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. 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.[1]


The Book Thief is a novel that centers around the life of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl living in Germany during World War II. 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 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 to not only steal the books that the Nazi party is looking to destroy, but to also write her own stories and share the power of language with Max. 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".[2]


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. Liesel is the "book thief" referred to in the title.[3]

Hans Hubermann (Papa)[edit]

Liesel's foster father and husband of Rosa. Hans was a World War 1 fighter, accordion player, book aficionado and handyman. 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 of them help each other with reading and write all the words they learn on a wall in the basement.[3]

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. She has a quick temper, dictates to the household, and is known for straightening out previous foster children. Though she often swears at Liesel, she cares very much for her. She has two children of her own, Trudy and Hans, Jr.[3]

Rudy Steiner[edit]

Liesel's neighbor. He has bony legs, rugged teeth, blue eyes, lemon-colored hair and likes to get in the middle of situations. 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 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 eventually falls in love with her, always trying (unsuccessfully) to get a kiss out of her.[3]

Max Vandenburg[edit]

A Jewish fist-fighter takes refuge from the Nazi regime in the Hubermann's basement. He is the son of a WWI German soldier who fought with Hans Hubermann, and the two developed a close friendship during the war. He has brown, feather-like hair and swampy brown eyes. During the Nazis' reign of terror, Hans agrees to shelter Max and hide him from the Nazi party. During his stay at the Hubermann's house, Max befriends Liesel due to 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.[3]

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. He is part of the Hitler Youth organization.[3]

Ilsa Hermann[edit]

The wife of the mayor of Molching who employs Rosa Hubermann. Ilsa allows Liesel to visit and read books in her personal library. She also gives Liesel a diary, which leads Liesel to write her own story, "The Book Thief".[3]


The narrator throughout the story, Death, is tired of his job and wants a vacation, but cannot take one because there would be nobody to replace him. Death speaks of his job, removing souls and carrying them away. He is "haunted by humans".[3]



The book is introduced with the character/narrator death, which immediately presents the strong truth that mortality is very present in the lives of each character. Throughout the novel, there are multiple deaths of prominent characters, which reaffirms the presence of mortality. On top of the individual characters experiencing death on a personal level, the novel takes place during World War II, and more specifically during the Nazi reign. Because of this, death and genocide are nearly omnipresent in the novel (which is illustrated by the omnipresent narrator being death). Death is presented in a manner that is supposed to make it less distant and threatening. Since every death (and other event) is narrated by the personification of death, dying is presented in less of a chaotic and uncontrolled manner. Since Death narrates and explains the reasons behind each character's destruction as well as explaining 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.[4] [5]


Identity is present in the novel in two main ways. First, in regard to Hitler's reign characters in the novel are immediately identified as either Jewish or non-Jewish. This identity is enforced through political tactics and ties in to the theme of mortality. Secondly, Liesel is trying to develop and find her identity through the majority of the novel, which creates a strong thematic element as the story progresses. Eventually writing and reading become major tools through which Liesel develops her identity. When analyzing these two ways that identify presents itself in the novel, one possible analysis is that identity can be seen on a macrocosm level and microcosm level. On the macrocosm, identity is defined by outside sources based on external factors. This is represented by the Nazi party separating people into Jewish and non-Jewish categories. This type of identity ironically strips all people of any sort of true and individual identity. On the other hand, there is the microcosm level of identity that is represented in the novel. This is seen in the development of each individual character as they grow in self, knowledge, love, and skill. Because of the dynamic presented in each individual, their personal identity is presented to the reader. When juxtaposing these two analyses, one result of the way the theme is used in the novel is to suggest that identity is a power that a person can yield.[6]

Language, reading & writing[edit]

These three things are present as tools of freedom and expression throughout the story. They are symbolic elements that provide liberation and identity to the characters who are able to wield their power. Furthermore, they define the novel in its entirety since Liesel as a character collects books and writes her own at the conclusion of the novel. In conjunction, these three items can 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 that she is not able to read. As the story progresses, she slowly learns how to read and write because of the tutelage of her foster father Hans. By the end of the story, her character arc is heavily defined by her ability to read and write. The development of her literacy ability 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. Lastly, the Nazi party historically burned books, and this practice is represented in the novel itself. Symbolically, Liesel's continuous rescue of the books that the Germans are attempting to burn represents her reclaiming freedom and fight against being controlled by the Nazis.[5][7]


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 own 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 because of the larger issues regarding war-torn Germany and the destruction of the Nazi party. As Liesel's foster father Hans develops a relationship with her, healing and growth are seen as a direct result. This pattern is reflected with the relational dynamic between the Hubermann family and Max. In the midst of governmental policies and the resulting destruction that force stringent opinions on who is worthy of love and acceptance, the Hubermann's relationship with Max perpetuates and therefore defies the Nazi's regime. Furthermore, the love that Max and Liesel develop through their friendship creates a strong contrast to the hate that is the backdrop of the story because of the war and the Nazi ideals. 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.[5] [6]

Important quotes[edit]

"They keep triggering inside me. They harass my memory. I see them tall in their heaps, all mounted on top of each other. There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-coloured clouds, beating like black hearts. And then. There is death. Making his way through all of it. On the surface: unflappable, unwavering. Below: unnerved, untied, and undone." (Zusak 309)

"I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.” (spoken by Death) (Zusak)

"The best word shakers were the ones who understand the true power of words. They were the ones who could climb the highest. One such word shaker was a small, skinny girl. She was renowned as the best word shaker of her region because she knew how powerless a person could be without words." (Zusak 446)


  • 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 [8]
  • 2006: Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book[9]
  • 2007: Michael L. Printz Honor Book[10] 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


Main article: The Book Thief (film)

The film was released on November 2013.[11] 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.[12][13] Much of the movie was filmed in Görlitz, Germany.[14][15]



  1. ^ "Best Sellers: Children's Books - May 15, 2011". New York Times. 15 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  2. ^ Zusak, Markus (September 7, 2011). The Book Thief. Random House Children's Books. p. 576. ISBN 9780375842207. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Zusak, Markus (2005). The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 
  4. ^ Zusak, Markus (2006). The Book Thief. Alfred A. Knopf. p. 242. 
  5. ^ a b c "Concept Analysis The Book Thief" (PDF). Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Zusak, Markus (2006). The Book Thief. Alfred A. Knopf. 
  7. ^ Zusak, Markus (2006). The Book Thief. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 498–499. 
  8. ^ Jewish Book Council. "NJBA Winners". 
  9. ^ "2006 Blue Ribbons". The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  10. ^ "Michael L. Printz Winners and Honor Books". American Library Association. Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "'The Book Thief' sets November release date". Entertainment Weekly. 
  12. ^ "John Williams to Score ‘The Book Thief’ - Film Music Reporter". 
  13. ^ drjgardner (27 November 2013). "The Book Thief (2013)". IMDb. 
  14. ^ Roxborough, Scott. "'The Book Thief' Begins Shooting in Germany". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  15. ^ "The Book Thief movie adaptation gets a director By Molly Driscoll". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 

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