The Book Thief Summary and Analysis
by Markus Zusak
THE WAY HOME
Liesel shows Hans the book she stole from the book burning, The Shoulder Shrug. Hans examines it and becomes worried about its content and the political repercussions of Liesel's act. Hans asks Liesel if she will keep a secret for him should he ask, and Liesel promises yes. Later, Hans purchases a copy of Mein Kampf from the Nazi Party office and overhears party officials saying that Hans' application to join the party will never be approved.
THE MAYOR'S LIBRARY
Liesel becomes anxious and paranoid because Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife, had seen her steal the book. Rosa forces Liesel to deliver laundry to Ilsa's home, and so she goes with Rudy. Liesel is relieved when Ilsa, noticing Rudy, merely takes the laundry and says nothing.
A few weeks later, Liesel returns to the mayor's house to pick up laundry. Unusually, Ilsa beckons Liesel inside. Ilsa brings Liesel into her home library stocked with books. Excited, Liesel runs her hands along the shelves. She helps Ilsa put away a stack of books then awkwardly departs, laundry in hand. On her way home, Liesel wonders why she said nothing to even thank Ilsa for showing her the library and decides to run back. This time the mayor Heinz Hermann answers the door, and Liesel stammers then awkwardly says "thank you" and leaves.
ENTER THE STRUGGLER
The setting changes to Stuttgart, where a starving Jew named Max Vandenburg is hiding alone in a storage room. A friend enters briefly and gives Max some food and a book secretly containing a card, map, key, and directions. The friend promises to return in a few days. Max is to travel to the home of a stranger, Hans Hubermann.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF SUMMER
In the summer of 1940 Liesel and Hans read The Shoulder Shrug, a book banned because its protagonist is a Jew. Ilsa begins allowing Liesel to read in her library during deliveries. On one such occasion, Liesel finds the name "Johann Hermann" written on a book cover. Johann was Ilsa's son who died in 1918, the final year of World War I; Ilsa says he froze to death. Ilsa still suffers because of her son's death, and Liesel tells her, "I'm sorry."
Food is scarce for both Rudy and Liesel's families, and one day they see an older boy, Fritz Hammer, eating an apple. They follow him to a group of four boys led by a 15-year-old thief, Arthur Berg. The boys recognize Liesel for beating up Ludwig Schmeikl and Rudy for the Jesse Owens incident. The boys let Liesel and Rudy come along to steal apples and tell them that if they get caught on the guard fence they will be left behind. Afterwards, Rudy and Liesel receive a dozen apples for their work and eat all of them. Liesel vomits later.
THE ARYAN SHOPKEEPER
Rudy and Liesel find a coin on the ground and buy from Frau Diller a single candy, which they take turns sucking on.
THE STRUGGLER, CONTINUED
The story of Max Vandenburg is resumed. Max's friend Walter Kugler returns to the storage room and says he is being shipped out in the army. Walter leaves a ticket and shaving materials. Nervous Max leaves his hiding place and boards a train with the book he was given earlier, Mein Kampf.
Rosa loses another laundry customer. Rudy and Liesel steal from more farms with Arthur Berg. One day, Liesel and Rudy rob a classmate named Otto Sturm who, every Friday, delivers goods to the church on his bicycle. Liesel and Rudy knock Otto off his bike and take the package, which contains eggs, bread, and a ham. They take the package to Arthur, who calls the rest of the boys and cooks the food. Liesel and Rudy return the empty basket to Otto. A few days later, Liesel and Rudy go stealing again but are confronted with an ax-wielding farmer. While making their escape, Rudy gets caught on the fence. The rest of the boys run, but Liesel and Arthur go back to help him despite Arthur saying earlier he wouldn't.
Later, Arthur moves to Cologne and gives Liesel and Rudy a bag of chestnuts as a parting gift. Death explains that Arthur lives through the war, but saw him once with his dying sister during a bombing raid.
THE STRUGGLER, CONTINUED
Max finally arrives at the Hubermanns' home.
Two important characters are developed in this part: Ilsa Hermann, the mayor's wife, and Max Vandenburg, a hiding Jew who arrives to live with the Hubermanns. Ilsa is a silent and mysterious woman who lives in sorrow over the death of her son. She takes a liking to Liesel and does not turn Liesel in for the political crime of stealing from a book burning, instead inviting Liesel to read from her massive library. It is unclear why the wife of a high ranking local political figure would act in this way, but the fact that her son froze to death at the end of World War I suggests that Ilsa, like Hans Hubermann, privately objects to Hitler and the Nazis' new war. While Max's character is not yet fully introduced, his appearance in this part injects the Holocaust prominently into the novel and adds an element of immediacy and mortal conflict to contrast with Liesel's comparably easy time in Molching in the middle of 1940.
Arthur Berg and his gang of thieves offer Rudy and Liesel another outlet for rebellion. By stealing from farms, they revolt against rationing restrictions and their families' economic circumstances. Arthur at first seems like a shady character, yet proves himself to be very generous and loyal to his fellow thieves. Arthur shows his compassion by helping Rudy flee the ax-wielding farmer despite having said earlier that anyone who is stuck on the fence would be left behind. Arthur Berg represents a glorious depiction of Communism. Arthur, who is poor himself, promotes the equitable redistribution of stolen goods among his comrades and shows a willingness to take the property of those with more food than he. (Note that the name of the boy who leads Liesel and Rudy to the gang is "Fritz Hammer"; the Soviet symbol is a hammer and sickle.) Yet the episode in which Liesel and Rudy steal from Otto Sturm is a surprisingly cruel one, and suggests at the darker side to this thievery. As Otto was delivering food to church, this scene may be a comment on the anti-religious policies of the U.S.S.R. and Marxist doctrine.
The Book Thief Essays and Related Content
- The Book Thief: Major Themes
- The Book Thief: Essays
- The Book Thief: Lesson Plan
- The Book Thief: Questions
- The Book Thief: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Markus Zusak: Biography
- The Book Thief Summary
- About The Book Thief
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Prologue
- Summary and Analysis of Part One
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two
- Summary and Analysis of Part Three
- Summary and Analysis of Part Four
- Summary and Analysis of Part Five
- Summary and Analysis of Part Six
- Summary and Analysis of Part Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Part Eight
- Summary and Analysis of Part Nine
- Summary and Analysis of Part Ten and Epilogue
- Notes on the Holocaust and Dachau
- Related Links on The Book Thief
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 5
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources