The Book Thief

The Book Thief

Reinforced Library Binding | March 14, 2006

byMarkus Zusak

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The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

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The Book Thief

Reinforced Library Binding | March 14, 2006
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From the Publisher

The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Mu...

Markus Zusak is the author of I Am the Messenger, a Printz Honor Book and Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist, and the international bestseller, The Book Thief, which has been translated into over thirty languages and has sold nine million copies around the world. He is the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for significant a...

interview with the author

JAB member, Bobby Hanson's Q&A with Markus Zusak author of The Book Thief

1. What influenced you to take on the daunting task of writing a story about World War II?

It was a world that felt real to me. When I was growing up, my parents told us stories in the kitchen, and my brother and sisters all knew about cities of fire, and about people who risked their lives to give others some bread as they were marched to concentration camps. It was those small moments that stayed with me and resulted in this book.

2. Authors often write stories that deal with Jewish citizens during the Holocaust; however it is rare to see the War through the perspective of a young German Girl. What influenced you to take on this unique point of view?

I guess that's just the side of the story I know. Like everybody else, I've grown up learning about Anne Frank and reading Schindler's Ark (then seeing Schindler's List) and The Pianist. What I also knew of was the small percentage of Germans who dared to defy Hitler, who hid Jewish people and other maligned minorities in their houses. Then, I also liked the idea of using death as the narrator. I felt like that hadn't been done before with this topic - but also that it made perfect sense. War and death go hand in hand, but what if death is afraid of us, because of all he sees us do to each other. That was the irony I needed to write the book, and it gave me the voice that excited me.

3. All of the characters in The Book Thief are so distinctly original. Were there any real life inspirations that some of these characters were modeled after?

Liesel is very loosely based on my mother, and Hans (her accordion-playing foster father) is based on her own father. Rosa (her foul-mouthed foster mother) is also based on the real person. I would say that there is perhaps ten percent of fact in the book, and ninety percent fiction. For the most part, I think any novelist should be proudest of the fictional parts - they're the sections that take the most work.

4. The Book Thief incorporates much more artistic aspects than most other novels. Artwork and poetic verses contribute immensely to the novels overall effect. Are you an artist or poet in addition to a writer, and if so does that have any influence on your writing?

I'm definitely not an artist or poet! I had an extremely talented illustrator, Trudy White, do the drawings in this book, and she was truly outstanding. In 550 pages, perhaps twenty or twenty-five are illustrated, but they really have a great effect. As for poetry, I make it a point not to write it. For a while there, I did, but I realised early enough that I had no talent for it. What I found in the process was that I liked to write prose that also contained the elements of poetry.

5. What do you hope youth will take away from your inspiring tale?

I just hope they love the characters. I'm not directly aiming to teach anything, but my goal for any reader is that they find the characters impossible to forget. When someone says, "I cried reading your book," I always say, "That's great," but not because they cried. It's because they cared enough about the characters to feel that way.

other books by Markus Zusak

I Am The Messenger
I Am The Messenger

Paperback|May 9 2006

$12.74 online$12.99list price
The Book Thief (anniversary Edition)
The Book Thief (anniversary Edition)

Hardcover|Mar 8 2016

$23.61 online$25.99list price(save 9%)
The Book Thief/i Am The Messenger Paperback Boxed Set
The Book Thief/i Am The Messenger Paperback Boxed Set

Paperback|Sep 23 2014

$21.19 online$27.98list price(save 24%)
see all books by Markus Zusak
Format:Reinforced Library BindingDimensions:560 pages, 8.5 × 5.96 × 1.69 inPublished:March 14, 2006Publisher:Random House Children's BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0375931007

