What are some instances of flashbacks or flash forwards in The Book Thief?

Quick answer:

In Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief", flashbacks provide insight into Liesel's past and her experiences with her biological family and Hitler's regime. Instances include Liesel's memories of her adoptive father, Hans Hubermann, and her induction into the BDM. Flash forwards, on the other hand, hint at future events in Liesel's life and Germany under Hitler. These include the introduction of Liesel's "midnight class" and the destruction of windows in Kaufmann Shoe Shop, likely alluding to Kristallnacht.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One instance of a flashback is when Liesel is sitting with her adoptive father, Hans Hubermann, crying. The narrative flashes back to an episode in which Liesel's father tells her to get back into bed so he can play the accordion for her. The use of the flashback connects Hans...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Hubermann to Liesel's father and emphasizes that she feels like Hans is her new father. The narrative also includes a flashback about her induction into the BDM, or the female Hitler Youth, and her tenth birthday. She is given a doll with a missing leg and yellow hair, as that's all the family can acquire. The flashback acquaints the reader with Liesel's experiences in her biological family and her initial acquaintance with Hitler and his movement.

This part of the narrative also includes a flash forward. When Liesel begins school, she can't read. The narrative states that after she has a nightmare (in the future), extra education in reading will begin. The author introduces the idea that Liesel will begin to have a "midnight class" and writes, "More of that soon." Another flash forward occurs when the narrative refers to the smashing of the windows in Kaufmann Shoe Shop two and half years later. This is likely a reference to Kristallnacht, when Jewish businesses were destroyed across Germany in 1938. These flash forwards give the reader a taste of what's to come, both in Liesel's life and in Germany under Hitler. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the interesting aspects about the narration of this book is the way that the narrator, Death, is a character who is looking back at a particular period of history and therefore knows what happens to the characters and how everything turns out. Repeatedly, during his narrative, what he does is to offer small "flash forwards," or to tell the reader information about what will happen at various points. For example, note how this operates when Liesl reaches the Hubermann family and Death tels the reader about their children, who are now grown up and living away from home:

Hans Junior worked in the centre of Munich and Trudy held a job as a housemaid and childminder. Soon they would both be in the war. One would be making bullets. The other would be shooting them.

This is a typical "flash forward" of the kind offered by Death throughout the narrative, as he offers us tiny details about the future lives of characters. Another major example of the flash forward is in the final pages of the book, where Death reveals the fate of the major characters who are still alive, describes the meeting of Max and Liesl once more and then jumps forward finally to when he meets with Liesl for the last time and shows her the book he kept that Max made for her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial