The Book Thief Summary,Themes,Characters

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the book thief summary
TitleThe Book Thief
AuthorMarkus Zusak
No. of Pages608 pages
Publication Year2005
GenreHistorical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
SettingNazi Germany, 1939-1945
Main CharactersLiesel Meminger (protagonist)


The main characters of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak are:

  1. Liesel Meminger– The main character, a young girl who loves books and is growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II.
  2. Hans Hubermann– Liesel’s kind and caring foster father, who teaches her to read and plays the accordion.
  3. Rosa Hubermann– Liesel’s stern foster mother who secretly cares for Liesel and her family.
  4. Max Vandenburg– A Jewish refugee who hides in the Hubermanns’ basement, forming a close bond with Liesel.
  5. Rudy Steiner– Liesel’s best friend and neighbor, known for his loyalty and love for Liesel.
  6. Death– The narrator of the story, who has a unique perspective on human lives during a time of war.


The themes of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak are:

  1. The Power of Words– Words can heal, inspire, and hurt deeply.
  2. Resilience and Survival– People can endure and adapt in even the harshest circumstances.
  3. Friendship and Family– The bonds of friendship and family provide comfort and strength.
  4. Impact of War and Totalitarianism– War affects the lives of ordinary people in profound ways, and it can be destructive and dehumanizing.


The novel’s narrator, Death, introduces themselves. He claims that he first encountered the book thief on a train. When he arrived to rescue a pilot whose jet had crashed, that was the next time he saw her. The third occurrence occurred following a bombing. He connects the Nazi flag’s colors of white, red & black with each sighting. The narrative then starts with Death. Werner passes away unexpectedly when Liesel, her mother & Werner are on a train to Munich. Liesel snatches a book from one of the gravediggers as she and her mother exit the train to bury the deceased. Liesel & her mother continue their journey to Molching, where Hans and Rosa Hubermann will be Liesel’s foster parents. Liesel initially has mixed feelings about her foster parents, but Hans eventually wins her over by showing her how to roll cigarettes for him.

Liesel slowly gets used to her new existence, despite having frequent dreams about her deceased brother. Rudy, a local kid she meets and befriends, worships the American athlete Jesse Owens & is often bugging Liesel to kiss him. Hans starts teaching Liesel the alphabet after learning that she can’t read, and the two of them go through the book that Liesel took from the gravedigger together. Meanwhile, with the war growing and a lack of food and employment at home, the political climate in Molching and throughout Germany is deteriorating. Liesel takes another book from the fires at the town’s book burning held in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

Liesel starts bringing Rosa’s laundry. The mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann, is one of Rosa’s clients. When Liesel is granted access to Ilsa Hermann’s study one day, she is astounded by the book-lined walls. She is permitted to read in the study by Frau Hermann. A German Jew called Max is hiding out in a closet in Stuttgart at the same time without access to food, light, or water. A buddy delivers to him fake identification documents and a map tucked somewhere in MKPF, Hitler’s autobiography. After exiting the closet, Max rides the train to the Hubermanns’ residence. We find out that Max’s father participated in World War I alongside Hans. Hans told Max’s mother he would always support her after Max’s father passed away. Hans and Rosa conceal Max in the basement when he gets to Molching. Max & Liesel become friends as he heals from his trauma, and on the pages of MKPF that have been painted over, Max writes her a book.

Frau Hermann informs Liesel that she is no longer able to send the clothes out. Liesel is enraged because the Hermanns have so much when her family is already struggling to make ends meet. Liesel starts snooping into the Hermanns’ library and steals books with Rudy’s assistance. Liesel makes Max a snowman in the basement for Christmas. Hans and Rosa are concerned about how they will handle Max’s corpse if he passes away after becoming unwell and going into a coma. 

Max heals after many months. When the Nazis come, they examine the basement to see whether it is deep enough for a bomb shelter. Fortunately, they miss Max. Liesel keeps stealing the Hermanns’ library of books. Frau Hermann gives her a thesaurus and dictionary along with a message stating that she is aware Liesel has been stealing from her. Rudy triumphs in three events during a fair for the Hitler Youth. The residents of Liesel’s block are forced to seek refuge in a neighbor’s basement when the Allies start bombing in the vicinity of Molching. Liesel reads to them throughout each raid until it is okay to go. Max must remain alone in the Hubermanns’ cellar in the meantime.

Nazi troops start leading Jewish captives through the village as the conflict progresses on their route to the Dachau detention camp. Hans offers a slice of bread to an elderly guy who is trying to keep up with the group. Hans and the guy are both spanked by Nazi troops who intercede. Max is no longer secure in the basement, Hans is aware that he has raised suspicion and attracted attention to himself. Max departs Hans and Rosa’s home that evening. While Hans waits for soldiers to arrive and remove him, none do. Instead, they visit Rudy’s residence to enlist him in a program to train future Nazi leaders. 

Alex, Rudy’s father, is adamant about keeping his child. The troops depart, but a little while later, Alex and Hans are called up to serve in the German military. Rudy & Liesel go to the next Jewish procession and throw bread into the streets after Alex and Hans depart for work. A book titled “The Word Shaker” that Max created for Rosa and gave to Liesel. It tells the tale of Max and Liesel’s friendship and makes a future reunion vow.

Hans is dispatched to Essen, where he works with a crew that clears the area following airstrikes. Hans is disliked by one of the team members & one day he demands that they switch seats on the company bus. Hans just fractures his leg; the other man is killed when the bus crashes. Hans is sent back home to rest. Liesel and Rudy discover an Allied fighter pilot who has wrecked his aircraft after another airstrike. They come in time to see his passing. When Death arrives to retrieve the pilot’s soul, he meets Liesel for the second time. Max is among the captives being paraded around Molching by the Nazis, and Liesel notices him there. Liesel informs Rudy where Max has been kept. She had never previously told anybody.

Liesel receives a blank notebook from the mayor’s wife so she may start crafting her tale. Liesel is working on her manuscript in the basement one evening when her neighborhood is bombarded. The remaining neighbors, including Hans, Rosa, and Rudy, are also slaughtered. Liesel discovers Rudy’s body in the wreckage after being rescued, and she gives him the kiss he always desired. She leaves behind “The Book Thief,” her completed novel, as the workers remove her. Death saves the book after keeping watch. Liesel moves in with the mayor’s wife and family. Max returns to Molching after the liberation of the death camps, where he meets Liesel. Together, they cry and cuddle. After reaching adulthood, Liesel relocates to Australia, where she settles down, has a family, and lives a long life. She is shown the book she penned so many years earlier by Death when he finally comes to claim her soul.


What is the main point of The Book Thief?

The main point of “The Book Thief” is to show the power of words and storytelling in times of darkness and how they can bring hope, connection, and humanity even in the midst of war and suffering.

Why is The Book Thief so sad?

“The Book Thief” is sad because it is set during World War II in Nazi Germany, a time of great suffering, loss, and hardship. The story follows the lives of characters who endure personal tragedies and face the brutality of the war, making it a profoundly sad and emotional read.

What does The Book Thief teach?

The novel teaches us about the power of words to connect people, provide solace during difficult times, and convey the human spirit’s resilience in the face of adversity. It also highlights the importance of empathy, friendship, and the impact of war on ordinary lives.

About the Author-Markus Zusak

Full NameMarkus Zusak
Date of BirthJune 23, 1975
Place of BirthSydney, New South Wales, Australia
EducationBachelor of Arts in English and History
Notable WorksThe Book Thief (2005)
GenreYoung Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Writing StyleLyrical and poetic writing style

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