“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” A quote from the 2005 historical novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. The Book Thief is a book that shows the value in books. It also shows how words are used to create goodness, comfort, and sanity in a time of war. The Book Thief beings with Liesel and her brother walking down the street towards Munich, Germany; where Liesel’s brother, Werner, dies right there in the street.
After Werner gets buried, Liesel finds “The Grave Digger’s Handbook” next to her brother’s graveyard. What does she do with it? She steals it and takes it to her new foster family. Beginning her new illustrious career. When Liesel first arrives at her new foster family she stays in the car and doesn’t want to get out. Eventually, Liesel gets out of the car and into her new house.
Liesel starts bounding with her new foster father through her first stolen book “The Grave Digger’s Handbook”. However, The Book Thief doesn’t stop there, she steals her second book from a Nazi book burning. Liesel starts reading with her foster father in the basement, every midnight during the summer. Even though they both don’t have a high reading level they still read the books to their best.
With Liesel’s new ability to read, she not only becomes much smarter, but in the beginning, Liesel is more angry and distrusting, but as the book goes on and as Liesel keeps reading she becomes more loving to her foster family and starts becoming more open towards her family and friends. Having the power of books and being the book thief, resulted in her learning to read and building a strong relationship with her new foster family. Through the books Liesel steals, reads, and writes, she evolves from a powerless character to a powerful character who speaks up for the voiceless.
The Book Thief is narrated by Death. The book starts off creepy as death, the narrator, says we will meet death at some point because death will take our souls in its arms and take us gently away. “I’m nothing if not fair. (8)”. Death won’t take you before you’re body is dead. The book then starts off with Liesel Meminger and her brother, Werner, getting off a train traveling towards Munich to their new foster home. When suddenly Werner dies right there in the street.
Liesel has no choice, but to bury her brother. In the graveyard, when Werner is buried, Liesel steals a book from one of the gravediggers. We later found out that book is “The Grave Digger’s Handbook”. After, Liesel solely continues her journey to a town called Molching, where Liesel will be raised by foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann.
When Liesel arrives her new foster father is waiting on the street, while her new foster mother is staying by the door. Liesel doesn’t want to leave the car, while her new foster parents wait for her, Rosa Hubermann, the foster mother, says “What’s wrong with this child?”. Eventually, Liesel gets out of the car and walks inside. Hans Hubermann had her by one hand. Her small suitcase had her by the other.
Beneath the folded layer of clothes in that suitcase was a small black book, “The Grave Digger’s Handbook”, “Which, for all we know, a fourteen-year-old grave digger in a nameless town had probably spent the last few hours looking for. ‘I promise you,’ I imagine him saying to his boss, ‘I have no idea what happened to it. I’ve looked everywhere. Everywhere!’ I’m sure he would never have suspected the girl, and yet, there it was—a black book with silver words written against the ceiling of her clothes.”(pg 25).
In the end of the book, we see Liesel become loving and caring to her friends, foster family and also learn to read, however that wasn’t always the case. When she first meet her new foster family, she disliked them. She felt lonely, having just lost her brother and having no real family. She always had to move to new foster families that never worked out, so it’s safe to say she had a rough childhood. “During the day, it was impossible to dream of her brother. She would miss him and frequently cry in the tiny washroom as quietly as possible, but she was still glad to be awake.
On her first night with the Hubermanns, she had hidden her last link to him The Grave Digger’s Handbook under her mattress, and occasionally she would pull it out and hold it. Staring at the letters on the cover and touching the print inside, she had no idea what any of it was saying.
The point is, it didn’t really matter what that book was about. It was what it meant that was more important…THE BOOK’S MEANING, The last time she saw her brother…. sometimes she would whisper the word Mama and see her mother’s face a hundred times in a single afternoon” (28). Every night she would have nightmares of her dead brother and would just say “mama” and would picture her mother hundreds of time in one afternoon.
She would always take the stolen book out of her bed and hold it because it was the last connection she had with her brother, her family. Showing that she was still monaring the death of her brother. Showing that she felt pain every night and she couldn’t do anything about it. Even though she was Germany, she felt like she was a jew taken over by Hitler and the Nazi’s.
In the first couple of days with her new foster family, her foster mom asks Liesel to take a bath, but when she refuses she calls her a filthy pig. “Liesel, naturally, was bathed in anxiety. There was no way she was getting into any bath, or into bed for that matter. She was twisted into one corner of the closet like washroom, clutching for the nonexistent arms of the wall for some level of support. There was nothing but dry paint, difficult breath, and the deluge of abuse from Rosa”(24).
