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A Book Summary: The Book Thief

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Author - Markus Zusak

Born on 23 June 1975, Mark Zusak is an Australian writer. He is best known for his two works The Book Thief and The Messenger . He won the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2014 for his contribution to young-adult literature publish in the US.
Zusak was born in Sydney, Australia. He grew up listening to Nazi stories told by his mother, about the bombing in Minich and the Jews being marched though his mother's small town. They immigrated to Australia in late 1950s. He studied English and History at the University of New South Wales, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Education.
Zusak is the author of six books. His first three books, The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry - the Wolfe Family Books which were released between 1999 and 2001 - were published internationally and garnered a number of awards.

His next book The Bridge of Clay is coming out October 9th.

Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak

The Messenger

The Messenger

The Underdog

The Underdog

“The Book Thief”

The Book Thief was published in 2005 and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Besides winning awards in Australia and overseas, also held the number one position at Amazon and on the New York Times best-seller list, as well as in Brazil, Ireland and Taiwan. It has been among the top five best sellers in the UK, Spain, Israel and South Korea, and still set to be released in many other territories.

The Characters

Death is a gender-neutral character. Describing things in full detail, it takes the role of a narrator in some parts of the book. It associates events with colors to relax making them easier to bear, using black, white and red for her and Liesel’s encounters. Death collects souls, by caring the children in its arms and places everyone else on its back. Hurt by survivors and pitting the book thief, in the end of the story Death returns Liesel's story to her.

Liesel Meminger is the protagonist of the story. She is described as a 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. Her eyes, however, were a dark brown.
She is fascinated by the power of words eager to learn how to read and write, so she ends up stealing books from bonfires, mansions, and snow. She loves how words can fill her up, but then she also realizes that words can be ugly things, especially in the way Hitler can use words to encourage the German people to carry out horrific acts of violence and cause so much suffering. Sometimes, she hates words and wishes she could be without them. Her character is described as nice and caring but at the same time very outgoing and carefree. Liesel changes from an angry, distrusting character to one who deeply loves her family and friends.

Rudy Steiner - Rudy is Liesel's sunshine-haired sidekick. He's the “Pig boy” to her “Pig girl” as they affectionately refer to each other. He starts off in the novel as a ten-year-old boy with "bony legs, sharp teeth, gangly blue eyes, and hair the color of a lemon". Bony legs aside, Rudy wants to be a star runner, like Jessie Owens. Owens, a black American man, won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games, held in Munich, Germany.

Hans Hubermann (Papa) is Liesel’s foster dad and Rosa’s husband. He is a soldier in World War I, accordion player and a handyman. Try out the book he becomes Liesel’s support and strength, being the one that teaches her how to read and write. His loving relationship with her sets him to become an important figure in her life.

Rosa Hubermann (Mama) is Liesel’s foster mom and Hans’s wife who makes some money doing laundry for wealthy neighbors. Rosa has a fiery attitude and frequently employs profanity. Under her angry exterior Rosa has a brave, caring heart, and she takes in Liesel and Max without question.

Max Vandenburg - 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, 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, 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.

Fanart of the characters


A Summary of The Book

Once in awhile a book comes along that is tugs on your heartstrings like no other. Such is the case with the phenomenal The Book Thief, which begins in Germany. It centers around the life of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl living in Germany during World War II. The narrator of her story is Death who encounters Liesel on three separate occasions. First, when she comes to ‘claim’ her younger brother Werner on a train taking them to meet their foster parents. Second, when she comes to claim souls after a bomb is dropped on her town, and finally , when she visits Liesel as an older woman. Death finds the book Liesel was writing during the bomb raid and uses it to tell us her story. In 1939 Liesel arrives in the town of Molching , Germany and is taken to the home of her foster parents, an elderly German couple named Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The name “Book thief” is given to Liesel because of her habit to steal books, having no other way to learn to read.


Liesel spends her nights with nightmares, dreaming both her mother and brother. Fortunately, Hans – Papa, her foster fatherwith silver eyes, helps her by either teaching her to read or playing on his accordion. Her childhood consists of going to school, helping her foster mother Rosa to deliver clothes to her richer clients and going to Hitler’s Youth. She and her friend Rudy are almost inseparable, from playing soccer in the mud, stealing apples, potatoes and swimming in the river. One of Rosa’s customers is the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann.Meanwhile, the political situation in Molching and throughout Germany is becoming serious, with war escalating and food and work shortages at home. When the town holds a book-burning to celebrate Hitler’s birthday, Liesel steals another book from the flames. This is witnessed by Ilsa Hermann’s – the mayors wife, who is also one off Rosa’s customers. One day Liesel is invited into Ilsa’s study, where she in awe at the walls of books.

