The Book Thief

the book thief

Eloise from Latymer Upper created this book diorama as a Creative Response to The Book Thief. It won the prize for Best Creative Response (Senior Award). The lefthand side shows the key scene where Liesel steals a book from the fire on a snowy night.


The righthand side was inspired by the true story of Eloise’s grandfather Hans, who, like Max, hid in a basement for 6 months (in Prague) to escape the concentration camp fate that claimed the rest of his family. A friend helped him escape with false papers – and he fled to Berlin where he worked as a spy for the Allies until the end of the war! The collage includes copies of his Star of David armbands, ticket for the transport to a concentration camp, and fake ID (with real photo).


22 thoughts on “The Book Thief

  1. Ariana from Latymer Upper submitted this to the TSBA Book Review competition for students:

    What is a good book? Of course there are a great many excellent books. But I believe that “The Book Thief” is a prime example. Marcus Zusak has the innate ability to make you laugh and cry simultaneously, seemingly effortlessly.

    Zusak employs the use of several innovative stylistic techniques, the most blatantly obvious being displaying certain bits of information in bold. For example, “A SMALL FACT ABOUT RUDY STEINER: he didn’t deserve to die the way he did.” Of course some would interpret this as a spoiler, yet I adore this technique. The foreboding premonitions that our narrator reveals make this book a fast paced page-turner.

    Let us discuss the setting. This novel is set in Nazi Germany, throughout the Second World War. The majority of this book is set on bleak Himmel Street, which is located in the fictional town of Molching, Germany. Zusak uses German words such as “Saukerl” (pig boy) and this really helps to set the scene. I have always found this period of time fascinating and this is what makes made me read the book originally. It explores the moral dilemmas that Germans faced throughout Hitler’s reign.

    Allow us to proceed to the character analysis. There are a variety of intriguing characters in this novel, all with interesting or amusing habits or physical features.

    The protagonist is a young German girl named Liesel Meminger. Effectively an orphan, her absent father and poor mother give Liesel to foster parents. She is described as having hair “close enough to a German blond” (Hitler preferred the Aryan race) however; her eyes are a “dangerous dark brown”. This insinuates that though Liesel may submit to Hitler’s demands meekly enough- a
    “Heil Hitler” every so often- her soul strives for justice.

    Liesel’s foster parents are Hans and Rosa Hubberman. They are poor Germans who are given a small allowance to take Liesel in. Hans (Papa) is a tall accordion playing man with “silver eyes”. Liesel capitalizes on her description of his warm loving eyes repeatedly in this book. Eyes are often described as the “soul” of the body; therefore this implies that Hans is a good man, which our narrator later proves. Hans has strong ethics that cause him to go against Hitler, teaches Liesel how to read, basically the foundation of her life, and has a special bond with her. Rosa contradicts Hans’s silent personality utterly; she is a loud woman with a vivacious tendency to swear. Though she may be “wardrobe-shaped” and “cruel” Rosa secretly loves Liesel and Hans and defiantly resists Hitler by caring for a Jewish man.

    Rudy Steiner is Liesel’s best friend and plays a prominent character in this book. Rudy adores Liesel, and constantly begs her for a kiss; such is his love for her that he eventually stops asking. Rudy does get a kiss but not under mirthful circumstances. He has “hair the colour of lemons” and “safe” blue eyes, in addition to being extremely intelligent and a supreme athlete. Physically Rudy is the Nazi ideal, yet mentally he is anything but. Rudy detests Hitler, and sets out to “kill” him one day. Not to mention Rudy adores Jesse Owens and paints himself with charcoal to run laps. This is the fist of a long series of stupid, defiant mistakes throughout the novel. Rudy brings a bit of boyish fun and testosterone into this otherwise grim story.

    Max Vadenberg is a twenty-two year old Jewish man who seeks refugee in the Hubberman’s home. Liesel describes Max as having “hair like feathers”. Despite being a strong man two years of hiding pushes him beyond the brink of desperation he and enlists Hans’s help, who owes a debt to Max’s father. Liesel is shy yet curious and she forms a tender friendship with Max. He writes and illustrates her two books, “the Standover Man” and “the Word Shaker”. Both books are painted over pages of “Mein Kampf” (my struggle), which is written by Hitler. This is quite an important feature of the book. The fact that Max has re-written Hitler’s book implies that he believes he can overpower Hitler. Max dreams of one day fighting him- the “Jewish fist-fighter” against “the Fuhrer”. Fighting is essentially the bane of Max’s existence; it’s what gives him the strength to keep going throughout the war. “Imagining having to smile after a slap in the face, that was the business of hiding a Jew”, to put it in the Book Thief’s own words. Max is wracked with tremendous guilt over the burden he puts on the Hubberman’s shoulders and after a close call he eventually leaves.

    Our final character-if you can call it that- is Death itself. Death is our narrator to this unusual book. This makes the story especially interesting, yet another clever idea by Zusak. In many ways Death appears to be remarkably human. He feels human emotions such as happiness, guilt, sadness and even exasperation. Alternatively Death is anything but human. He is the one who steals life’s precious breath, his final line a confirmation of this fact: “I’m haunted by humans”. Death is like a human, feels the pain that is life, yet he is ostracized from mankind, never allowed in. Furthermore the most intriguing thing about Death to me is his heart. Like humans it makes up his core essence, it’s beating the drum of his life. Yet unlike humans his heart is circular. This represents a cyclical cycle of never-ending life, eternally condemned to take souls. Death is our patronising, condescending- if not downright sardonic- guide with a strange sense of humour. Death gives away ominous revelations of the future, which makes you want to read on even more. Death is probably the most interesting feature of this book, the bit that caught my eye out of my peripheral vision and reeled me in.

    In this book there is quite an emphasis on colour. It’s colour that gives Death it’s distractions, colour which Max strives to see. Certain colours lead to certain emotions, when Death tells us what colour the sky is we can work out the mood of the story, an ingenious trick by the author. Moreover whilst reading this magnificent novel I noticed that the number seven appeared several times, though it may be simply a coincidence. To name one instance, the number of laps Rudy has to run. however seven is not only a religiously symbolic number which fits in nicely with the theme but is also considered a lucky number, bringing a spurt of hope to this mournful world.

    At the beginning of this book Death gives us an introduction. This is pure genius by Zusak, allowing us to familiarise ourselves with our unusual narrator instead of launching straight into the story. Throughout the middle. Zusak finds the perfect mixture of humour, happiness and sadness to be able to feel what it’s like to be the character, an essential skill. The end is of course sad, yet the author somehow manages to squeeze in a little happiness, in my opinion an ideal story.

    There are many significant events in this book. To highlight a few:
    1. When Liesel steals her first book.
    3. The road of yellow stars.
    4. The fallen pilot and the teddy bear.
    5.When Hans slaps Liesel for hating the Fuhrer when she realises his wrong
    5.Reading in the shelter.

    Of course there are many more in this book, but those stood out to me in particular. I would just like to discuss the final one, reading in the shelter.
    This was my absolute favourite part of this wondrous novel. Books play an important part in this story; they’re the backbone to Zusak’s masterpiece. Liesel loves books so much that she steals many and is given a few. Her first theft occurs at the beginning of the novel, after her brother’s burial. Liesel picks up an accidentally dropped copy of “the Grave Digger’s Handbook”. I believe that this is the most important book. It is bittersweet, representing the death of her brother (Werner) and the last time she saw her real mother. However, there are several positive associations with this book. It is a gateway to her new life, introducing her to the grandiose world of literature.

    Please allow me to return to my previous point, reading in the shelter. Liesel had the power to unite a frightened crowd, calming them. Yet despite that I don’t think that Liesel was able to reassure her friends. No, it was words! Words have the power to do anything, and that’s the message that I believe this book conveys. In conclusion “The Book thief” is a great book, but its words are better.

  2. I really enjoyed The Book Thief , to the point that I have read it several times, and liked it just as much every time.
    It was really orginal and interesting, and used a German perspective, which is much less common than one in Britian. I thought the plot was great and interesting, and while the overal story was a little sad, especially the ending, I really liked the little bits of humer scatterd thoughout it.

  3. I’ve only just started the Book Thief, and what caught my eye was the introduction of the book. I was fascinated about how the author was going to portray the narrator of death. The narrator- death was speaking as if ‘it’ knew its victim, it talked about itself like it had a personality, feelings. Some people see death as just something happens; the author changed it as if it plans how to kill someone and gets to know the victims.