Liesel’s foster mother shouted at her that evening when she refused to have a bath. “You filthy pig! You filthy pig!”(24). She felt scared and alone,but her new mother just kept shouting at her because she wouldn’t do what she said. “ ‘Leave her alone.’ Hans Hubermann entered the fray. His gentle voice made its way in, as if slipping through a crowd. ‘Leave her to me.’”(24). Her foster father moved closer and sat on the floor next to her. Hans started talking to her and connecting with her.
“ ‘You know how to roll a cigarette?’ he asked her, and for the next hour or so, they sat in the rising pool of darkness, playing with the tobacco and the cigarette papers and Hans Hubermann smoking them”(24). When the hour was up, Liesel could roll a cigarette moderately well. However, she still didn’t take a bath. Hans started connecting with Liesel, starting being nice and kind to her and that kindness grow onto her because it wasn’t difficult for her to call him papa.
But for her foster mom she would call her mama number 2. Mama number 2 quickly gets jealous when Liesel calls Hans just papa and mama number 2 then hurls “that saukerl”(25)— that filthy pig at her husband. But, Hans looked over at Liesel and winked. Starting to build a connection with her.
It wasn’t easy for Liesel, but she had her stolen book that connected her to her brother. The only problem was that Liesel didn’t know how to read. She would look at the words, but have no clue what they meant. One day, her foster father sees her book “The Grave Digger’s Handbook” and he asked her why was she reading this. Hans,her foster foster, founds out she doesn’t know how to read.
Even though, Hans isn’t a great reader himself, him and Liesel start reading the book together and each night they go to the basement around midnight and read the book which become their “thing”. They do this through the summer and it’s time for Liesel to start school. When Liesel starts school World War 2 breaks out with the German invasion of Poland. In school, Liesel moves up to her rightful grade level.
Somewhere at the start of November, there were some progress tests at Liesel’s school. One of them was for reading. Every child was made to stand at the front of the room and read from a passage the teacher gave them. Liesel sat with a mixture of hot anticipation and excruciating fear. “She wanted desperately to measure herself, to find out once and for all how her learning was advancing…each time Sister Maria looked at her list, a string of nerves tightened in Liesel’s ribs.
It started in her stomach but had worked its way up. Soon, it would be around her neck, thick as rope.When Tommy Müller finished his mediocre attempt, she looked around the room. Everyone had read. She was the only one left. ‘Very good.’ Sister Maria nodded, perusing the list. ‘That’s everyone.’ What? ‘No!’ ‘Sister Maria, I think you forgot Liesel’ ”(51). The teacher says “ ‘I’m afraid Liesel cannot do it, Rudy.’
The teacher looked across, for confirmation. ‘She will read for me later’ ”(52). But Liesel doesn’t just stay down and let the teacher get the final word she stands up and says “I can do it now, Sister.”(52). While the majority of other kids watched in silence. The sister had had enough. “No, you cannot! ……What are you doing?”(52). Liesel was out of her chair and walking slowly toward the front of the room. She picked up the book and opened it to a random page.
When Liesel looks up all the kids were right in front of her eyes. She started to read, but not from the book in front of her. It was something from The Grave Digger’s Handbook. Chapter three: “In the Event of Snow.” She’d memorized it from her papa’s voice. Liesel couldn’t read, but she doesn’t let the teacher forget her, she fights to be able to read. She fights to have her voice heard, she gets the power and speaks up.
Liesel gets two books from her foster parents for Christmas, which were paid for with Hans cigarettes. As an assignment for school, Liesel writes a letter to her mother, and begins waiting for a reply. The social worker who delivered Liesel to the Hubermanns arrives and informs Liesel that she has lost contact with Liesel’s mother, but Liesel continues to hope for a response to her letter. On the day of Hitler’s birthday, the town decorates the streets with German flags and Nazi swastikas.
When the Hubermanns can’t find their flag, Rosa fears that the Nazis will come and take them away because since they don’t have their flags, their not real proud Germany’s. During the parade, Liesel says she hates Hitler for what her did to her family. Which isn’t acceptable in public, so Hans slaps her and makes her practice saluting Hitler in front of people.
After the parade,the Nazi’s burn books, but Liesel notices one book not burned called, The Shoulder Shrug, she steals it and puts it inside her shirt and it burns her while she walking him with her papa. Some time passes and Liesel still waits to get a letter back from her real mother, but it never comes.
Liesel then learns that her father was persecuted for being a Communist, and that her mother was killed by the Nazis for the same crime. The Book Thief keeps striking, this time in a way more dangerous place the mayor’s library.The major’s wife has a book burning in which Liesel steals a book yet again, but the mayor’s wife sees her stealing the book this time. The next time Liesel goes to the mayor’s house, she’s paranoid because of her actions.
