Introduction to The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a historical novel by Markus Zusak. Published in 2005, it became an international bestseller, and it is Zusak’s best-known work. The novel is set during the Holocaust, though it does not focus directly on the sociopolitical climate of Nazi Germany. Instead, it is narrated by the personification of Death. Death takes interest in nine-year-old Liesel Meminger, whom he affectionately calls “the book thief” due to her habit of stealing books. He quietly and unobtrusively observes the formative years of Liesel’s childhood, during which Liesel’s passion for literature provides a bit of warmth and hope in an otherwise bleak landscape.

World War II memoirs and Holocaust literature are expansive genres, but The Book Thief provides a unique perspective by filtering the war through the eyes of both Death and a nine-year-old girl. Death’s morose but sympathetic view of humanity eases the stark contrast between victims and perpetrators that many other Holocaust narratives draw, instead focusing on the moral ambiguities created by the war. Zusak’s world is not made up of the guilty and the innocent; instead, his characters are flawed human beings who try their best to remain kind and hopeful while living in circumstances that may otherwise repress the better aspects of human nature. Death concludes his narration with a similar sentiment, noting that humanity’s capacity for both extreme cruelty and selfless kindness has left him “haunted by humans.”

A Brief Biography of Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak (born 1975) is a popular Australian author of novels for children and young adults. Born and raised in Sydney in a family with German and Austrian roots, Zusak became interested in writing fiction as an adolescent. After university, he taught English before publishing his first novel, The Underdog, in 1999. He gained acclaim for his 2002 novel, I Am the Messenger, about a young taxi driver who receives mysterious messages encouraging him to help others in need. Zusak’s breakthrough novel was The Book Thief, published in 2005, which tells the story of a girl who comes of age in Nazi Germany. Her burgeoning love of the written word, which motivates her to steal books and to begin writing her own work, is set against the destruction of the Nazi regime. The novel is notable for its compelling historical setting and its innovative narration, which is voiced by Death itself. Zusak’s most recent work is Bridge of Clay, published in 2018, about a group of brothers who come of age in the absence of their parents.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Rudy Steiner entered four different races at the Hitler Youth Carnival, determined to win them all: the 1500 meters, the 400 meters, the 200 meters, and the 100 meters. Because he enjoyed his new...

Latest answer posted October 26, 2021, 5:46 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

After retrieving the book called The Whistler from the ice cold river for Liesel, Rudy, who has a crush on Liesel, would like to ask her for a kiss: Rudy Steiner was scared of the book thief’s...

Latest answer posted October 26, 2021, 12:49 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Hans is part of the ten percent of Germans who did not "unflinching[ly]" support Hitler. Although the gentle Hans hates Hitler and the Nazi regime, he clearly understands he has to lead a double...

Latest answer posted October 25, 2021, 11:36 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Several principal characters die in Mark Zusak's Book Thief. Due to its setting in Germany during the Second World War there is constant threats to the characters life. One of the characters who is...

Latest answer posted October 23, 2021, 11:27 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

We don't know for certain that Liesel and Max get married, but the strong assumption is that they do. We find out that Liesel marries, moves to Sydney, Australia, far away from all she has been...

Latest answer posted October 23, 2021, 12:05 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

The Book Thief contains several themes, but if one is chief among them it is that suffering and chaos do not diminish the beauty and value of life. Throughout the book, characters suffer greatly....

Latest answer posted October 23, 2021, 11:27 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Frau Diller, the "aryan," is a shopkeeper on Himmel Street. She is a devoted Nazi sympathizer. Her "golden rule" is that, in order to be served in her shop, people must greet her with "heil...

Latest answer posted October 23, 2021, 12:27 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

The German word sau means a sow (a female pig) while mensch means person; therefore, Saumensch is an insult directed at a girl or woman, calling her a pig (similar in English when a woman is called...

Latest answer posted October 25, 2021, 11:51 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

In Nazi Germany, Jewish people were required to wear the yellow star as a symbol of their faith and degraded social status. The "road of yellow stars" is a nickname given to Schiller Strasse, a...

Latest answer posted October 25, 2021, 12:06 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Death foreshadows Rudy's death to further the characterization of Death itself and to heighten the poignancy of Rudy's remaining life. After jumping into the Amper River, Rudy proudly holds up the...

Latest answer posted October 25, 2021, 12:30 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

In Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, the protagonist, Liesel, has dark brown eyes, and this is dangerous in Nazi Germany. The Nazis are looking to develop a “master race” of people with blonde hair...

Latest answer posted October 25, 2021, 1:46 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

The active and energetic Rudy is always getting himself into trouble, largely because he is too kind-hearted and good-natured to believe in Nazism. Rudy, a runner, gets into trouble with his father...

Latest answer posted October 26, 2021, 12:14 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Refusing to bathe is a way for Liesel to cling to and acknowledge the past, especially the people she has loved and lost. On the night she first arrives at the Hubermanns, for example, she refuses...

Latest answer posted October 26, 2021, 11:33 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

In "The End of the World, Part II" Himmel Street is bombed without warning by the Allies, namely the United States, Great Britain, France, and other countries that banded against Hitler and the...

Latest answer posted October 26, 2021, 2:07 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Narrated by Death, this is the story of the Nazi regime's effect on characters who live in the fictional town of Molching, Germany, in the early 1940s. Liesel Meminger is the central focus of the...

Latest answer posted October 23, 2021, 12:53 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Hans Hubermann is basically Liesel's foster father once her biological father is taken to a concentration camp for his communist sympathies. Hans takes this new role seriously. While Rosa can be...

Latest answer posted October 24, 2021, 11:22 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

At age ten, Liesel has to join the BDM, which is the girls' section of the Hitler Youth. She has to attend two-hour meetings every Wednesday and Saturday and wear a brown uniform. She learns to...

Latest answer posted October 24, 2021, 11:39 am (UTC)

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The Book Thief

We are told that Max Vandenburg is age 22 on the Kristallnacht (or the Night of the Broken Glass) on November 9, 1938, when the Nazis destroyed many Jewish businesses and synagogues. Kristallnacht...

Latest answer posted October 24, 2021, 12:17 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Liesel does kiss Rudy, but only after he is dead. Rudy's quest to get a kiss from Liesel is a recurring element in the book. It begins early on, when Rudy challenges Liesel to a foot race. Rudy...

Latest answer posted October 24, 2021, 12:48 pm (UTC)

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The Book Thief

Death narrates the book and provides some insight about Paula Meminger's decision to leave Liesel with a foster family. First, Liesel understands that her mother is "constantly sick." Because of...

Latest answer posted October 24, 2021, 3:52 pm (UTC)

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Summary