The Book Thief
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Colin Anderson/ X Pictures/Getty Images|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.Z837 Boo 2007|
|For additional editions see The Book Thief > Editions at Goodreads.com|
Published in 2005, The Book Thief became an international bestseller and was translated into several languages. It was adapted into a 2013 feature film of the same name.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Characters
- 3 Themes
- 4 Recognition
- 5 Film adaptation
- 6 References
- 7 External links
After the death of Liesel's younger brother on a train to Molching, Liesel arrives at the home of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, distraught and withdrawn. During her time there, she is exposed to the horrors of the Nazi regime, caught between the innocence of childhood and the maturity demanded by her destructive surroundings. As the political situation in Germany deteriorates, her foster parents conceal a Jewish fist fighter named Max Vandenburg. Hans, who has developed a close relationship with Liesel, teaches her to read, first in her bedroom, then in the basement. Recognizing the power of writing and sharing the written word, Liesel not only begins to steal books that the Nazi party is looking to destroy, but also writes her own story, and shares the power of language with Max.
The protagonist of the story is an adopted girl on the verge of adolescence, with blonde hair that is "a close enough brand of German blonde" and a "smile that is starving" when she shows it. Her eyes, however, are brown. She is fostered by the Hubermanns after her biological father "abandons" their family, her brother dies, and her mother is forced to send her to a foster home due to her belief (communism), which is forbidden at the time. Liesel is the "book thief" referred to in the title. Liesel is fascinated by the power of words, as shown in the quotation, "I have hated the words and I have loved them." She steals books from snow, fire, and the mayor's wife.
Hans Hubermann (Papa)
Liesel's foster father and husband of Rosa, Hans is a former German soldier during World War I, accordion player, and painter. He develops a close and loving relationship with Liesel, and becomes a main source of strength and support for her throughout the novel. He, like Liesel, doesn't have much experience with reading. Together, the two help each other with reading and write all the words they learn on a wall in the basement with his cans of white paint. He helps Max because Max's father sacrificed himself to save Hans in World War One.
Rosa Hubermann (Mama)
Liesel's sharp-tongued, often abrasive, foster mother, she has a "wardrobe" build and a displeased face, brown-grey tightly-cinched hair often tied up in a bun, and "chlorinated" eyes. Despite her temper, she is a loving wife to Hans and mother to Liesel. To supplement the household income, she does washing and ironing for five of the wealthier households in Molching.
Liesel's neighbor, Rudy, has bony legs, blue eyes, lemon-colored hair and a penchant for getting in the middle of situations when he shouldn't. Despite having the appearance of an archetypal German, he does not directly support the Nazis. As a member of a relatively poor household with six children, Rudy is habitually hungry. He is known throughout the neighborhood because of the "Jesse Owens incident", in which he colored himself black with charcoal one night and ran one hundred meters at the local sports field. He is academically and athletically gifted, which attracts the attention of Nazi Party officials, leading to an attempted recruitment. His lack of support for the Nazi party becomes problematic as the story progresses. Rudy becomes Liesel's best friend and falls in love with her, always trying to get a kiss out of her.
A Jewish fist-fighter who takes refuge from the Nazi regime in the Hubermann's basement. He is the son of a WWI German soldier who fought alongside Hans Hubermann, and the two developed a close friendship during the war. He has brown, feather-like hair and swampy brown eyes. During the Nazi reign of terror, Hans agrees to shelter Max and hide him from the Nazi party. During his stay at the Hubermanns' house, Max befriends Liesel, because of their shared affinity for words. He writes two books for her and presents her with a sketchbook that contains his life story, which helps Liesel to develop as a writer and reader, which, in turn, saves her life from the bombs. 
The wife of the mayor of Molching who employs Rosa Hubermann. She entered depression after the death of her only son in the Great War. Ilsa allows Liesel to visit and read books in her personal library. She also gives Liesel a little black book, which leads Liesel to write her own story, "The Book Thief".
Liesel's little brother, who died suddenly on the train with his mother, while being transported to their foster parents.
