The Book Thief

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the novel. For the film adaptation, see The Book Thief (film).
The Book Thief
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak book cover.jpg
1st Edition front cover
Illustrator Trudy White
Cover artist Colin Anderson/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Country Germany
Language English, German
Genre Novel-Historical Fiction
Publisher Picador, Australia; Knopf, US
Publication date
2005(Australia); 14 March 2006 (worldwide)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 550
ISBN 978-0-375-84220-7
OCLC 183612599
LC Class PZ7.Z837 Boo 2007

The Book Thief is a novel by Australian author Markus Zusak.[1] Narrated by Death, the book is set in Nazi Germany, a place and time when the narrator notes he was extremely busy. It describes a young girl's relationship with her foster parents, the other residents of their neighborhood, and a young Jewish man who hides in her home during the escalation of World War II. First published in 2005, the book has won numerous awards and was listed on The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks.[2]

Book summary[edit]

Liesel Meminger is a nine-year-old girl living in Nazi Germany in 1939. Her mother, who is a Communist, is taken away and forced to give up her two children, Liesel and her brother, Werner Meminger, for adoption. As they are on the train to Molching, Liesel's brother dies, and the narrator, Death, sees her for the first time. They dig Werner's grave by the train track. At Werner's funeral, Liesel picks up a book called The Grave Digger's Handbook accidentally dropped by the funeral director. Liesel is fascinated by the book, despite not being able to read nor write. She brings it with her to her new home.

Liesel arrives at her foster house in a distraught state. She forms a tight bond with her new foster parents, Hans Hubermann, and Rosa. Hans is a painter and accordion player, and Rosa does washing for a few local customers. Hans slowly teaches Liesel to read and write. Liesel makes friends with many people, including a boy named Rudy Steiner. Rudy and Liesel have many adventures together, most of which involve theft. Rudy keeps asking Liesel for a kiss, but she keeps refusing.

As the book continues, we meet Max Vandenburg, a Jew who is being hidden by a friend. Max has been given Hans’s copy of Mein Kampf with a key hidden inside it. Max then travels successfully to Molching. Using the key, he opens the door to Liesel’s house on Himmel Street and meets Hans in the kitchen. He passes out right on their doorstep. Hans takes Max in, because during World War I, Max's father, Erik, saved Hans's life. For months, then years, Mama, Papa, and Liesel hide Max in their basement. Slowly, they become friends. When Max became more ill, Liesel read to him, and talked to him to help him get well. Max also writes a poignant story for Liesel in a homemade book named The Standover Man.

One by one, Rosa’s washing customers have fired her. When the last one, the mayor and his wife Ilsa, fires Rosa as well, Liesel is angry. In retaliation, Liesel and Rudy decide to steal books from the mayor’s house. The mayor and his wife have a large library and, in the past, Ilsa has allowed Liesel to read books in the library during her visits to the house. She stopped in fear the Nazis would catch her with many forbidden books.

Early in 1942, Max becomes ill and collapses. Death comes for him but is rebuffed. Liesel begins to read to Max, and he finally recovers.

The Nazis come to Molching to inspect the houses to see if any could be used as air-raid shelters. Liesel creates a diversion in the form of a football injury to warn Mama and Papa that the Nazis are coming. The family has only a moment to tell Max to hide. He is not found, and their basement is judged to be too shallow for a shelter.

Liesel helps her Papa paint when the order comes to blacken windows for the nighttime air raids. Together they mix black paint, and paint people's window blinds to keep out the light. When they take a break for lunch, Hans plays his accordion. During this time, Rudy has become a good athlete. At a Hitler Youth sporting event, he wins three gold medals.

Once more, Liesel steals a book from the mayor’s house. Shortly after, Rudy takes her to look at the window of the mayor’s house. They see that a book leans again it, ready for theft and Liesel cannot resist. The book is a dictionary. She opens the window and the book falls out. As she and Rudy ride their bikes away, Liesel looks back and sees that Ilsa is watching in the window. She waves, and Liesel waves back. Liesel finds a note from Ilsa inside of the dictionary. It says that she knows about the thievery and that it is okay for Liesel to take the books, but that she should come to the front door next time.

When the first air-raid sirens go off, late at night, the family goes down the street to the Fiedlers’ house. Max, left behind, sneaks to the window and sees the stars, for the first time in years. Liesel reads to the people in the shelter.

A convoy of Jews is forced to walk through Molching, and Liesel sees the parade of sick, starving wretches on their way to Dachau, concentration camp. An old man stumbles in the street, and Hans gives him a piece of bread. They are both beaten, and Hans is called a Jew-lover. Immediately, Hans fears they will come to search his home now. That night, Max leaves. Though Hans is positive the Gestapo will come for him, they do not. Max has left for nothing.

An examination took place at school, and Rudy was selected, for his intelligence and his athletic ability, to be part of the new “master race” of Aryans. Two men come to ask his parents to send him to their school, but they refuse.

