The Book Thief Summary and Analysis
by Markus Zusak
DEATH'S DIARY: 1942
Death dryly comments on some of the devastation of World War II, such as the Jews incinerated in Nazi extermination camps and the poorly-armed Russian soldiers being slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands on the Eastern Front. Death likens war to a demanding boss.
In late 1941, Liesel is 13. On Christmas, she brings pots of snow down to the basement for Max, and they build a snowman, lifting Max's spirits greatly. Soon after, though, Max's health deteriorates, and in mid-February 1942, he collapses, unconscious. He is placed in Liesel's room.
Five days later, Max awakes very briefly. Death remarks that it actually visited the room when Liesel was absent and prepared to take Max's soul, but felt a struggle and withdrew. A week later, Max briefly awakes again. Hans suggests that Liesel read to Max, so Liesel starts reading him The Whistler.
While playing soccer, the ball is run over by a car, and Liesel takes it to Max as a gift. She brings Max further presents: a pinecone, a toy soldier, newspapers, etc. At one point Liesel sees a giant cloud and Hans suggests that she give it to Max by writing down a description of it. Liesel finishes The Whistler, but Max remains comatose.
FRESH AIR, AN OLD NIGHTMARE, AND WHAT TO DO WITH A JEWISH CORPSE
Liesel and Rudy decide to steal from the mayor's house again. Liesel sneaks in and takes a red book called The Dream Carrier. Death hints that Ilsa keeps her library window open so that Liesel can steal books. At home, Liesel starts reading the book to Max.
In mid-March Liesel overhears Hans and Rosa discussing what to do with Max's corpse should he die. Liesel insists that Max is not dead yet. That night Liesel has a nightmare about her brother, except this time she sees Max's face on her brother's body.
Eight days later Rosa enters Liesel's classroom and yells at her, then whispers to her that Max is awake. Rosa gives her the toy soldier, which Max said was his favorite. That afternoon Liesel sees Max awake with the soccer ball on his lap. Max is happy about the gifts, and Liesel continues reading to him in his convalescence.
DEATH'S DIARY: COLOGNE
On May 30, 500 people die in the first major bombing raid against a Germany city. Death says the sky was yellow, "like burning newspaper." A group of young children see empty fuel canisters floating down and collect them.
Nazi Party members go door to door inspecting basements to identify possible air raid shelter locations. Liesel, who is out on the street playing soccer, sees them and wonders how to go home and tell Hans without seeming suspicious. Liesel accidentally collides with another boy, and Rudy runs to get Hans, who carries Liesel home. Before Hans and Rosa have a chance to figure out how to hide Max, who has since been hidden again in the basement, the party members arrive. They inspect the basement alone, find nothing, and leave. Hans, Rosa, and Liesel go downstairs and find Max hiding behind the drop sheets holding a pair of rusty scissors. He apologizes.
Rudy knocks on the door and asks to see Liesel to check up on her. He teases her for being a thief and smelling like cigarettes, and she shuts the door on him.
DEATH'S DIARY: THE PARISIANS
Death describes the desperation of those trapped inside gas chambers. Death says that it invokes the name of God whenever it tries to understand the gas chambers. God never says anything. Death describes its desolation on June 23, 1942, the first day of operation at the gas gambers in Auschwitz.
Death frames Part Six with three sections of dark commentary about the growing devastation of World War II. The bombing of Cologne, a major German city, and the blood-soaked Eastern Front against the USSR indicate Nazi Germany's steadily weakening position. Along with the introduction of gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp, these historical events foreshadow the devastation soon to reach the fictional town of Molching. When the Nazis inspect the Hubermanns' basement for a possible bomb shelter location, the fear that they will discover a hidden Jew overshadows the important indication that Allied bombing raids have become a real threat all across the German heartland.
Liesel's small acts of kindness and devotion towards Max illustrate the loving bond that has developed between the two. Max has in a way morphed into a surrogate for Liesel's dead brother, and Liesel's desperate fight to keep Max alive is one indication of the development of her character: Liesel is four years older now, and while she has not yet hit puberty, she has noticeably matured both intellectually and emotionally.
The Hubermanns' noble desperation to keep Max alive and hidden from the Nazis is a remarkable contrast to the horrors taking place in Germany's death camps. Death's description of the gas chamber is particularly wretching, and the consummately cynical narrator seems to break down emotionally. Notably, Death says the name of God while thinking about the Holocaust. The metaphysics and theology of Death (the character) and dying are not explained in the novel. Death's relationship to God -- or to any other spiritual being, for that matter -- is also ambiguous. To Death, "God never says anything," and to where Death delivers human souls is not explained. As Death carries away the souls from Auschwitz, it again tries to distract itself with colors: the sky turns from "silver to gray to the color of rain," and Death imagines the sky past that, "knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye." The notion that God was "absent" during the death of six million Jews -- God's "chosen people" -- is an enduring theological controversy. Death's frustration in receiving no response or comfort from God echoes this idea, and the "giant blue eye" hidden by the dark clouds over Auschwitz is symbolic of God.
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
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