The Book Thief

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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
Author Markus Zusak
Illustrator Trudy White
Cover artist Colin Anderson/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Country Australia
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 neighbourhood, 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 ten-year-old girl living in Nazi Germany in 1939. There was Liesel and her brother, Werner Meminger. 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 steals a book called The Grave Digger's Handbook, though she can't read or write. She brings it to her new home.

Liesel arrives at her foster house in a distraught state. She forms a bond with her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Hans is a painter and accordion player, and Rosa does washing for a few local customers. Hans teaches Liesel to read and write. Liesel makes friends with many people, including 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.

Max Vandenburg is a Jew who is being hidden by a friend. Max has been given Hans' second-hand copy of Mein Kampf with a key hidden inside it. Max then travels to Molching. He opens the door to Liesel's house on Himmel Street and meets Hans in the kitchen. He collapses on the doorstep. Hans takes Max in because, during World War I, Max's father, Erik, saved Hans's life. For years, Mama, Papa and Liesel hide Max in their basement. Slowly, they become friends. When Max becomes ill, Liesel reads to him, and talks to him to help him get well. Max also writes a story for Liesel in a homemade book named The Standover Man.

One by one, Rosa's washing customers fire her. When the last one, the mayor , 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.

The Nazis come to Molching to inspect the houses to see if any could be used as air-raid shelters. Liesel feigns a football injury so she can 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 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.

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 against it, and Liesel cannot resist taking it. 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 the 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 no reason.

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. However, his parents refuse to send him away.

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 air raids to clean up and collect the dead bodies.

There is another raid, and Liesel reads to the neighbours to comfort them. When they get home, Rosa gives Liesel Max's sketchbook, 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. Transferred to a desk job, he returns to his family.

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. 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, suggesting she write her own story. 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. The entire street is destroyed, and she is the only survivor. Rosa, Hans and Rudy are all dead. 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. When she meets Death herself, 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" and a "smile that was starving" when she very rarely showed it. 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 Meminger, dies on the journey to the Hubermann household. That is when Death, the narrator first visits the young girl. 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 as well to unknowingly, "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. He fought in WW1. 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 paint. Their love for each other increases, and when Liesel needs comfort, he is there. Unfortunately, he is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.

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 was killed in the Himmel Street bombing.

Rudy Steiner[edit]

Liesel's neighbor and best friend. 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 Müller. 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 Rudy.

Max Vandenburg[edit]

Tommy Müller[edit]

Tommy lives on Himmel Street and is friends with Liesel and Rudy. Tommy has severe ear problems because he got lost in the snow for a long period of time as a young child. During the Hitler Youth marching practices, he never stops marching at the right time, because he doesn't hear the call to halt. He dies in the Himmel Street bombing.

Ilsa Hermann[edit]

The ex 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.


The narrator throughout the story, Death is sympathetic to humankind. He is 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. He says he is "haunted by humans".



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. ^

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