The Book Thief Book Summary - The Book Thief Book explained in key points
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The Book Thief summary

Markus Zusak

A Historical Novel about Love, Loss and Resilience in Nazi Germany

4.5 (179 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a captivating story set in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death. It follows Liesel Meminger, a young girl who discovers the power of words and books amidst the horrors of war and finds solace in stolen stories.

Table of Contents

    The Book Thief
    Summary of 4 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 4

    Meet Liesel, one of contemporary literature’s most memorable protagonists

    Liesel Memminger is a book thief.

    The first book she steals is called The Gravedigger’s Handbook and she steals it from the cemetery where the body of her six-year-old brother Werner has just been buried.

    Two days earlier, Liesel, her mother, and Werner were on a train to Munich. Liesel is midway through a dream about Adolf Hitler, who is currently leader of the Nazi Party and the Chancellor of Germany. When she stirs, she sees that Werner, after a fit of coughing, has died. She spies Death as he leans down to take the boy away. 

    She takes The Gravedigger’s Handbook to Himmel Strasse – translation: Heaven Street – in Munich, where her mother leaves her with her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Himmel Street is far from heavenly. Liesel quickly learns that her father, a communist, has been jailed by the Nazi regime. Rosa is brusque and unaffectionate. Hans paints houses for a living and plays the piano accordion. In their own ways, Rosa and Hans both love Liesel. School is difficult and humiliating for Liesel who is not a natural student. And she misses her mother and brother terribly. The stolen book she keeps under her mattress feels like her only connection to them. Remember – Liesel is not a natural student. So she can’t read the book, only brush her hands over its cover.

    Time passes on Himmel Strasse. Liesel becomes best friends with her neighbor, Rudy Steiner, who might also secretly be in love with her. On nearby Schiller street, yellow stars appear in the windows of all the Jewish owned businesses. One night, after Hans discovers Liesel’s stolen book, he begins teaching his foster daughter to read. Liesel writes to her mother but receives no answer. She hears Hans and Rosa whispering about the “they” who have taken her mother away. War is declared in Europe.

    463 days pass between thefts. But a year and a half after the day in the cemetery, Liesel steals another book. It is April 20 1940, Hitler’s birthday. Hans’s son, Hans Junior, a committed Nazi pays his parents a visit. He is angry at his father for not being devoted enough to the Nazi party – in fact, Hans has been known to paint over slurs graffitied on Jewish shops. Tonight Hans Junior’s anger is piqued by Liesel, who is reading a novel. He yells that she should be reading Hitler’s biography, Mein Kampf. Later, Liesel dresses in her Hitler Youth uniform and goes to join a birthday rally, where a book burning is taking place. The crowd at the rally is violently excited and Liesel is scared. She realizes the “they” who took her mother are the Nazis. She steals a smoldering book from the ashy remains of the book pyre. It is called The Shoulder Shrug and under her coat it burns her skin.

    Analysis

    From its opening pages, The Book Thief is concerned with the power of reading, writing, and words to make the personal political and the political, personal. For Liesel, books are intensely personal: the first book she steals is a talisman that connects her with the memory of her dead brother and vanished mother. Over the course of the novel, Liesel will read books alone, and with others. She will have books written for her and she will write her own books. She will find that words have the power to articulate, and release, hidden and painful feelings. She will use words and literature to connect with other people in her life who are in the depths of grief or in mortal danger. 

    But The Book Thief is not a story that is afraid of nuance and ambiguity, and Zusak is quick to remind the reader that, just as words can be redemptive, they can also be harmful. Literature, for Liesel, awakens empathy and compassion; readers of Hitler’s biography Mein Kampf, however, are fed on words of fear and hate. Whether they are good or bad, in The Book Thief, words and stories are always potent.

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    What is The Book Thief about?

    The Book Thief (2006) is a story about a young girl living in Nazi Germany who makes her way in the world by stealing books. With Death as the narrator, it follows her coming of age in the most difficult of times and places. 

    The Book Thief Review

    The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak is a captivating novel set in Nazi Germany. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through the eyes of a young girl, it offers a unique perspective on the power of words and storytelling, highlighting the beauty even amidst darkness.
    • The book explores themes of love, compassion, and resilience, reminding readers of the strength of the human spirit even in the face of unimaginable cruelty.
    • Emotionally evocative and thought-provoking, this book allows readers to reflect on the true impact of literature and the importance of standing up against injustice.

    Who should read The Book Thief?

    • Fans of historical fiction
    • Lovers of tales full of emotion and humanity
    • Seekers of literary thrills

    About the Author

    Markus Zusak is a best-selling Australian author who has won numerous prizes and honors and has topped lists such as Amazon.com and the New York Times bestseller list. He is the author of six books and has been translated into languages around the world. 

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    The Book Thief FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Book Thief?

    The main message of The Book Thief is the power of words and the importance of kindness and compassion.

    How long does it take to read The Book Thief?

    The reading time for The Book Thief varies depending on the reader. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Book Thief a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Book Thief is a must-read. It is a beautifully written and thought-provoking novel filled with memorable characters and a captivating storyline.

    Who is the author of The Book Thief?

    The author of The Book Thief is Markus Zusak.

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