The Book Thief Summary

Death narrates this novel about Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl living in Molching, Germany. Her father is taken away under suspicion of being a communist, and her brother dies on a train at the beginning of the novel. This is when Death first takes notice of her. He calls her "the book thief" because she steals a copy of The Gravedigger's Handbook at her brother's funeral.

  • Liesel goes to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who become her foster parents. Hans, a house painter, teaches her to read with The Gravedigger's Handbook and a book she steals from a Nazi book-burning rally. Liesel practices writing on the basement walls, using Hans' paint to form the letters.
  • Liesel befriends Rudy Steiner, a young German boy obsessed with Jesse Owens, the African American track star who won four medals at the 1936 Olympics. Together, the two friends stand up to local bullies and join the Hitler Youth. Liesel often breaks into the Mayor's library to steal his books. Eventually, his wife lets her in and allows her to read whatever she likes.
  • Meanwhile, Hans and Rosa hide Max Vandenburg, a young Jewish man whose father served in the war with Hans. He lives there for three years, during which time he and Liesel grow close. Max is later captured and taken to Dachau. After the war, Max and Liesel reunite and, presumably, get married.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1012

The Book Thief opens in a very unique way, with the narrator, who turns out to be Death, introducing himself. He begins rather ominously, stating the fact that "you are going to die." As he continues, he explains some of the details of his work collecting people's souls from their bodies. Most of the time, Death does not take too much notice of humans or their lives on earth, but occasionally, a soul here or there piques his interest. One such girl is the main character of the novel, nine-year-old Liesel Meminger. The story is set in Germany during World War II. Liesel's father was taken away because of suspicions that he was a communist. At the beginning of the story, Liesel is on a train with her mother and brother; during the journey, Liesel's little brother dies. This is when Death first takes notice of her, and the rest of the novel is his narration of the succeeding years of her life. The novel is set in Molching, Germany, where Liesel goes to live with foster parents during the war; being with her mother was not safe, since as the wife of a communist, she could also be taken away. Most of the events of the story take place in this town, with Death occasionally stepping in to provide relevant background information and stories about key characters.

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At her brother's funeral, Liesel steals her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook , accidentally dropped by a cemetery worker. Seeing this furtive deed, Death labels her "the book thief." Throughout the course of the story, Liesel steals several other books and stays true to her nickname. After the funeral, Liesel says goodbye to her mother, and travels to the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a middle-aged couple who take her in, and play the role of her foster parents. Hans, a good-natured, kind man, earns a living painting houses and stores; in his spare time, he plays the accordion for pay. Rosa, his wife, earns money doing other people's laundry. She is a foul-mouthed, rough character who nonetheless loves Liesel in her own way. Liesel has nightmares every night about her brother's death; each night, to distract her from her dreams, Hans tells her stories and teaches her how to read. The first book that Liesel reads is the one she stole from the cemetery. Later, she steals another book at a Nazi book-burning rally in the town's main square. Using these books as a guide, Hans teaches Liesel to read. Liesel practices writing by using paint on the basement walls...

(The entire section contains 1012 words.)

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