Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Page Count: 552
Publication Date: 2006
Category/Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.37)
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
*Questions are a mix from Rabbit Hole Blogger and the publisher. They may contain spoilers.
- Discuss the symbolism of Death as the omniscient narrator of the novel. What are Death’s feelings for each victim? Describe Death’s attempt to resist Liesel. Death states, “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.” What is ugly and beautiful about Liesel, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, Max Vandenburg, Rudy Steiner, and Mrs. Hermann? Why is Death haunted by humans?
- The Grave Digger’s Handbook is the first book Liesel steals. Why did she take the book? Describe Hans Hubermann’s reaction when he discovers the book. What does the act of book thievery teach Liesel about life and death? Explain Rudy’s reaction when he discovers that Liesel is a book thief. How does stealing books from the mayor’s house lead to a friendship with the mayor’s wife? Explain how Liesel’s own attempt to write a book saves her life.
- Liesel believes that Hans Hubermann’s eyes show kindness, and from the beginning, she feels closer to him than to Rosa Hubermann. Why is it so difficult for Rosa to demonstrate the same warmth toward Liesel? Discuss how Liesel’s relationship with Rosa changes by the end of the novel.
- Abandonment is a central theme in the novel. The reader knows that Liesel feels abandoned by her mother and by the death of her brother. How does she equate love with abandonment? At what point does she understand why she was abandoned by her mother? Who else abandons Liesel in the novel?
- Guilt is another recurring theme in the novel. Hans Hubermann’s life was spared in France during World War I, and Erik Vandenburg’s life was taken. Explain why Hans feels guilty about Erik’s death. Guilt is a powerful emotion that may cause a person to become unhappy and despondent. Discuss how Hans channels his guilt into helping others. Explain Max Vandenburg’s thought, “Living was living. The price was guilt and shame.” Why does he feel guilt and shame?
- Compare and contrast the lives of Liesel and Max Vandenburg. How does Max’s life give Liesel purpose? At what point do Liesel and Max become friends?
- Hans Junior, a Nazi soldier, calls his dad a coward because he doesn’t belong to the Nazi Party. He feels that you are either for Hitler or against him. How does it take courage to oppose Hitler? There isn’t one coward in the Hubermann household. Discuss how they demonstrate courage throughout the novel.
- Name some acts of resistance in the book, from large to small. What does the author intend with his inclusion of these acts?
- Discuss the meaning of Max painting over Mein Kampf. What is he able to express by doing this and by drawing over it, that he cannot convey in person?
- Describe Liesel’s friendship with Rudy. How does their friendship change and grow throughout the novel? Discuss why Liesel tells Mr. Steiner that she kissed Rudy’s dead body.
- From Hans to Liesel to the mayor’s wife, discuss how some of the characters in The Book Thief deal with their past. Discuss themes of memory and punishment.
- Who has power in this book? How does Liesel gain power, and how does Max? Toward the end of the novel Liesel remarks to herself that words give power. How so?
- Liesel Meminger lived to be an old woman. Death says that he would like to tell the book thief about beauty and brutality, but those are things that she had lived. How does her life represent beauty in the wake of brutality? Discuss how Zusak’s poetic writing style enhances the beauty of Liesel’s story.