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The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a 2005 best-selling novel by Markus Zusak, and an Honor book in the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award. As of April 2009 it has been on the New York Times Children's Best Seller list. Although American publisher Knopf has marketed the nearly 600-page book set in Nazi Germany as a young-adult novel, it was originally intended and published in Zusak's native Australia specifically for adults.

The Book Thief is set in Germany beginning in 1939, and focuses on an abandoned German girl, Liesel, who is sent to foster parents in another area, a small town near Munich. As Liesel learns to cope with her new environment, all the gains she has endured, and the extreme unhappiness of pre-war and wartime Germany, she yearns to escape via reading.

Author Markus Zusak talks about his book "The Book Thief"

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Her foster father Hans helps her learn to read, and Liesel finds books here and there in a snowy graveyard, in a Nazi book-burning, and inside the local mayor's house. She has a few friends, including first her neighbour and classmate Rudy, and later on her foster father's best WWI friend's son, Max, a Jew whom her new family must hide in their basement. While the toll of WWII, Allied bombing, and Nazi brutality increases, Liesel's world starts to crumble, but words and reading somehow sustain her.

Plot summary

The Book Thief is set in Germany on Himmel street, before and during World War II. The story is told from the point of view of Death, a reluctant collector of souls, who does not enjoy the job appointed to him. One of the few pleasures he has is in the story of the book thief, Liesel Meminger. Liesel's story begins when she and her brother are sent away by their mother to the Hubermanns, a foster family. However, on the way to the Hubermanns, Liesel's brother Werner dies.

As the gravediggers are burying her brother, Liesel takes the gravedigger's handbook, despite her inability to read. She later arrives at the Hubermann's house on Himmel Street in Molching and meets her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who treat her well, despite Rosa's infamous swearing. Liesel then meets Rudy Steiner, a neighbour of her own age who later becomes her best friend. Rudy is well known for his impersonation of the African-American athlete Jesse Owens.

He makes no attempt to hide his crush on Liesel (he always requests a kiss from her at the most opportune moments, despite constant refusal. However he does not accept when she is about to give him one at one point) Eventually Hans Hubermann takes in a Jewish refugee, Max Vandenburg, and lets him stay in the Hubermanns' basement because Max's father saved Hans's life during World War I, an event which led him to question the reasoning behind the Jewish persecution (and left him in possession of Max's deceased father's accordion).

Max becomes Liesel's close friend, and he chronicles the experience in a series of sketches, as well as two homemade books for Liesel. All of Max's books are made by painting over the words in a copy of Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf. However, because Hans helped another Jew as he was being marched to a nearby camp, Max is forced to leave, fearing that the Hubermann's house will be searched by Nazi SS.

Meanwhile, World War II is creeping closer to Himmel Street, bringing death to the area. The Nazi Party asks the Steiner family for Rudy in order to send him to a Nazi training program and then later on to war, but when the Steiners refuse, Rudy's father Alex is sent away as punishment. Hans is also sent away; he survives his brief draft into the army and returns, but one soldier, the son of one of Liesel's neighbors, commits suicide because he felt he should have died with his brother.

Shortly after an air raid, an Allied plane crashes just outside the town, and Liesel and Rudy are with the pilot as he dies, giving him a teddy bear to ease his passage. This is Death's second encounter with Liesel. The threat of an air raid increases by the day, and during drills the neighbourhood gathers in basements of "adequate depth" for protection. Here, Liesel becomes more aware of the power of words as she reads aloud to her neighbours and family to calm them.

However, one day, the alarms are too late. All the citizens of Himmel Street except for Liesel are killed in a late night bombing. She survives because she is writing her life story in the Hubermanns' basement (which had previously been deemed unsuitable as a bomb shelter) when the bombs crash. Liesel is overcome by grief at the deaths of her family and friends, and loss of the only happiness she had ever known. She sees both her parents' corpses as well as Rudy's. As a final goodbye, she gives Rudy the kiss he had asked for throughout their entire friendship, as well as admitting her love for him. This is her third encounter with Death, who picks up her discarded autobiography, bringing him new perspective on the life of this strange girl.

