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 63 languages and sold 16 million copies. It was adapted into a 2013 feature film of the same name.
Narrated by Death, a male voice who over the course of the book proves to be morose yet caring, the plot follows Liesel Meminger as she comes of age in Nazi Germany during World War II. After the death of her younger brother on a train to the fictional town of Molching, Germany, on the outskirts of Munich, Liesel arrives at the home of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, distraught and withdrawn.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. Through collecting laundry for her foster mother, she also begins a relationship with the mayor's wife, Ilsa Hermann, who allows her to first read books in her library, and later, steal them.
One day, as a group of Jewish prisoners is led through town towards Dachau Concentration Camp, Hans offers one particularly weak man a piece of bread, drawing the ire of others in the town. Max leaves the Hubermanns' home soon after out of fear that Hans's act will draw suspicion on the Hubermann household and their activities. Eventually, as punishment for this act, Hans's long-withheld application to join the NSDAP is approved and he is drafted into the army, cleaning up the aftermath of air raids on the German home front. A while later, Liesel sees Max among a group of prisoners and joins him in the march, ignoring a soldier's order to step away and getting whipped as punishment.
After Hans returns home, bombs fall on Liesel's street in Molching, killing every one of her friends, family, and neighbors. Liesel, working on her manuscript in the basement at the time of the raid, is the sole survivor. The workers searching for survivors and cleaning up the scene take Liesel's manuscript along with the rubble, but Death saves it. Devastated, Liesel is taken in by the Hermanns and refuses to clean the ashes off herself until she walks into the river where Rudy saved a book before, saying her final goodbyes to him. In 1945, Liesel works in the tailor shop owned by Rudy's father when Max enters. They have an emotional reunion.
Many years later, "just yesterday", Liesel dies as an old woman in the suburbs of Sydney, with a family and many friends, but has never forgotten Hans, Rosa, Rudy, and her brother. When Death collects her soul, he gives her the manuscript she lost in the bombing. She asks him if he read it and Death says yes. She asks him if he understood it, but Death is confused and unable to understand the duality of humanity. Death's last words are for both Liesel and the reader: "I am haunted by humans."
Death, the collector of souls, arrayed in any or all the world's colours when it comes, narrates the story of a young girl coming of age during the horrific times of Nazi Germany and World War II. To the reader, Death insists that it "most definitely can be cheerful", even affable, but also relates that it most certainly cannot be nice. And sometimes Death is "compelled" to take action in sympathy with the human story. Death sees the colours around him before he sees anything else. The story is told from his point of view, over the three times he sees the main character Liesel Meminger.
The protagonist of the story is an adopted girl on the verge of adolescence, with blonde hair. Her eyes, however, are brown. She is fostered by the Hubermanns after her biological father "abandons" their family due to being a Communist, her brother dies, and her mother is forced to send her to a foster home to avoid Nazi persecution. Liesel is the "book thief" referred to in the title because Liesel is fascinated by the power of words. Liesel stole books from a grave digger, a bonfire and the mayor's wife, Ilsa Herman.
Hans Hubermann (Papa)
Liesel's foster father and husband of Rosa, Hans is a former German soldier during the First World War, accordion player, and painter. He develops a close and loving relationship with Liesel, and becomes a main source of strength and support for her. 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. He helps Max because Max's father saved Hans in the First World War.
Rosa Hubermann (Mama)
Rosa is Liesel's sharp-tongued 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. When she was introduced to Max the reader sees her soft side.
Liesel's neighbour, Rudy, has bony legs, blue eyes, lemon-coloured 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 neighbourhood because of the "Jesse Owens incident", in which he coloured 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.And eventually does...
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 falling on her. 
The wife of the mayor of Molching who employs Rosa Hubermann. She did fall into a depression state after the death of her only son in the Great War. Ilsa allows Liesel to visit, read and steal 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 has unfortunately died suddenly on the train with his mother and sister, while being transported to their foster parents. His death is what allowed the first book to be stolen, a gravedigger's manual dropped by a young boy learning to work in the cemetery. He died by coughing blood, corroded brown in colour.
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 a while Liesel writes letters to her mother thinking there is a chance she is still alive. Like Liesel's father, Liesel's mother dies, 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
Throughout the novel, language, reading and writing are presented as symbolic elements of expression and freedom. They provide identity and personal liberation to those characters who have, or who gain, the power of literacy: "the true power of words". And they provide a framework for Liesel's coming of age. At the beginning of the story shortly after her brother's funeral, Liesel finds a book in the snow, one she is unable to read. Under tutelage by her foster father Hans, she slowly learns to read and write. By the end of the novel, her character arc is largely defined by her progress in reading and writing. The development of Liesel's literacy mirrors her physical growth and maturing over the course of the story.
Literacy skills and vernacular speech also serve as social markers. Wealthy citizens in the story are often portrayed as literate, as owning books and even their own libraries, while the poor are illiterate and do not own books. Rosa Huberman's abrasive and oft-times scatological speech towards her family and others is emblematic of the despairing lives of the poorer classes.
The Nazi burning of books in the story represents evil incarnate. Symbolically, Liesel's repeated rescues of books from Nazi bonfires represent her reclaiming of freedom and her resistance to being controlled by the all-pervasive state.
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 as love is the only way of forming a family where the real sovereign[clarification needed] exists. 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 by the larger issues of war-torn Germany and the destruction wrought by the Nazi party. As Liesel's foster father Hans develops a relationship with her, this relationship helps create healing and growth. This pattern is reflected in the relational dynamic between the Hubermann family and Max. In a society ruled by governmental policies that presume to stand in judgment of who is truly human, 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 fascist hate in 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
- 2007: Sydney Taylor Book Award for the best in Jewish children's and YA literature
A film adaptation was released on 8 November 2013. It was directed by Brian Percival. Michael Petroni wrote the script. Starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as Hans and Rosa Hubermann, Ben Schnetzer as Max Vandenburg, Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner, and Sophie Nélisse as 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 4 May 2015.
- "Past Winners". Jewish Book Council. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
- "Fiction: The Book Thief". Retrieved 1 November 2019.
- "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. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
- drjgardner (27 November 2013). "The Book Thief (2013)". IMDb. Retrieved 1 November 2019.