    One victim death got to know very well was known as the book thief. Death watched the book thief very closely and got to know her as she grew up. Death watched her develop and become more interested in reading. Death is intrigued in the young girl and as the war starts to begin, it tells the story of the young girl growing up and how her life unfolds…

  4. Posted on behalf of Debby 9S from Royal Russell School

    Book Thief is about the life of a book-stealing young girl named Liesel living in Germany with foster parents during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. When I first started reading it, it felt a bit daunting because it has over 500 pages, but as you go on it doesn’t seem as long.

    I thought it was interesting how the book is narrated by death, because it is one of the thing that distinguishes it from other books. However, the interjections from Death didn’t really make much sense to me. The Book Thief is also very realistic and there is a lot of details about life in Germany during the times of the Nazi party, so if you are interested in those times, I think you would find this book really enjoyable.

    However, overall I didn’t really like it because it was really long and I found it hard to get into. Also, although I liked the mayor’s wife, the main character Liesel was pretty boring.

  5. I watched the film earlier on this year (which is amazing), so I had high hopes for The Book Thief, and I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Undoubtedly, the Book Thief might look threatening to some (myself included) with its 584 pages, and at times is quite hard to get stuck into. However,the character development is very good, and I found the plot, although sometimes hard to follow, comes together very well.

    What makes the book truly special, is the narration, by Death. Suddenly, Death is given feelings (although at times limited, and Death tries to stay in control of what he thinks about humans.) It’s almost a double narration, because Death is narrating a life story that Liesel wrote and he got hold of. Therefore, you get a feel of Liesel’s feelings (of an innocent young girl) and with Death’s comments on her feelings and his own experiences. This gives the book more than one layer, which makes it more interesting and exciting.

    A great read, I recommend to anyone willing to step into the transfixing story of a young girl, The Book Thief, in Nazi Germany.

  6. Although I love World War 1 fiction, this book wasn’t something I wanted to read straight away. Upon reading the opening, where Death is introduced, I was entirely enthralled at first. However, I began to get hooked in and immersed myself into the book at every opportunity!

    Characterwise, I found Leisel wasn’t very likeable and I didn’t immediately fall in love with her. However, I could relate to her. I was there with her, my heart beating as she stole the books. I could feel her pain when she realised her mother wasn’t going to reply to the letters. I held my breath as she first went down Himmel Street. So although Leisel wasn’t likeable, I still enjoyed going on the journey with her. In contrast, I immediately fell in love with Hans Hubermann. With his funny characteristics and the way he made Leisel feel, I knew he was going to be a special character.
    The book was not at all fast paced and a little tedious at times which some of my friends didn’t like. It didn’t spoil it because i thought that was the nature of the book. I stayed involved because I wanted to know what was going to go on. I wasn’t sure what would be around the corner.
    The little interjections in bold were funny, clever and gave you an insight into what was going on. In essence, you could have figured out what was going to happen in each chapter just by reading them. I also enjoyed the little bits of the German language I picked up – an unexpected bonus!
    Finally, i liked the little symbolic things Markus Zusac would write and the clever things he would putin. Everything added to the sense of intrigue and mystery I felt when reading the book.

    This was a fantastic read and was historically accurate which was useful. I have read the book two and a half times now and still find myself clinging to the edge of my seat in excitement.

  7. I found this book very emotive and it brought me to tears. I found it very interesting to read and it gave me a good insight of what Germany was like at this time. I found death an amazing narrator and engaged me a lot more. I found this book a joy to read and I really and truly feel that this book had made me a better person. As someone who has lived in England all my life I was brought up to believe that everyone in Germany wanted to be involved with Hitler but now it has opened my eyes and I found that not everyone wanted to be involved with Hitler and they just wanted a peaceful life and to live like a normal person but life is never fair in some cases.
    I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to travel to another world where anything is possible, it is a truly gripping read.

  8. I found the book thief a very interesting book to read and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In my opinion death was a good choice as a narrator for the book. If you decide to read this extraordinary book, you get an insight into the Nazi part of the war which is very interesting because when we read a book about the war we read it in the view of an English person and not a Nazi’s. In the book, you read about a very interesting girl who went to live with other people because her mother left her. You later find out that she is illiterate but as you go on further through the book she begins to learn new things and develop strong bonds with people in the town. I don’t want to give away too much, so this will be all that I say. In general, I would definitely recommend this book and also go watch the film too.