In retaliation for his episode with the Jew, Hans is accepted into the Nazi Party, and drafted into the army. Likewise, Rudy’s father, who refused to send his son to the Aryan program, suffers the same fate. Hans has the dreaded job of Special Air Raid Unit. They remain above ground during an air raid to clean up and collect the dead bodies.

There is another raid, and Liesel remembers that her Papa told her to read. All the neighbours wait patiently, and she reads to them. Her words comfort them. When they get home, Rosa gives Liesel Max’s sketch book, The Word Shaker. He talks about Hitler, and how he came to power, and talks about the power of words and symbols.

On duty, Hans breaks his leg and is told he won’t be returning to the unit. Because he is a good man, he’ll be transferred to a desk job in Munich. It means that Papa will be coming home.

When the next group of Jews is driven through the street in Molching, Liesel sees Max among them. She insists on walking with him, until they both are brutally beaten. Max tells her they caught him several months ago, on the way to Stuttgart. When she recovers, Liesel tells Rudy about Max. She shows him the sketch that Max drew of Rudy, with his gold medals around his neck.

Liesel goes once more to the Mayor’s house on Grand Strasse. She climbs through the window and then sits on the floor in the library. Suddenly filled with anger at the things she has seen in life, she tears a book to shreds. She leaves a note for Ilsa, saying she won’t be back, and leaves. A few days later, Ilsa brings a little black book with lined pages to Liesel, telling her she should write her own story. In the basement, Liesel begins her story, “The Book Thief.”

A few days later, she is once again in the basement editing her story, when Himmel Street is bombed without warning. The entire street is decimated, and she is the only survivor. Rosa, Hans, and Rudy are all dead. When Liesel finds Rudy’s body, she tells him that she loves him and gives him that long-awaited kiss. However, it is too late. Rudy died seconds before she gave him her kiss. Her book is swept up and thrown in a garbage truck, but is picked up by Death. Liesel goes to live with the Mayor and Ilsa. In 1945, Max returns.

The epilogue reveals that Liesel later moves to Australia and has children and grandchildren. As Death reaps her soul at the end of her life, he gives her back the notebook she dropped as a girl.


Important characters[edit]

Liesel Meminger[edit]

The protagonist of the story. She is an adopted young girl on the verge of adolescence, with blonde hair that "was a close enough brand of German blonde," a "smile that was starving" when she very rarely showed it, and brown eyes, uncommon for a German. She is fostered by the Hubermanns when her father "abandons" their family and her mother is forced to give her up as a foster child. Her brother Werner dies on the journey to the Hubermann household. She is very close to her foster father, Hans Hubermann, and has a rough but loving relationship with her foster mother, Rosa. She befriends Max, the Jew who the Hubermanns are hiding, as well as the mayor's wife, who allows Liesel to read, borrow, and "steal" books from her home library. She also befriends the other children of Himmel Street, among them Rudy Steiner, who becomes her best friend. Despite her many refusals of Rudy's requests for a kiss, her love for him is clear. Liesel finally grants Rudy's much-awaited kiss as he lies dead among the ruins of Himmel Street. After the war, Liesel eventually marries, moves to Australia and starts a family. She dies in Sydney, having always shown a true love for books.

Hans Hubermann (Papa)[edit]

Liesel's foster father. As the supporting character, he takes in Liesel and raises her as his own. To make ends meet during the war, he plays the accordion at the local bar, paints, and trades cigarettes for Liesel's books. As the story ventures on, he comforts Liesel and she claims him as her father. He teaches her how to read and write, roll cigarettes, and mix paints. Their love for each other increases, and when Liesel needs comfort, he is there.

Rosa Hubermann (Mama)[edit]

Liesel's sharp-tongued, often abrasive, foster mother. She is 5'1" and has a "wardrobe" build, with a displeased face, brown-grey tightly-cinched hair often tied up in a bun, and "chlorinated" eyes. To supplement the household income, she does washing and ironing for five of the wealthier households in Molching. However, as the war causes economic problems, she loses her jobs one by one, the last being at the Hermann household. She has a quick temper, dictates to the household, and is known for straightening out previous foster children; however, though she often swears at Liesel, she cares very much for her. She has two children of her own, Trudy and Hans Jr. She is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.

Rudy Steiner[edit]

Liesel's neighbor and best friend. He is eight months older than Liesel, has bony legs, rugged teeth, blue eyes, lemon-colored hair and likes to get in the middle of situations, especially taking up for his friend, Tommy Muller. Although, for him, Liesel was the one he truly loved. Despite being the German ideal (blond hair and blue eyes), he does not support the Nazis. As part of a household with six children, Rudy is habitually hungry. He is known throughout the neighborhood due to the "Jesse Owens incident" in which he colored himself with coal one night and ran one hundred metres at the local sports field. He is academically and athletically gifted, which attracts the attention of Nazi Party officials, who try to recruit him; when he declines, they take his father, Alex Steiner. He also gets into trouble at the Hitler Youth due to his smart mouth and rebellious nature, and their vindictive group leader. Rudy becomes Liesel's best friend, often accompanying her on her adventures and talking her through her problems. He also teases her, regularly (though always unsuccessfully) asking her for a kiss mostly after he has helped her to accomplish something - for instance when one of Liesel's books (and most prized possession) is thrown into a river, he rescues it. Sadly, Rudy ends up dying in the bombing of Himmel Street, and when Liesel finds him dead on the ground, she finally kisses him.

