Death narrates this story, which opens with the passing of
six-year-old Werner Meminger on a train in 1939. He leaves behind his mother and
nine-year-old sister, Liesel, the book thief.
The two children were on their way to a foster home with Hans and Rosa Hubermann
in Molching, near Munich Ė and Dachau. Liesel arrives at the Hubermannsí alone,
bereft of brother and mother. A copy of The Grave Diggerís Handbook is hidden in
her suitcase. The book, stolen from the cemetery where her brother was buried,
is all that she has left of her family.
Despite its grim beginning, The Book Thief ultimately focuses less on loss and
more on the gift of human connection. The Hubermanns live on Himmel Ė or Heaven
Ė Street. For Liesel, life on Himmel Street becomes a taste of heaven she
carries a lifetime.
Her rough foster father has angered the local Nazi Party, which refuses to
accept him as a member. As a result, his painting jobs are disappearing. Rosa
Hubermann is an angry woman as quick with a humiliating curse as she is a
stinging wooden spoon. Her rage grows as customer after customer falls away when
times grow harder. Rudy Steiner, the boy next door, welcomes Liesel to the
neighborhood with a mud-filled snowball in the face when she deflects one of his
usually unstoppable soccer kicks.
Yet, itís Hans who soothes Liesel through nightmares by reading aloud to her. He
ultimately teaches her to read, first by drawing letters with a thick painterís
pencil on sandpaper and later in paint on the basement walls. Rosa opens her
basement and food coupon books to Max Vandenburg, son of a Jewish man who had
taught Hans how to play the accordion and saved his life in World War I.
Rudy becomes her best friend, partner in book and other essential thefts and
defender from teachers and neighborhood children. Max, who has nothing, creates
a story book from pages of Hitlerís Mein Kampf, coated in white house paint and
written in black as a gift to Liesel. Liesel, who has nothing, brings Max
discarded newspaper crossword puzzles. When Max falls ill and goes into a coma,
Liesel brings him a daily gift Ė a stone, a leaf, a written description of a
cloud she saw.
The Book Thief is a story of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary times.
Some do so with great generosity of soul, others with expediency and desire for
personal gain. Whether deserving or not, the privations and bombs of war fall on
them all. Some survive. Some donít.
The lucky ones are those who have managed to steal a piece of each otherís