The narrative is narrated on behalf of Death, an immortal male creature.
Prologue. Broken Rock Ridge
It is Death's duty to carry the souls of the dead to the conveyor belt of eternity, disregarding the living. But Death broke the rule and started following a girl he called "the book thief."
He met with her three times. The first time - when the girl's brother died, the second - when he came to get the soul of the crashed pilot, and the third - after the bombing. It was then, "on a ridge of broken rock," that the "book thief" lost the book she was writing about herself. Death preserved it and undertook to tell the girl's story.
Part 1. Instruction to the Gravedigger
Germany, January 1939. A woman was taking her son and daughter to her foster parents. The woman's missing husband had been associated with the Communists, and she was giving the children to strangers to hide them from the Nazi authorities.
On the way, the boy died of a pulmonary hemorrhage. He was buried near an unnamed station. One of the gravediggers lost the book. A girl, Liesel Meminger, picked it up and became a "book thief."
An official from the state guardianship took Liesel to the town of Molking on Himmel Strasse (Heaven Street) and gave her to her foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Rosa was short, fat, and perpetually foul-mouthed. She did the laundry for the rich men of Molking. The very tall Hans worked as a house painter, and in the evenings he played the accordion in the pubs. The Hubermans had already raised their own son and daughter and were now taking in foster children for a small allowance.
The foster parents told Liesel to call them Mama and Papa. The girl was afraid of her mother, though she loved her in her own way, but she became attached to Papa at once. At night the girl dreamed of her dead brother, and the kind, quiet Hans saved her from nightmares.
Non-abandonment is a manifestation of trust and love, often recognized by children.
Upon entering school, nine-year-old Liesel was placed in a class of toddlers because she could not read or write. One night Liesel had another nightmare and wet the bed. As Papa was helping her change the sheets, a gravedigger's book, a memory of her mother and brother, fell out from under the mattress. Liesel learned that the book was called "Gravedigger's Instructions" and told her how to bury people properly.
After seeing the book, Hans decided to help Liesel learn to read. At first they wrote the letters on the back of sandpaper at night. Then in the evenings in the basement, with paint on the walls.
Next door to the Hubermans lived Rudy Steiner, a boy from a large family of tailors, "obsessed with the black American athlete Jesse Owens. One day "Rudy got coal drenched and came to the local stadium one night to run the hundred-meter race."
When Liselle was transferred to a class of her peers, Rudy became her best friend. Unlike the other boys, Rudy liked girls, especially Liselle, and he took to looking after her.
The only thing worse than a boy who hates you is a boy who loves you.
Liesel swore she would never kiss the yellow-haired, ugly Rudy in her life.
All summer Liesel learned to read, but she was bad at it, and they thought she was stupid at school. In the fall, World War II broke out, and Liesel failed her reading test. After class, the children began to make fun of her, and the girl beat up two boys, for which she was named "heavyweight champion of the schoolyard."
Part 2. Shrugging Shoulders
The Hubermans were barely making ends meet. One by one, the wealthy refused Mama's services. Rosa told Liesel to collect and carry the laundry alone, hoping that the pallor and thinness of the girl would appease her clients.
In mid-January 1940, Liesel's class was learning to write letters, and the girl decided to write to her real mother. She wrote several letters and took without asking for "laundry," money to send through the lady from Social Security, for which Rosa spanked her with a wooden spoon. Liesel never got a reply. From an overheard conversation with the Hubermans, the girl learned that her mother had been taken by "them."
On April 20, 1940, Hitler's birthday was celebrated. A huge bonfire of old things and "harmful" books was made in Molking. On this day Hans had an argument with his son. Hubermann was not a supporter of Hitler and was not a member of the party, for which he was rebuked by his fascist son.
It is clear to anyone that there is no use painting over the dirty words written on the facades of the Jewish benches. Such behavior harms Germany and harms the renegade himself.
After calling his father a coward, and expressing his displeasure that Liselle was reading some nonsense instead of Hitler's My Struggle, the son left. Death reported that two years later he died in the Battle of Stalingrad.