ISBN - 13:9780375931000

Appropriate for ages: 9 - 12

Extra Content

Read from the Book

DEATH AND CHOCOLATEFirst the colors.Then the humans.That's usually how I see things.Or at least, how I try.***HERE IS A SMALL FACT  ***You are going to die.I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.***Reaction to the  ***AFOREMENTIONED factDoes this worry you?I urge you--don't be afraid.I'm nothing if not fair.--Of course, an introduction.A beginning.Where are my manners?I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.At that moment, you will be lying there (I rarely find people standing up). You will be caked in your own body. There might be a discovery; a scream will dribble down the air. The only sound I'll hear after that will be my own breathing, and the sound of the smell, of my footsteps.The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying?Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see--the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax.***A SMALL THEORY  ***People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.As I've been alluding to, my one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I've been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me? Who could step in while I take a break in your stock-standard resort-style vacation destination, whether it be tropical or of the ski trip variety? The answer, of course, is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious, deliberate decision--to make distraction my vacation. Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors.Still, it's possible that you might be asking, why does he even need a vacation? What does he need distraction from?Which brings me to my next point.It's the leftover humans.The survivors.They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors--an expert at being left behind.It's just a small story really, about, among other things:* A girl* Some words* An accordionist* Some fanatical Germans* A Jewish fist fighter* And quite a lot of thieveryI saw the book thief three times.BESIDE THE RAILWAY LINEFirst up is something white. Of the blinding kind.Some of you are most likely thinking that white is not really a color and all of that tired sort of nonsense. Well, I'm here to tell you that it is. White is without question a color, and personally, I don't think you want to argue with me.***A REASSURING ANNOUNCEMENT  ***Please, be calm, despite that previous threat.I am all bluster--I am not violent. I am not malicious.I am a result.Yes, it was white.It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it had pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater. Next to the train line, footprints were sunken to their shins. Trees wore blankets of ice.As you might expect, someone had died.They couldn't just leave him on the ground. For now, it wasn't such a problem, but very soon, the track ahead would be cleared and the train would need to move on.There were two guards.There was one mother and her daughter.One corpse.The mother, the girl, and the corpse remained stubborn and silent."Well, what else do you want me to do?"The guards were tall and short. The tall one always spoke first, though he was not in charge. He looked at the smaller, rounder one. The one with the juicy red face."Well," was the response, "we can't just leave them like this, can we?"The tall one was losing patience. "Why not?"And the smaller one damn near exploded. He looked up at the tall one's chin and cried, "Spinnst du! Are you stupid?!" The abhorrence on his cheeks was growing thicker by the moment. His skin widened. "Come on," he said, traipsing over the snow. "We'll carry all three of them back on if we have to. We'll notify the next stop."As for me, I had already made the most elementary of mistakes. I can't explain to you the severity of my self-disappointment. Originally, I'd done everything right:I studied the blinding, white-snow sky who stood at the window of the moving train. I practically inhaled it, but still, I wavered. I buckled--I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me, and I resigned myself to stay as long as my schedule allowed, and I watched.Twenty-three minutes later, when the train was stopped, I climbed out with them.A small soul was in my arms.I stood a little to the right.The dynamic train guard duo made their way back to the mother, the girl, and the small male corpse. I clearly remember that my breath was loud that day. I'm surprised the guards didn't notice me as they walked by. The world was sagging now, under the weight of all that snow.Perhaps ten meters to my left, the pale, empty-stomached girl was standing, frost-stricken.Her mouth jittered.Her cold arms were folded.Tears were frozen to the book thief's face.

Editorial Reviews

“Brilliant and hugely ambitious…Some will argue that a book so difficult and sad may not be appropriate for teenage readers…Adults will probably like it (this one did), but it’s a great young-adult novel…It’s the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, The Book Thief offers us a believable hard-won hope…The hope we see in Liesel is unassailable, the kind you can hang on to in the midst of poverty and war and violence. Young readers need such alternatives to ideological rigidity, and such explorations of how stories matter. And so, come to think of it, do adults.” -New York Times, May 14, 2006"The Book Thief is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic. Its grimness and tragedy run through the reader's mind like a black-and-white movie, bereft of the colors of life. Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's Night. It seems poised to become a classic." - USA Today"Zusak doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but he makes his ostensibly gloomy subject bearable the same way Kurt Vonnegut did in Slaughterhouse-Five: with grim, darkly consoling humor.” - Time Magazine"Elegant, philosophical and moving...Beautiful and important." - Kirkus Reviews, Starred"This hefty volume is an achievement...a challenging book in both length and subject..." - Publisher's Weekly, Starred "One of the most highly anticipated young-adult books in years."- The Wall Street Journal"Exquisitely written and memorably populated, Zusak's poignant tribute to words, survival, and their curiously inevitable entwinement is a tour de force to be not just read but inhabited."- The Horn Book Magazine, Starred"An extraordinary narrative."- School Library Journal, Starred"The Book Thief will be appreciated for Mr. Zusak's audacity, also on display in his earlier I Am the Messenger. It will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures. And because there's no arguing with a sentiment like that." - New York Times