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"
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
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
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
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
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.
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.