Paula Meminger (Liesel's Mother)
Liesel's mother is only mentioned in the story a few times. Liesel's father was taken away by the Nazis prior to the novel starting because he was a Communist, and the reason her mother – Paula Meminger – was taking both her children to foster care was to save them from Nazi persecution.For awhile Liesel writes letters to her mother thinking there is a chance she is still alive. Liesel's mother met the same fate as her father,her father died, but Liesel eventually realizes her mother gave her away to protect her.
The book is introduced by the character/narrator Death, which underlines that mortality is very present in the lives of each character. Throughout the novel, the deaths of prominent characters reaffirm the presence of mortality. Because the novel takes place during World War II, death and genocide are nearly omnipresent in the novel.
Death is presented in a manner that is less distant and threatening. Because Death narrates and explains the reasons behind each character's destruction, as well as explains how he feels that he must take the life of each character, Death is given a sense of care rather than fear. At one point, Death states "even death has a heart," which reaffirms that there is a care present in the concept of death and dying.
Language, reading, and writing
These three things act as symbols of freedom and expression throughout the story. As symbolic elements, they provide liberation and identity to the characters who are able to wield their power. They also provide a framework for Liesel's coming of age. In the beginning of the novel, she obtains a book at her brother's funeral, one that she is unable to read. As the story progresses, she slowly learns how to read and write because of the tutelage of her foster father Hans. At the end of the story, her character arc is heavily defined by her ability to read and write. The development of her literacy mirrors her physical growth and strength developing over the course of the story.
Language, reading, and writing also serve as social markers. The wealthy citizens in the story are often portrayed as owning their own libraries and being literate, while the poor characters are illiterate and do not own any books.
The Nazi burning of books is also represented in the novel. Symbolically, Liesel's continuous rescue of the books the Nazis burn represents her reclaiming of freedom and fight against being controlled by the Nazis.
In the midst of the damage that war, death, and loss have caused Liesel and the other characters in the book, love is seen as an agent of change and freedom. Liesel overcomes her traumas by learning to love and be loved by her foster family and her friends. In the beginning of the novel, Liesel is traumatized not only by the death of her brother and her separation from her only family, but also as a result of the larger issues regarding war-torn Germany and the destruction by the Nazi party. As Liesel's foster father Hans develops a relationship with her, healing and growth are a direct result. This pattern is reflected in the relational dynamic between the Hubermann family and Max. In the midst of governmental policies that reflect on who is worthy of love and acceptance, the Hubermanns' relationship with Max defies the Nazi regime. Further, the love that Max and Liesel develop through their friendship creates a strong contrast to the hate that is the backdrop of the story.
The theme of love also intertwines with the themes of identity and language/reading because all of these themes have the purpose of providing freedom and power in the midst of chaos and control.
- 2006: Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book (South East Asia & South Pacific)
- 2006: School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
- 2006: Daniel Elliott Peace Award
- 2006: Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year
- 2006: National Jewish Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature
- 2006: Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
- 2007: Michael L. Printz Honor Book. The Printz award is given to the best book for teens, based only on the quality of the writing.
- 2007: Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children's Literature
A film adaptation was released on November 2013. It was directed by Brian Percival. Michael Petroni wrote the script. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson portrayed the Hubermanns, Ben Schnetzer was Max Vandenburg, Nico Liersch was Rudy Steiner, and Sophie Nélisse was Liesel Meminger. John Williams wrote the music soundtrack. Much of the movie was filmed in Görlitz, Germany.
- Zusak, Markus (2005). The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- "Concept Analysis The Book Thief" (PDF). Retrieved May 4, 2015.
- Jewish Book Council. "NJBA Winners".
- "2006 Blue Ribbons". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
- "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". American Library Association. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
- "'The Book Thief' sets November release date". Entertainment Weekly.
- "John Williams to Score 'The Book Thief' – Film Music Reporter". filmmusicreporter.com.
- drjgardner (27 November 2013). "The Book Thief (2013)". IMDb.