The Book Thief is a novel by Australian author Markus Zusak.Narrated by Death, the book is set in Nazi Germany, a place and time when the narrator notes he was extremely busy. It describes a young girl’s relationship with her foster parents, the other residents of their neighborhood, and a Jewish fist-fighter who hides in her home during the escalation of World War II. Published in 2006, it has won numerous awards and was listed on the The New York Times Best Seller list for over 230 weeks.
- Liesel Meminger: (born February 1928) The protagonist of the story, she is an adopted girl on the verge of adolescence with blond hair that “was a close enough brand of German blonde” and dark brown eyes. She is fostered by the Hubermanns when her father “abandons” their family and her mother is forced to give her up for adoption. Her younger brother, Werner, dies on the way to the Hubermann household. She is very close to her foster father, Hans Hubermann, and has a rough but loving relationship with her foster mother, Rosa. She befriends Max, the Jew whom the Hubermanns are hiding, as well as the mayor’s wife, who allows Liesel to read, borrow, and “steal” books from her home library. She also befriends the other children of Himmel Street, among them Rudy Steiner, who becomes her best friend. Despite her many refusals to Rudy’s requests for a kiss, her love for him is clear, as seen by the lustful nature of some of her fantasies of him. Liesel finally grants Rudy’s much-awaited kiss as he lies dead among the ruins of Himmel Street. In the last few chapters, it is mentioned that Liesel eventually married and had several children and grandchildren.
- Hans Hubermann: Liesel’s foster father. He works as a painter and enjoys smoking cigarettes. Originally, he served in the German army during World War I. During the war, Hans is the only survivor of his company because he is chosen to stay behind while the other soldiers are sent off on a mission where all of them die. In the Holocaust era, he does not agree with the Nazi party, but is forced to join, and is, upon being accepted into the Nazi party, drafted into the German army in order to protect his livelihood and his family. He is described as having silvery-grey eyes and being very tall, although despite this he is described as being very capable of blending in with the crowd. He was taught the piano accordion by Max’s father Erik Vandenburg, a friend from the army (who saved Hans’ life), and he occasionally performs in pubs to make extra money. He becomes very close to Liesel, as he calms her after her nightmares of her brother dying, and teaches her to read. However, he has a falling-out with his actual son, Hans Jr., because of his son’s support of the Nazis. Hans Hubermann is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.
- Rosa Hubermann: She is Liesel’s foul-mouthed, often aggravating, foster mother. She is very short, with an extremely wrinkled face, and has browny-grey ‘elastic’ hair often tied up in a bun, and ‘chlorinated’ eyes. To supplement the household income, she does washing and ironing for five of the wealthier households in Molching. However, as the war causes economic problems, she loses her jobs one by one, the last being at the Hermann household. She has a quick temper, rules the household with an iron fist, and is known for straightening out previous foster children; however, though she often swears at Liesel, she cares very much for her. She has two children of her own, Trudy and Hans Jr. Rosa Hubermann is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.
- Rudy Steiner: (born June 1927) He is Liesel’s neighbor. He is eight months older than Liesel and is described as having bony legs, sharp teeth, blue eyes, and lemon-colored hair. Despite being the German ideal (blond hair and blue eyes), he does not support the Nazis. As part of a household with six children, Rudy is permanently hungry. He is known throughout the neighborhood due to the “Jesse Owens incident” in which he painted himself with charcoal one night and ran one hundred meters at the local sporting field. He is academically and athletically gifted, which attracts the attention of the Nazi Party, who come to recruit him, and when he doesn’t come, they take his father, Alex Steiner. He also gets into trouble at the Hitler Youth due to his smart mouth, rebellious nature, and their vindictive group leader. Rudy becomes Liesel’s best friend, often accompanying her on her adventures and talking her through her problems. He also teases her, regularly (though always unsuccessfully) asking her for a kiss mostly after he has helped her to accomplish something – for instance when one of Liesel’s books (and most prized possession) is thrown into a river, he rescues it. Rudy is killed in the Himmel Street bombing; Liesel finally grants him a kiss as he lies dead in the street.