In the evening, as the fire in the square burned out, Liesel, who was walking past with the Pope, saw several surviving books in its glowing depths. Seizing a moment, she hid one of them, A Shrug of the Shoulders, under her clothes and suddenly noticed that Frau Herman, the half-crazed governor's wife, to whom Rosa was doing her laundry, was watching her.
Part 3. My Struggle
The smoldering book burned her skin, so Liesel took it out as soon as she and Papa stepped away from the fire. The girl's act and her son's last words helped Hans resolve a dilemma that had plagued him for a year. At the local branch of the Nazi Party, he traded a book of Adolf Hitler's My Struggle for tobacco and walked out, pondering the postage costs.
Liesel lived in fear of Frau Ilse Hermann, but she still had to pick up her laundry.
Paranoia at eleven is rampant. Forgiveness at eleven is intoxicating.
One day Frau Hermann invited her into the house and took her to a room full of books. Liesel had no idea that such a room could exist.
Death went on to tell of a Jew, Max Vandenburg, who had been hiding in a dark closet for a long time and starved brutally. Finally, a friend, Walter Kugler, brought him a book, My Struggle, in which he enclosed false documents, a map of the area, and a key, and gave him the name, Hans Hubermann. Max boarded the train and went to Molking. Along the way, he shielded himself with the Führer's book like a shield.
Summer came. At night Liesel read The Shrugging of Shoulders, and during the day she read books from the Burgomaster's library. The girl accidentally learned that Frau Hermann had become broken and half-crazy because of the death of her only son.
Liesel and Rudy were accepted into a gang of garden and orchard robbers led by fifteen-year-old Arthur Berg. Business went well, but the friends couldn't bring their share home and ate everything themselves.
At the end of the summer Arthur moved to Cologne. Death saw him there with his dead sister in his arms.
On a November night, Max opened the door of the house on Himmel Strasse with his key.
Part 4. The Hanging Man
While fighting in World War I, Hans met Eric Vandenburg, who taught him how to play the accordion. Before another battle, the sergeant was looking for men with neat handwriting. Eric claimed that Hans' handwriting was impeccable, and he wrote letters while the platoon was dying. Thus Eric saved Huberman's life.
After the war, Hans visited Vandenburg's widow and learned that he had a son, Max. The widow gave Hans Eric's accordion and Hubermann left her his address. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Hans did not join the Nazi Party because a Jew had saved his life.
In 1937, Hans gave up and applied to join the party and the next day painted a yellow star on the door of a Jew he knew. The application went to the end of a long line, but it was there nonetheless, and Hans was not taken away like many other "dissenters."
In 1939, Walter Kugler found Hans and asked him to help Max. Huberman did not refuse and traded the Führer's book for tobacco.
Unlike most Jews, patient and compliant, Max was a brawler. After Eric's death, Max's mother moved in with her brother. The constant fights with the nine cousins became good school for Max.
On November 9, 1938, the largest Jewish pogrom, Kristallnacht, took place. Max was persuaded by his mother to run away and gave him Huberman's address. Max began to consider himself a traitor and a deserter. For two years Walter hid Max in a closet, and it broke the twenty-four-year-old boy.
The Hubermans hid Max in the basement.
Imagine what it would be like to smile after getting slapped. Now imagine what it's like to have twenty-four hours in a day. That's what it was like to hide a Jew.
Daddy told Liesel his story and explained: if she told anyone about the guest, he and Mama would be taken away, but before he did, he would burn all her books. The girl promised to keep quiet.
A frosty winter came. Max slept in a room by the fireplace and told stories about himself in the evenings. Liesel discovered that Max also had nightmares about his dead family. This became the basis of their friendship.
For her birthday Papa gave the girl a book. Max couldn't give her anything, but Liesel hugged him, and it became a gift for the Jew. He painted the pages of the Führer's book with white paint and made it into a book for Liesel called The Hanging Man. It was a series of drawings illustrating Max's introduction to the girl.
Part 5. Whistleblower
At the end of May, Max returned to the basement and took up gymnastics - doing push-ups and squats. Sometimes he turned out the lamp and imagined himself in a boxing ring with Hitler. At first he tolerated being beaten by the Führer, but then he began to win, and then the whole German people pounced on him. Max told Liesel that he was waiting for the Führer, so he started training.