Max Vandenburg[edit]

A Jewish fist-fighter who hides in the Hubermanns' basement. He is the son of a WWI German soldier who fought with Hans Hubermann. He has brown, feather-like hair and swampy brown eyes. Max's father was Hans' friend in WWI. When visiting his widow, Hans gave her his address and told her if she needed anything to contact him. Years later, during the Nazis' reign of terror, Max's mother calls upon Hans for help. Max's friend travels to Himmel Street to ask Hans to shelter Max, and Hans agrees to do so. After a tortuous journey to the Hubermanns' residence, Max finally regains his health, and befriends Liesel due to their shared affinity for nightmares and words. He writes two books for her and presents her with a sketchbook that contains his life story. Max leaves the Hubermann's residence in 1942. The next time Liesel sees him, he is being escorted with other Jews to a concentration camp near Munich. Liesel joins the group of Jews to speak to him, but this ends with both Max and Liesel being whipped by a soldier. After this incident, Liesel tells Rudy how she and the Hubermanns sheltered Max in their basement. She shows him a page in Max's sketchbook with a drawing of Rudy wearing three medals. Max is revealed to have survived the concentration camp and in 1945 finds Liesel in Alex Steiner's shop.

Tommy Müller[edit]

Another child on Himmel Street. After getting lost in the snow, Tommy developed an ear infection which resulted in multiple ear surgeries, a hearing problem, and nerve damage that makes him twitch. As a result of his twitching and partial deafness, his classmates frequently tease him, and he is punished by his Hitler Youth leader when he is unable to promptly obey commands. Throughout the story, at Hitler Youth, Rudy tends to take up for Tommy, and Tommy and Rudy become closer friends. Tommy is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.

Ilsa Hermann[edit]

The wife of the mayor of Molching. They had a son, Johannes Hermann, who was killed in Russia. Rosa and Liesel do the Hermanns' washing and ironing for a time; eventually the bad economy forces the Hermanns to discontinue the arrangement, in reaction to which Liesel causes a scene. Despite this, Ilsa allows Liesel to continue visiting and read books in the large library in her home. She also gives Liesel the diary, which leads Liesel to write her story, " The Book Thief ". Ilsa takes Liesel into her home after Liesel survives the Himmel Street bombing.

Frau Holtzapfel[edit]

A neighbour of the Hubermanns, whom Rosa initially hates because she always spits on the Hubermanns' door due to an old and now-baseless feud between the families. She eventually asks Liesel to read to her, stops her door-spitting, and pays Liesel for her service by giving her coffee ration to the Hubermanns. Of her two sons, Robert died on the battlefield, while his elder brother Michael committed suicide a few months later because of his guilt at "wanting to live". Frau Holtzapfel is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.


The narrator throughout the story, Death is sympathetic to humankind and dislikes all of the despair and destruction brought upon humans by War, contrary to the common assumption that Death and War are friends. He comments on the thoughts, morals, and actions of humanity throughout the story while keeping a close eye on Liesel, even though at the beginning of the story he states that it was stupid for him to follow her. He does not seem to have any control over life and death, and frequently calls upon God with, "I don't understand", and answers himself with, "But it's not your job to". He is not invincible. He is tired of his job and wants a vacation, but cannot take one because there would be nobody to replace him. While many people find Death devastating, he is surprisingly humorous

Hubermann Family[edit]

  • Hans (Father)
  • Rosa (Mother)
  • Liesel (Foster Daughter)
  • Hans Jr. (Son)
  • Trudy (Daughter)
  • Max (Jewish friend)

Steiner Family[edit]

  • Alex (father)
  • Barbara (mother)
  • Kurt (son)
  • Rudy (son)
  • Anne-marie (daughter)
  • Karin (daughter)
  • Emma (daughter)
  • Bettina (daughter)



Main article: The Book Thief (film)

Brian Percival has directed the film adaptation, which Michael Petroni scripted. The film was released on November 2013.[5] Much of the movie was filmed in Görlitz, Germany.[6][7] The film features Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson portraying the Hubermanns, Ben Schnetzer as Max Vandenburg, Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner, and French-Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse stars as Liesel Meminger. Noted film composer John Williams provided the music soundtrack.[8][9]


  1. ^ "The Book Thief". Transworld Publishers. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "Best Sellers: Children's Books - May 15, 2011". New York Times. 15 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "2006 Blue Ribbons". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  4. ^ "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". American Library Association. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "'The Book Thief' sets November release date". Entertainment Weekly. 
  6. ^ Roxborough, Scott. "'The Book Thief' Begins Shooting in Germany". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  7. ^ "The Book Thief movie adaptation gets a director By Molly Driscoll". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  8. ^
  9. ^

External links[edit]