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
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] 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]


The Book Thief is a novel that centers around the life of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl who is living in Nazi Germany during World War Two. Liesel's experiences are narrated by Death, who details both the beauty and destruction that life in this era brought.

After her brother's death, Liesel arrives in a distraught state at the home of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. During her time there, she is exposed to the horror of the Nazi regime and struggles to find a way to preserve the innocence of her childhood in the midst of her destructive surroundings. As the political situation in Germany deteriorates, her foster parents begin to hide a Jewish man named Max, throwing the family into a state of danger. Hans, who has developed a close relationship with Liesel, teaches her to read in secret. Recognizing the power of writing and sharing the written word, Liesel begins not only to steal the books that the Nazi party is looking to destroy, but also to write her own stories and share the power of language with Max, the Jewish refugee. As Liesel copes with the trauma of her past and the violent horrors of the war-torn world around her, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, the formation of a new family, and mostly, her life as "the book thief."[3]


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. This 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. He 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. For instance, he asked for one both after he almost won a race with Liesel and after rescuing one of Liesel's books (and most prized possession) when it is thrown into a river. 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]

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 Max's mother, 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 nightmares and shared affinity for words. He writes two books for her and presents her with a sketchbook that contains his life story. Max leaves the Hubermann 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]

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 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".


Courage is shown in many parts of the book. When Max first come to the Hubermans, Hans shows great courage. He allows Max to stay even though he knows that the consequence of getting caught is severe. German soldiers may take away all of the family members if they find out the Hubermans are hiding a Jew. Hans shows courage to return the debt of Max's father while risking the family. Rudy shows courage to save the book in the river. The weather is cold and the river is freezing; however, Rudy is not afraid and swims to save the book. Max's courage is shown when he imagines himself standing against Hitler in his mental battles. He trains himself to fight Hitler, even though he acknowledges that a Jew would never able to fight against Hitler.


Zusak uses satire in the story. The purpose of a satire is to encourage people to make a kind of moral or political change in society through the use of critical humor. Zusak used satire when Rudy painted himself black with charcoal. The Germans, especially Hitler, thought themselves as a dominant species. However, Jessie Owen, a African American runner, won 4 Gold Metals in the the Berlin Olympics. Hitler was so ashamed, which he left without personally distributing the awards. Zusak described Rudy painting himself black to mock Hitler's belief that Aryan race was superior. Of course, he hoped to show that the discrimination of Aryan race to others race was not necessary.

Historical Context[edit]

Many real life references to the Nazis are made. The treatment of the Jews and the supposed superiority of the Aryan race is referenced throughout.

Dachau is a mentioned concentration camp. Dachau was a real camp set up by the Nazis.

Many marches are featured in the novel. Marches and parades were common during this time as Hitler used the discipline of the SA to show the German people a united Germany through marches.

Liesel mentions it was Hitler's power of words that allowed him to gain power. Hitler was a well-known public speaker.

Inspiration for the Book[edit]



Main article: The Book Thief (film)

Brian Percival has directed the film adaptation, which Michael Petroni scripted. The film was released on November 2013.[6] Much of the movie was filmed in Görlitz, Germany.[7][8] 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.[9][10]


  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. ^ Zusak, Markus (September 7, 2011). The Book Thief. Random House Children's Books. p. 576. ISBN 9780375842207. 
  4. ^ "2006 Blue Ribbons". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". American Library Association. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  6. ^ "'The Book Thief' sets November release date". Entertainment Weekly. 
  7. ^ Roxborough, Scott. "'The Book Thief' Begins Shooting in Germany". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  8. ^ "The Book Thief movie adaptation gets a director By Molly Driscoll". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  9. ^
  10. ^

External links[edit]