Liesel isn’t alone she is with Rudy and the mayor’s wife doesn’t say anything waiting for the perfect time. When Liesel goes to the mayor’s house alone, the mayor’s wife opens the door and tells Liesel to come in and wait. She comes back with a huge stack of books.The major’s wife,Ilsa Hermann, invites Liesel to her library.
“She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books. Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every colored books.
It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen. With wonder, she smiled. That such a room existed!”(91). Liesel has never seen a library before, she asks if she can touch the books, and the mayor’s wife allows her. This is a very important part in the book because it shows growth in Liesel character, but it also shows how Liesel is being cared for and exposed to new things. Liesel steals books because she loves them, but doesn’t have them.
One day when she finished her work at the mayor’s house, she steals a book from them. The mayor’s wife saw her and waited for her to be alone and lets her see her library for the first time, not only that she lets Liesel put books on the selves. Liesel feels cared, feels loved, but that love travels back when Liesel forgot to tell her thank you she goes all the way back to the mayor’s house just to say thank you to the mayor’s wife. Showing that you give love and care to Liesel, she will give it back.
Hans agrees to hide a Jew, named Max Vandenburg, in his basement. Liesel and Max start reading together along with her papa and they become close friends. Max writes Liesel two stories about their friendship. But things turn bad,when Hans publicly gives bread to the Jew hidden in his basement. The jew, Max, is being sent to a concentration camp. During this time,Hans gets drafted into the military when German cities get bombed. If you think things couldn’t get any worse, while she in the basement reading Himmel street gets bombed and everyone she loves and cares for dies.
Himmel Street is completely demolished and Liesel is the only survivor. So, now she has no biological parents or even foster parents. “The bombs came down, and soon, the clouds would bake and the cold raindrops would turn to ash. Hot snowflakes would shower to the ground. In short, Himmel Street was flattened. Houses were splashed from one side of the street to the other…Rudy Steiner slept. Mama and Papa slept. Frau Holtzapfel, Frau Diller. Tommy Müller.
All sleeping. All dying. Only one person survived. She survived because she was sitting in a basement reading through the story of her own life, checking for mistakes”(335).After finally having a family and finally making friends, everything Liesel cared for and loved would be destroyed. When Liesel goes up stairs she sees everything destroyed, the whole Himmel street like hell, ironic when Himmel in english translates to heaven.
When she sees her papa she screams papa,papa,but papa was died. Nothing a single thing survived except for Liesel. If it wasn’t for books Liesel would be dead like everyone else because while the bombing occured she was in the basement writing her very own book. Liesel kisses and holds her died pap one final time, until someone comes for her, and in the process drops her own written story, but death picks it up.
However,the books gives a happy ending because after the horrific bombing of Himmel street, Liesel moves in with the mayor and his wife because she is still too young to live alone. Liesel lives with the mayor until she old enough to take care of herself. But, Liesel doesn’t keep living in Germany, she moves to Australia where she dies after living a long and “happy” life with a husband, kids, and grandkids. As death is taking Liesel soul, death gives Liesel back her own written book, The Book Thief.
To sum up, the main character,Liesel Meminger, is a nine year old girl who is adopted and the only connection she has is with books, which she doesn’t know how to read. On her way to her new foster home, her brother, Werner, dies and when he is buried Liesel steals a book she found next to his graveyard called, “The Grave Digger’s Handbook”.
Based on these experiences, Liesel has faced much loss in her life so she finds it difficult to trust or be vulnerable. She is also characterized as a defensive person due to these hardships in her life.In the beginning of the book, Liesel believes everyone around her is weak because she suffered more loss than they did. But as she opens herself up to the world, she begins to understand that everyone goes through pain and loss.
She starts to form special bonds with her family and friends because she can relate to their pain. This makes her a more open-minded, caring and kind young girl. Liesel become eager to learn to read when she sees the different letters of the alphabet and how they can combine to form words.
As she matures, she becomes a more critical thinker due to her exposure to the ideas in the literature that she reads. In addition to the pain Liesel suffers from the loss of family members, she is forced to live under the terrible government in power of the Nazi Party in Germany.
She is angry that Hitler and war in general create terribly unfair injustices in the world and for what Hitler did to her family. Through her experiences with loss, learning to read, and the bad mistreatment of the Nazis in Germany, Liesel has become a whole new person. She has become someone who cares and understands the pain of others based on her experience.
She also has become a more critical thinker because of her curiosity for learning and reading. With the rise of the Nazi Government in power, Liesel has become one to fight for justice and create a moral system for herself rather than follow what society dictates.