An emotional turning point in the book occurs when the Hubermanns take in Max, a Jew, and the son of the man who saved Han’s life during the Great War. Hiding Max in their basement puts the Hubermanns in a dangerous situation. While he recovers from his injuries, he and Liesel become friends both sharing a passion for books. As a present Max writes her a book on the painted-over pages of another, writing inside Liesel’s own story. After that Liesel is meet with bad news as almost all off Rosa’s customers have canceled her services. With Rudy’s help, Liesel begins sneaking into the Hermanns’ library and stealing books. When Max gets sick and falls into a coma, Hans and Rosa worry about how they will dispose of the corpse if he dies. After months, Max recovers.Nazi soldiers arrive and inspect the basement to see if it is deep enough for a bomb shelter. Luckily, they don’t see Max. Liesel continues stealing books from the Hermanns’ library. Ilsa Hermann leaves her a dictionary and thesaurus with a note saying she knows Liesel has been stealing from her. At a Hitler Youth carnival, Rudy wins three races. The Allies begin bombing near Molching, and Liesel’s must take shelter in a neighbor’s basement. With each raid, Liesel reads to them until it’s safe to exit. Max, meanwhile, has to stay in the Hubermanns’ basement by himself.

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As the war intensifies, Nazi soldiers begin parading Jewish prisoners through town on their way to the concentration camp at Dachau. When Hans sees an old man struggling to keep up with the group, he gives him a piece of bread. Nazi soldiers intervene and whip both the man and Hans. Hans realizes he has aroused suspicion and drawn attention to himself, and Max is no longer safe in the basement. That night, Max leaves Hans and Rosa’s house. Hans waits for soldiers to come take him away, but none do. Instead, they come to Rudy’s house, to recruit him for a school for future Nazi leaders. Rudy’s father, Alex, refuses to let his son go. The soldiers leave, but a few days later both Alex and Hans are drafted into the German army. After Alex and Hans leave for duty, Rudy and Liesel go to the next parade of Jews and scatter bread in the streets. Rosa gives Liesel a book that Max made for her called “The Word Shaker.” It is the story of Max and Liesel’s friendship, and promises they will be reunited some day.

Hans is sent to Essen, where he is part of a squad that cleans up after air raids. Another member of the squad takes a dislike to Hans, and one day he insists they change places on their work bus. The bus crashes and the other man is killed, while Hans merely breaks his leg. Hans gets sent home to recuperate. Following another air raid, Liesel and Rudy find an Allied fighter pilot who has crashed his plane. They arrive just in time to see him die. Death sees Liesel for the second time when he comes to collect the pilot’s soul. The Nazis continue to parade the Jews through Molching, and Liesel sees Max among the prisoners. Liesel tells Rudy about hiding Max. She had never told anyone before.

"He must have loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them."

The mayor’s wife gives Liesel a blank notebook so she can begin writing her own story. One night, while Liesel is in the basement editing her book, her neighborhood is bombed. Hans, Rosa, Rudy, and the rest of the neighbors are killed. When rescue workers pull Liesel out of the rubble, she finds Rudy’s corpse and gives him the kiss he always wanted. When the workers take her away, she leaves behind her finished book, called “The Book Thief.” Death, who has been watching, rescues the book. Liesel goes to live with the mayor and his wife. After the liberation of the concentration camps, Max returns to Molching and finds Liesel. They hug and cry together. Liesel eventually grows up and moves to Australia, where she has a family and lives to an old age. When Death finally comes to take her soul, he shows her the book she wrote so many years before.

- First & Last words –

First the colors.

Then the humans.

That's usually how I see things.

Or at least, how I try.


You are going to die.

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

***Reaction to the *** AFOREMENTIONED fact

Does this worry you?

I urge you-don't be afraid.

I'm nothing if not fair.

(Prologe,Page 6) - Death (narrator)

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race–that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

But she knows this. We know this. While The Book Thief is a novel about guilt and violence, and the inherent power of words (whichever direction that power is moved), there’s a stark contrast that hangs over it all:

Humans can be evil, destructive beings. Humans can be loving, redemptive souls. And sometimes they can be both or neither.

All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know . I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.

I am haunted by humans.

(Epiloge, Page 474)- Death (narrator)


Brilliant. The entropy of this world is near complete. But it's the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, "The Book Thief" offers us a believable, hard-won hope.

By John Green –May 14, 2006


Unsettling, thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. It is an important piece of work, but also a wonderful page-turner. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

By Philip Ardagh – January 6th, 2007


Extraordinary, worth spending time for reading it more than once. I would recommend it to everybody, not just to ones that enjoy Historic books. This is a book that should be considered as school reading. I don't know how to describe it in several sentences.

By Knopf Books - March 14th, 2006


A major achivement . Superbly crafted and incredibly moving, children aged 11+ simply must read this award-winning tale which has proved to be one of the most enduring and respected of recent times.

By Laura Stevens – March 3rd, 2008


Gracing the New York Times Children’s Books best-seller list for more than four years, the novel described an illiterate girl’s love affair with the literature she learns to read, and taught the saving subversion of books in a nation that burned them. Cannily merging form and content, Zuzak knew that, when children picked up The Book Thief, they were engaging in an act of solidarity with little lost Liesel. To read the book was to defy the Nazis.

By Richard Corliss - November 07th, 2013



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