- Max Vandenburg: He is a Jewish fist-fighter whom the Hubermanns stow away in their home and the son of a WWI German fighter who fought with Hans Hubermann. He is described as having feather-like hair and swampy brown eyes. Max’s father saved Hans’ life in WWI and when visiting his widow, Hans gave her his address and told her if she needed anything to be in contact. Many years later when the Nazi’s began their reign of terror, Max’s mother calls upon Hans for help. Max’s friend travels to Himmel Street to ask Hans to shelter Max, which, remembering the friendship he shared with Max’s father and the promise he made all those years ago, he does. Max befriends Liesel due to their shared affinity for nightmares and words, and he writes two books for her and presents her with a sketchbook that contains his life story. He is taken away by the German Gestapo to a concentration camp, but manages to return to Molching after the war and is united with Liesel at the end of the novel.
- Tommy Müller: He is a friend of Rudy Steiner and Liesel. A hearing problem, due to being stranded in the snow, caused him to have multiple ear surgeries. One failed, causing nerve damage that makes him twitch. As a result, he is frequently made fun of by his classmates and later punished by the head of the Hitler Youth when he is unable to obey commands promptly. Tommy is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.
- Ilsa Hermann: She is the wife of the mayor of Molching. They had a son, Johannes Hermann, who was killed in Russia. Rosa and Liesel do their washing and ironing for a time; eventually the bad economy forces the Hermanns to fire them, which causes an argument with Liesel. However, despite this, Ilsa allows Liesel to continue visiting and read books in the large library in her home. Ilsa fosters Liesel after she survives the Himmel Street bombing.
- Frau Holtzapfel: A neighbor of the Hubermanns, she originally is an object of Rosa’s hatred because she always spits on the Hubermann’s door due to an old feud between the families that both sides have forgotten the reason for. However, she eventually asks Liesel to read to her after she heard her read one of her books, stopping her spitting and giving the Hubermanns her coffee rations in return. Of her two sons, Robert died on the battlefield while his elder brother Michael committed suicide a few months later because of his guilt at “wanting to live.” Frau Holtzapfel is killed in the Himmel Street bombing.
- Death: The narrator of the book throughout the story, Death is sympathetic to humankind and dislikes all of the despair and destruction brought upon humans by war, which is different from a belief that Death is friends with War. He comments on the thoughts, morals, and actions of humanity throughout the story while keeping a close eye on Liesel, even though at the beginning of the story he states that it was stupid for him to follow her. At the end of the book, he takes Liesel’s story and carries it with him everywhere. He frequently likes to describe the colours of things, and has sympathy with the humans whose souls he carries, as revealed in the book’s final line, “I am haunted by humans”. He does not seem to have any control over life and death, frequently calling upon God with ‘I don’t understand’ and answering himself with ‘but it’s not your job to’. Death says that he has a ‘circular’ heartbeat, making him immortal, though he says that he looks like a human, and acts like a human most of the time. He is tired of his job and wants a vacation, but cannot take one because there would be nobody to replace him. While many people find Death devastating, Death is, in many ways, humorous and sarcastic.
- Hubermann Family:
- Hans (father)
- Rosa (mother)
- Liesel (foster daughter)
- Hans Jr. (son)
- Trudy (daughter)
- Steiner Family
- Alex (father)
- Barbra (mother)
- Kurt (son)
- Rudy (son)
- Annemarie (daughter)
- Karin (daughter)
- Emma (daughter)
- Bettina (daughter)
The Book Thief is an upcoming American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, directed by Brian Percival and screenplay by Michael Petroni. The film stars Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch, and Joachim Paul Assböck.
It’s difficult to say whether telling the story of the Holocaust from a child’s perspective dampens the horror of it, or makes it all the more worse, but character studies of children who lived at the time have been done many times both in film and the page. Such examples include Life is Beautiful, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and the multiple adaptations of The Diary of Anne Frank, and now an adaptation of Marcus Zusak’s award-winning novel The Book Thief is coming to the big screen, from Downton Abbey director Brian Percival.
The Book Thief centers around a young girl called Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) who is sent to live with new adoptive parents (played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) in Germany, just before the start of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Liesel steals her first book before she even knows how to read, but is taught by her adoptive father and eventually goes on to rescue another volume from a book burning. Her parents also take in a Jewish man called Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is forced to hide in their basement lest he be caught and sent to a concentration camp.
- Sophie Nélisse as Liesel Meminger
- Geoffrey Rush as Hans Hubermann
- Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann
- Ben Schnetzer as Max Vandenburg
- Nico Liersch as Rudy Steiner
- Joachim Paul Assböck as SS Officer
- Sandra Nedeleff as Sarah
- Hildegard Schroedter as Frau Becker
- Rafael Gareisen as Walter Kugler
- Gotthard Lange as Grave digger
- Godehard Giese as Policeman on train
- Book Review : The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (spmenon.wordpress.com)