  9. The book thief was a very good book in my opinion. There were many unique aspects to it which no other book I read had, such as the story being narrated by death. Markus did this successfully as I was able to see the characters as if I was death. Occasionally death would give hints to what would happen in the story which really helped build up tension. Markus also took time describing the main characters very effectively.

  10. I agree with the comment made by Rebecca,
    I am not usually drawn to war books but I thoroughly enjoyed the Book Thief. I was really drawn to the idea of having death as a narrator, and I believe that Markus Zusak has pulled it off in an extraordinary fashion. This book is a really unique and a great read.

  11. I never really expected to read a book with death as a narrator as all the books I have read have been narrated by real people. Nonetheless it was a good book and portrayed the life of an average German affected by WWII.

  12. I found this book a bit disturbing to be honest. It was a very tense read and the narration by death is what disturbed me. But it was very original and gave a clear picture of life as an ordinary German citizen. I would definitely recommend it as a unique book – I’ve never read anything quite like it. However it won’t be a book that I re-read as I couldn’t find a warmth in it – the characters, although believable, didn’t come alive for me.

  13. Posted on behalf of James C from King’s College School Wimbledon
    What I liked: How deeply and thoroughly life was like under the reign of the Nazis and how we can see so well into the mind of Liezel and what her relationships with books is about.
    What I did not like: The book was hard to get into and at times, nothing much happened for pages long
    What surprised me: How much Hitler influenced the Nazis and how they, as ordinary people, could bring themselves to do such brutal, horrible things to even children. I previously knew much less about them and how they acted.
    What I learned: That if you love something enough (as Liesel did with books) you will always try your very hardest to be united with it and never give up.
    What I wished would have happened: There could have been more insight into what Liesel did between when she left Germany and the epilogue, because her life was so interesting, I wish I knew more about it.

  14. Posted on behalf of Stanley S-H from King’s College School, Wimbledon
    What I liked
    I liked the analogies and metaphor the book uses to convey simple concepts in an interesting way. I also like the unique rhythm and tone the book is written in. This novel has a peculiar atmosphere that I have read in no other book and I think this is created in the way the writer describes the situation and circumstances. I also loved the characterisation of death as a very matter of fact, down to earth guy who just didn’t like his job. The way he kept on spoiling what would happen in the future of the plot before it came because he is not aware of the concept of emotional suspense. You will know it in the end so why not tell you now?
    What I did not like
    I did not like the tedious plot in the book. However minimalistic and deliberately childish, I thought the author could have weaved few more elements and twists into the tale. I felt the book was perhaps 60-70 pages too long as it became rather repetitive towards the end of the middle and the start of the end. I also thought he built up the concept of a ‘Book Thief’ too much to the point of boredom, in some places it was unnecessary to the situation.
    What surprised me
    I thoroughly enjoyed the ending of the book, one of the best I’ve ever read. The power and poignancy of the final scene adds a beautifully brutal unexpected closing. I felt as if the last chapter actually echoes what ‘Death’ must have been thinking during the war and amidst the rubble and ashes and devastation comes a form of poetic majesty that was surprisingly moving.
    What I learned
    I learned a lot about Nazi Germany during WWII. In Britain, we are bombarded with stories and facts about how we coped with the war, almost to the point of cliché, whereas the German front to the war is rather understated. The novel is a rare sympathetic and humane insight into Nazi Germany. The unexpected contrast of Leisel appearing mischievous and Death appearing somewhat innocent emphasizes the confusion of where the borders lay between friend and foe in the war.
    What I wished would have happened
    I wish the book had focused more directly on the problems of the transition between childhood and adolescence at this difficult time, as this was exactly the period in which Leisel and Rudy were aged. I feel that the author could have really experimented with the thoughts going through the mind of those growing up in these fascinating surroundings. By the end of the book, I got the impression the girl had matured physically, but nothing significant had happened mentally. I also wish the book left more to your imagination, it dictated to you what happened – for example I almost wish Max did not return and it became up to you whether Leisel would ever find him again.

