Book Thief Summary - A novel by Markus Zusak


The Book Thief Summary

The Book Thief is a story narrated by death, about a little girl named Liesel who grows up in Nazi Germany during World War II. Death meets her for the first time on a train on her way to Molching when her little brother Werner passes away on a snowy day. It is then that Liesel steals her first book, the gravedigger’s handbook. She is then left on Himmel Street with her foster parents named Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Hans quickly realizes that the girl can’t read and that she also gets nightmares about her brother every night. So to calm her down he teaches her to read every night. Liesel also makes friends with a boy named Rudy Steiner who is her neighbor. Rudy is always asking Liesel for a kiss but death reveals that he would never get that kiss while they’re alive.

One day a stranger knocks on Hans’s door and he turns out to be the son of a man he served in the war. The stranger, Max is seeking refuge and a place to hide from the Nazi party as he is a Jew, and hatred for them was on the rise in Germany. Hans as a favor to his father decides to let the man stay in his basement. Liesel becomes really fond of Max and tells him everything that happens in her day and everything about the outside life/world.

Rosa gives Liesel the job of delivering laundry to her customers, one of which is the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann who invites her to their private library which amazes Liesel. When the mayor’s wife fires Rosa, Liesel gets so furious with her that she starts stealing books from the library with Rudy’s help.

For Christmas, Liesel builds Max a snowman in the basement. But later due to the cold weather, Max becomes really weak and sick and falls into a coma. This worries Hans and Rosa about Max’s death and what they will do with a Jew’s body in case he died. Liesel decides to read to Max and bring him gifts. After months, Max recovers. One day a member of the Nazi party comes to their house to inspect their basement for a bomb shelter but luckily somehow they don’t notice Max.

Rudy meanwhile, is having a terrible time at the Hitler youth camp where he is picked on every day. So to show everybody how capable he is, he decides to run in every race and win first prize. He successfully does so except for his last race where he loses. Seeing his athletic talents the Nazi party decides to recruit him, but his father refuses to do so.

When Molching is finally bombed, Liesel reads her books to everybody and soon it becomes a thing they do every time. Max is left behind in the Hubemann’s basement. He later tells the family that when everyone was gone he came up to the window just to see the sky.

As the war continues, the Nazi soldiers start parading the Jewish prisoners through their town’s streets. Hans is so taken away by pity that he offers to help one of the soldiers and for this, they both are whipped. Scared of the consequences, Hans sends away Max. He then spends his time in guilt as he no longer knows if Max is alive or not. The punishment for his actions comes much later when both he and Rudy’s father are drafted into the German army.

The Jewish prisoner parade becomes a regular thing and Liesel always checks each and every face to look for Max. She does one day find him and doesn't let go of him until a German soldier intervenes. Ilsa Hermann leaves a note for Liesel in one of the books she steals that she knows it’s her and she wants her to continue stealing as she is glad someone is getting to read her books.

Hans is injured on duty and comes back home. Rudy is happy for Liesel but at the same time furious that his father was not the one coming back. Ilsa comes to Liesel’s house one day and gives her a blank book to write in. Liesel begins writing in her basement about everything starting from her brother’s death to the reading in bomb shelters. She names her book “The Book Thief”. Death later tells us how these words are what saved Liesel and also what introduced him to her. The end of the book reveals how Liesel grows up in Australia, how she finally meets Max, and how Rudy got his kiss at the end he always wanted. And, most importantly how Death finds the Book Thief in the rubble of Himmel Street. He keeps it with him throughout his journey.