Miraculously, Max survives the concentration camps and is reunited with Liesel several years later, who is working in Alex Steiner's shop after he also ironically survives the war. The story ends with Liesel's death as an old woman, living with her family in Sydney . Death questions her about her life, showing her the long discarded autobiography, and comments that he is "haunted by humans," which is very ironic seeing that usually humans are afraid of Death, not vice versa.


Death, dying Throughout the novel, the discussion of dying comes to the forefront. This is a very apparent theme because the narrator is Death (who even experiences difficulties with the sheer amount of brutality). World War II is also in the background, which denotes that death is all around Liesel. The source of all of Liesel's and Max's nightmares are the deaths of their family members.

Literature Liesel learns the value of having a voice and knowing how to read from the beginning of the book. She also realizes that words are what hold the country under the power of Hitler and Nazi party. The theme is recurring: Hans teaches her to read at night, the mayor's wife allows her into the library and Max gives her two stories. As well as being the source of her strife, literature also becomes Liesel's escape from her bleak life.

Guilt - A lot of the story contains the central theme of guilt. When Max stays with the Hubermanns he is constantly asking for forgiveness for putting them through many trials with Nazis and other situations. Another prime example is when Alex Steiner returns home in the end and realizes that his whole family has perished. He feels guilty for not letting Rudy go to the Nazi school which eventually got his son killed instead of him, to which he expressed he would rather have died in his son's place.

Friendship Much of the plot revolves around the friendship between Liesel and Rudy, who both possess romantic feelings for each other. Hans' loyalty to Max's father leads to hiding Max in the basement, which creates the deep bond between Liesel and Max.

Man vs. Society The conflict in the novel The Book Thief is man vs. society. The novel's events are set against the background of the Jewish Holocaust and the greater events of World War II. Hans, one of the main characters, is morally opposed to the actions of Hitler and the Nazi party, although he knows that he cannot oppose it outright at the risk of being sent to a concentration camp along with his wife Rosa and foster daughter Liesel. However, Hans does challenge the Nazi regime, but chooses to do so through quiet means such as painting over anti-Semitic slurs which have been written on Jewish shop fronts. At one point he even goes so far as to shelter and hide a Jewish man who is trying to escape the concentration camps. At the same time, Hans is aware of the judgment he receives from the "party members" in his neighbourhood, as they all know that he is not sympathetic to Hitler's cause, which he is obligated to be as a German citizen.

The Beauty and Brutality of Humanity The brutality of humans is primarily a product of the setting in Nazi Germany. The horrors of war are shown to the reader through the treatment of Jews and scenes such as the dying pilot. In this scene Rudy places a teddy bear on the man's chest which is an example of the beauty of humanity. These acts of kindness re-appear throughout the novel to show both sides of the human nature.


The book is made up mainly of striking, simple images, such as colours. The colors in this story are very important, playing a crucial role (red, black, white) Death associates the death of human characters in the novel with a certain colour, dependent upon the sky. Hans Hubermann's eyes are described as being made of silver, which look right into you, and is often referred to by the way he plays the accordion. Rosa Hubermann is said to have a cardboard complexion with a wardrobe figure and elasticy hair. Max Vandenburg has hair like feathers (or twigs when it isn't washed). Rudy Steiner has lemon coloured hair. Liesel herself is characterised through words rather than imagery, perhaps reflecting her love of words and earning her the title "the book thief".


A feature film of The Book Thief is expected for release in 2010.

In November 2006, a book video of The Book Thief was created by Jon Haller, a student at the Columbia University graduate film program, and was nominated in The Book Standard's Teen Book Video Awards.


The book won the 2005 Boeke Prize.

Wiki Source

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This book is very moving and sad but despite this there is always hope, very well written, a book that one can read and read again.


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