When German troops invaded Russia, the burgomaster urged the people of Molking to "prepare for possible hard times," and he himself refused Rosa's services. As a parting gift, Frau Hermann gave Liesel her favorite book, The Whistler. The girl took it, but then thought that the Burgomaster was a rare bastard: despite the hard times, he had refused the poor family a job. Liesel threw the book at Frau Hermann's feet and scolded her.
The apples were ripe, it was time to steal. Victor Hemmel became the leader of the gang.
He had wind in his hair and mist in his eyes, and he was the kind of juvenile delinquent who had no other reason to steal except that he liked it.
Victor was a sadist and a supporter of Hitler. It had been a bad year, and on the first day the friends got one small apple for two. Rudy tried to object, but Victor choked him and then chased him away. As he left, the boy spat bloody saliva on his shoe and gained an enemy. Rudy also had another enemy: Franz Deutscher, the sadistic leader of the Nazi youth organization Hitler Youth.
At the end of the summer, Liesel offered to break into the Burgomaster's house. She knew that the window in the library was always open - with the cold, Frau Hermann punished herself for not keeping her son safe. The perpetually hungry Rudy was interested in food. "The Book Thief" only wanted a Whistleblower book, and she got it.
Rudy stopped going to the Hitler Youth. The only thing that brought him back to the organization was the opportunity to change squads.
At the beginning of December, Liselle and Rudy were caught by Victor Hemmel. The girl had a Whistleblower in her hands. Victor snatched the book from her and threw it into the river. Rudy fished "Whistleblower" out of the cold water, hoping for a kiss, but he never got one.
Part 6. Dream Postman
Throughout 1942 Death worked hard, and the war drew closer and closer to Molking. In the winter, the thirteen-year-old Liesel had brought snow into the basement so that Max could make a snowman, which made him sick and he spent many weeks between life and death.
Liesel blamed herself and tried to help Max. She brought him gifts - a withered leaf, a button, a wrapper - and spent hours reading aloud "The Whistler." One day Death came to Max, but the Jewish brawler rebuffed him. Death rejoiced and retreated.
"Whistleblower" was over. Liesel needed a new book, and she got one from Frau Hermann's library. The book was called "The Dream Postman," and Liesel proceeded to read it aloud to Max while her parents wondered where to put his body in the event of his death.
A Jewish corpse is a big nuisance.
But Max survived and returned to the basement in mid-April.
In the spring, party members began to go around the houses and look for basements suitable for bomb shelters. Liesel spotted them when she was playing soccer. She hurt her knee on purpose so she could call out to Papa and warn him without arousing suspicion. Max managed to hide in his hiding place under the stairs.
Part 7. Duden's Complete Dictionary and Thesaurus
Hans Hubermann got a job repainting blinds black. For the poor, Hans worked for a cup of tea or half a cigarette. While Liesel was helping the Pope, Rudy was training. In mid-August, the Hitlerjugend held a sports festival, and the boy wanted to win four running events and rub Franz Deutscher's nose in it.
Rudi won three medals, but in the 100-meter dash he made sure he was disqualified for rule violations. He didn't have the strength to run, and he didn't want to lose. Rudi's fake gold medals were given to Liselle. The boy was recognized as an outstanding athlete.
At the end of August, Book Thief stole a new book from Frau Hermann. A week later, Rudy brought her to the burgomaster's house and showed her the book propped against the library window. It was either a challenge or a trap. Liesel took a chance and got the book-the Complete Duden Dictionary and Thesaurus-and in it, a letter from Frau Hermann. She knew the girl was stealing books, was happy about it, and hoped that someday Liesel would enter her library through the door.
The bombings began. The Hubermans hid in a neighbor's basement, leaving Max alone. One day during the raid, to prevent panic, Liesel began reading aloud the Whistler she had taken with her, and people calmed down. After hearing about this, Max conceived of a new series of drawings called "The Word-Sweeper."
The next day, Frau Holzapfel, who had feuded with Mama for years and spit on the door of the house as she passed by, showed up at the Hubermans' house. She wanted Liesel to read to her twice a week for coffee cards, and Rosa agreed.
Two weeks later, a column of Jews passed through Molking.