  15. What I liked. The way he used death as a narrator. It was very original and really helped the expectedness of deaths in Nazi Germany to come across. What I did not like: The fact that she could so easily hide Max. Maybe if he had been found earlier
    What surprised me: The love of the father and the way he took her in
    What I learned: The lovingness Germans may have had for the Jews they were hiding
    What I liked: The way he used death as a narrator. It was very original and really helped the expectedness of deaths in Nazi Germany to come across

    Matthew G from King’s College School, Wimbledon

  16. What I liked. The way he used death as a narrator. It was very original and really helped the expectedness of deaths in Nazi Germany to come across.
    What I did not like: The fact that she could so easily hide Max. Maybe if he had been found earlier

    Matthew G from King’s College Wimbledon writes:

    What surprised me: The love of the father and the way he took her in

    What I learned: The lovingness Germans may have had for the Jews they were hiding

    What I liked: The way he used death as a narrator. It was very original and really helped the expectedness of deaths in Nazi Germany to come across

  17. I loved reading The Book Thief. I found the characters believable and I really cared what happened to them – from the bad-tempered and foul-mouthed Rosa Hubermann, to lemon-haired Rudy, Liesel’s papa and Liesel, the book thief, herself.

    It was an interesting perspective to follow the story of ordinary Germans during the war, who also suffered hardship, terror and death. I loved the voice and style of the book, from the little notes and lists at the beginning of chapters the flippant attitude of Death as narrator. I thought this was disarming because it seemed to be nonchalant and then out would come a simple line that would hit you like a punch: “The sky was the colour of Jews.”

    Most of all, as a book lover myself, I enjoyed the central theme of the power of words – to create and to destroy. In this case, words do both, but ultimately they bring hope – and I admired the symbolism of Max literally painting over the pages of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf and re-creating his own story from them. A powerful read but not burdensome.

  18. I love the strange perspective of Death as the narrator. It allowed the readers to have a much larger view of the story and the different characters. It also allowed us to see what was going on elsewhere in the world, especially during the war. This was demonstrated towards the end when he talked a little about the Russian Campaign and how it affected the characters. The perspective of Death also gave us the little tips and the small flash backs that kept us waiting.

    However, there were still gaps in the storyline, particularly concerning Max. When Max leaves the note for the father at the meeting point, I find it extremely unlikely that he would have survived that long and been paraded through that same town for them to see each other again. Also, his sudden appearance at the end of the book is unexplained, especially as he doubtless was sent to a prison camp. I also think that the characters of the original mother and brother were too undeveloped, especially when Liesel apparently ‘saw’ Death.

    However, I really liked the book overall and I think that it has an interesting storyline and characters. It is slightly harder to get into at the beginning but I would definitely recommend it to a friend.

  19. Considering that I am often deterred from a book at the mention of “world war II” in any way shape or form, I was sceptical at first about reading this book (or doing this entire award, to be honest). But now that I have read the book, I am so glad that I was convinced to read this book. The Book Thief was a great choice to start off with for the award. I was so surprised that I enjoyed it, as I thought it would be both slow moving and typically dull, as I have found most war books. But the unique narrative (Death) kept me interested 100% throughout the entire novel. It was fascinating to see this original feature, which gripped me from start to finish (despite the quantity of pages!) and the way Death saw things so differently to a usual narrator.
    I also really enjoyed the use of, for want of a better word, the asides: the separate bold newsflash-type headlines which popped up at random. They added an element to the story entirely individual to this book, making it ever-more fascinating.
    Overall I give the Book Thief a solid 8/10 – based on its originality, style of writing, excellent character development and overall amazingness. A really good read – I’d recommend it to anyone!

  20. I loved the style of writing in this book. It had a wonderful way of describing things and portrayed the dangers of living in Germany at this time, following the life of a child. Death is also a very unique narrator who I have never seen appear in any other book and defied all stereotypes surrounding death.
    The story line was very engaging and it kept the plot flowing but not in a way that only made you want to discover the plot but it made me want to watch over the characters as if I was death.
    It is different to any of the other books that I have read before, with a really different way of portraying things and I think it really worked.

  21. The Book Thief

    I really enjoyed this book. I think he used very good descriptions and the style of writing. I also really found death being used as a narrator engaging and it changed my views on he/she/it.

  22. The book thief was unlike any book I had read before. The fact that the book is narrated by death was ingenious and the way Markus Zusak portrayed death contrasts completely of what I originally thought of him/her. I absolutely loved this book.

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