to do so, but for me it seemed to take too long. I agree with others, this book started S L O W! I kept wondering when we were going to get to the point.

    Liesel lives to be an old woman. On the last page of the book (p. 550), Death says that he would like to tell the book thief “about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know?” How does her life represent beauty in the wake of brutality?

    Her life represents beauty in her growth, learning to read, learning to write, learning to love despite her surroundings and circumstances. She survives, the story of those she loved survived, and she goes on to have what we believe is a fulfilling life. Despite being surrounded by death, brutality, and evil in her youth, she goes on.

    This is not a book I would have chosen to read without the book club, and I did end up liking the book. I also would not read Terra without the book club, but have already downloaded my copy.

  9. I just wanted to comment on your discussion questions. One of the questions that you should never ask in a book club right off the bat, is who liked or didn’t like the book. This question divides the group and can cause an us against them feeling so early in the meeting. Soon enough, through natural discussion, it will be apparent who liked and who didn’t like the book.

    But about the Book Thief. It was an interesting story, but I didn’t like that Death was the narrator. I felt he gave away too much and there was no suspense. When characters died I wasn’t as sad as I usually am in such cases. I found that Death wasn’t as emotional about the people because he was an outside observer. If the story was told in the first person through Liesel there would have been much more emotion in the story telling. But saying that I think the book wouldn’t have received such great reviews if it was told first person, there are plenty of war stories, so Death as the narrator makes this book unique. There was a lot of different relationships in this book each with their own expression of love. I found the author explored this by showing that people can feel love without it being the classic forms. ( mother child, or husband wife). If this is intended for teenagers I like that lesson. ( I don’t think that Max ever intended to marry Liesel as some reviews think, their relationship isn’t based on romantic love.)

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