They were on their way to Dachau - to concentrate.
Papa gave a piece of bread to an old Jewish man, and both were beaten with a lash. Now my parents were waiting for the Gestapo to take them away. Because of this, Max had to leave the Hubermans. Hans was never taken away, and his conscience tormented him that a Jew might suffer because of him.
Part 8. The Word-Sweeper
Instead of Hubermann, they came for Rudy. The Nazis wanted to take him to a special school where the perfect breed of human beings was bred, but Alex Steiner would not give his son away. Although Rudi was afraid for his father, he still wanted to go to that school, but he didn't dare.
Punishment soon followed. Hans Hubermann was hastily accepted into the party, and then he and Alex Steiner were sent to the front.
When someone comes to you and asks you to give up one of your children, <...> you have to answer yes.
Tailor Alex Steiner ended up in a hospital near Vienna, where he mended soldiers' uniforms. Hans was sent to the LSE, a passive air defense unit whose soldiers put out fires and rescued people from under rubble after air raids.
Reading for Frau Holzapfel became Liesel's only pastime. Columns of Jews passed through Molking several times, and the girl looked for Max among them. One day Rudy and Liesel scattered bread in the path of the column. The exhausted prisoners began to pick it up, the guards noticed the children, and they barely escaped.
After another raid, during which Liesel calmed people down by reading, Mother gave her a book of Max's drawings. There was a tale there about a Führer who wanted to conquer the world with bad words. He was thwarted by a little girl, the Word Fighter, who planted and grew a tree of good words.
Part 9. The Last Human Stranger
Sneaking into Frau Herman's library after Christmas for another book, Liesel found a plate of cookies on the table. She took the book "The Last Human Stranger" and thanked the burgomaster's wife, who entered the room at that moment. Liesel shared the cookies with Rudy, and the dish was returned to Frau Hermann by ringing the front doorbell.
The truck in which Hans's unit was being transported had had an accident, Hubermann had broken his leg, and had been sent home. This glad tidings Liesel received a week after her fourteenth birthday.
Soon a plane crashed near Molking. Everyone ran to look at the dead pilot. Death saw and recognized Liselle, and the girl felt him near her.
The human heart is a line, whereas mine is a circle, and I am infinitely able to get to the right place at the right moment.
In early April 1943, Hans returned home. He was given a week's leave and a paperwork job at the Munich military office.
Part 10. Book Thief
Hitler persistently "sowed war" and exterminated the "Jewish contagion." One day Liesel saw Max in a column of Jews marching through Molking. The girl joined the crowd of prisoners and walked beside them. She was chased, dragged away, and then whipped along with Max.
For three days Liselle lay in bed, and on the fourth she took Rudy into the woods, told him about Max, and showed him the Word-Sweeper.
She longed for him to pull her by the arm and draw her to him. It didn't matter where. On her lips, on her neck, on her cheek. Her whole skin was empty for him, waiting for him.
But Rudy didn't dare.
In mid-August Liesel went to Frau Hermann for a new book, but she thought it was all the fault of the words Hitler had so deftly manipulated, and tore it up. The girl then wrote to Frau Hermann why she would not come again.
Frau Hermann came to the Hubermans herself and gave Liselle a book without words. She read the letter and decided that the girl could fill it in with words herself. From then on, Liesel sat in the basement at night and wrote on the lined pages of the story "The Book Thief."
During the air raid, of which there were no sirens or radio warnings, Liesel also sat in the basement, which is why she survived. The entire Himmel Strasse died before they could wake up, and Death took their souls.
Liesel was rescued by the LSE people. For the first and last time, she kissed Rudy, put the accordion beside Papa, and sat beside her for a long time, holding Mama's hand. The book that saved Liselle's life went to Death.
Epilogue. The Last Paint
Liesel was taken in by Ilse Hermann. After the funeral, Alex Steiner returned to Maulking, who wished he had sent Rudy to a special school. After the war, he opened his own workshop, Liesel helped him. It was there that Max found her in October 1945.
Liselle lived a long life and died in the suburbs of Sydney, leaving her husband, three children and grandchildren. Coming for Liselle, Death gave her "The Book Thief"-the words in the book were almost faded from time and road.