The Book Thief Summary & Study Guide

Markus Zusak
This Study Guide consists of approximately 52 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Book Thief.
This section contains 1,020 words
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The Book Thief Summary & Study Guide Description

The Book Thief Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a novel of cruelty, poverty, and hope. Liesel Meminger is a young girl who has been placed in foster care by her mother. Liesel's brother dies en route to their new home and this leaves Liesel traumatized, causing her to have terrible nightmares in the middle of the night. Liesel's foster father begins teaching her to read on these nights to distract her from her pain. Liesel learns to turn to books for comfort. When the war begins, comfort becomes a rare state of mind, so Liesel finds ways to seek it out. Liesel begins to steal books in her efforts to deal with the cruelty of the world around her. The Book Thief is a complicated story of survival that will encourage its readers to think and to be amazed at how resilient the human spirit really is.

Liesel Meminger travels by train to Munich with her brother and mother. Before they reach their destination, Liesel's brother dies and is buried in a strange town by strange people. During the funeral, Liesel steals a book someone has carelessly left beside the grave. Liesel and her mother continue on their journey. Liesel is taken to the rural town of Molching where she is placed with a foster family. The mother is a foul mouthed, tough woman who does not know how to be gentle with the traumatized child. The father is a kind, accordion-playing house painter who knows exactly what Liesel needs to hear.

Liesel has nightmares in the middle of the night that make it impossible for her to sleep. Hans, her foster father, comes to her rescue on these nights, sitting up with her until she feels secure enough to sleep. On one of these nights, Hans discovers the book Liesel has stolen. As a way to keep her distracted from her dreams, Hans begins to teach Liesel how to read the book. It is a slow process since Hans does not read well himself. However, Liesel soon learns to read well enough that she begins to perform better in school.

Liesel begins to settle into her new home. Soon Liesel makes friends with a neighbor boy her own age named Rudy. Rudy and Liesel play soccer together with the other neighborhood children on the afternoons when Liesel is not required to help her foster mother, Rosa, pick up or deliver the laundry she washes to make extra money. When the war breaks out and money becomes tight, Rosa begins sending Liesel on the laundry runs alone, hoping the customers cannot fire Rosa when faced with communicating with the child. However, this proves to be a misconception in this time of economic struggle.

One of the few customers remaining on Rosa's customer list is the mayor and his wife. Liesel finds the mayor's wife, Ilsa, cold and quiet. However, Liesel becomes frightened of the silent woman when she witnesses Liesel stealing a forbidden book out of a Nazi party bonfire. Liesel is sure the woman will tell on her and cause her to be arrested. Instead, Ilsa invites Liesel into her house and gives her the use of her private library. Liesel visits the library often, spending the afternoon reading out of as many books as she can. Soon Liesel finds herself engrossed in one specific book, The Whistler. Ilsa tries to give this book to Liesel, but Liesel refuses. On the afternoon Liesel finally accepts the book, Ilsa tells her that she must fire Rosa from doing her laundry. Liesel is so angry she returns the book.

In the time leading up to Liesel's break with Ilsa, she has been going with Rudy to steal fruits and vegetables from neighboring farms. This experience causes Liesel to think of other robberies she might commit. Wanting The Whistler back, Liesel is too ashamed of herself to ask Ilsa for it. Instead, Liesel breaks into Ilsa's library and steals it. When Liesel finishes reading this book, she returns for another. Soon Ilsa catches on to what Liesel is doing and begins leaving gifts for her, including a dictionary she hopes will help Liesel understand what she is reading.

During this time, the Hubermanns, Liesel's foster parents, have been hiding a Jew in their home. Max Vandenburg is the son of a man Hans credits with saving his life during World War I. Hans promised to do anything he could for this man's wife and son, so when Max needs a place to hide from the government, Hans opens his home to him. Max hides in the basement, screened by paint cans and drop cloths stacked up at the entrance to the hidey hole under the stairs. During the winter, Max sleeps in the living room in front of the fire. On one of these nights, Liesel discovers that Max has nightmares similar to her own. This fact cements a bond between the two that will help them both survive the hard times yet to come.

After more than a year of Max living in his house, Hans makes a public mistake. Hans watches as a group of Jewish prisoners are marched through Molching. Hans sees an old man who is clearly starving to death and is overcome with a need to help him. Hans gives the man a piece of bread and is severely beaten by one of the guards for his gesture. Hans becomes frightened that the Gestapo will come to his house to arrest him and to search for hiding Jews. Hans decides he must send Max away. However, instead of arresting Hans, the Nazi Party accepts his membership and forces him to join the military. At war, Hans becomes a member of a group of soldiers who are the first into bombed areas in order to put out fires and shore up damaged buildings. While working at this duty, Hans breaks his leg in a car accident and is returned home. Six months later, Hans and Rosa are killed when a bomb is mistakenly dropped on Himmel Street. Liesel is the sole survivor of this disaster.

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