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Death says that Liesel is a girl "with a mountain to climb" because Liesel is trying to survive the harsh reality that is created by the war. Liesel is trying to cope with the emotional stress that is around her, and this is her mountain to climb. Liesel is given to the Hubermanns because her mother can no longer care for her after the father is taken away to a concentration camp. While on the way to the Hubermanns, Liesel's brother dies of illness on the train. This haunts Liesel for a long time and later is compounded by other trauma such as threats of Hans and Rudy being taken in by the German army, Max's hiding in the basement, and prisoners being taken to Dachau. The other characters in the novel--Rudy, Rosa, Hans, and Max--experience these fears with Liesel and they must all cope with the horrors of the war.
Liesel's mountain to climb in Zusak's The Book Thief is not easily simplified to her just surviving the war; although, surviving one of the worst wars in history does create a large part of that mountain. Liesel's mountain to climb also includes dealing with feelings of being abandoned by her mother. Not only that, she is then forced to live with a foster mother who is physically abusive. Additionally, Liesel faces hunger, illness, social and political unrest, prejudice at school because she can't read, and grief for burying her younger brother, Werner, before she is taken to live on Himmel Street.
For the most part, the people who climb this mountain with her are her friends and foster parents. There is also her friend Max Vandenburg, a young Jewish man who becomes like an older brother to her when he hides in her basement. They share stories of their nightmares and become supportive friends to one another. Max, along with Hans, Rudy, and others show her that love can still exist even when it seems as though the world is doomed. In the end, though, she is left alone because her foster parents, best friend, and most of the people from Himmel Street die during an air raid. Liesel survives along with Rudy's father and Max Vandenburg, but her world mostly blows up on that fateful day. The next mountain to climb after that is living a full life even though it seems as if there might be no reason to live after almost everyone she loves dies. She does, though. She winds up in Australia, has a family, and lives a long and productive life. Ultimately, Liesel becomes an inspiration for the narrator, Death, who marvels at her life by saying the following:
"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. None of those things, however, came out of my mouth" (550).
Unbeknownst to Liesel during her lifetime, there is one other "person" who climbs the mountain with her--it is Death. He is all around her during the years of the war, when he first becomes interested in her. His interest increases after the bombing of Himmel Street, and he finds, keeps, and reads her journal over and over again.
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