Summary Part Ten: The Book Thief
Summary of “The End of the World (Part I)” and “The Ninety-Eighth Day”
When the planes bomb Himmel Street they are off target. Everyone is sleeping while the street is flattened. The sirens had not gone off. Only Liesel survives because she is in her basement writing her book about her life called, The Book Thief. In the rubble, the workers deliver Liesel from her tomb in the basement. She holds her book.
There is a flashback to the previous 97 days of Hans's homecoming. There had been more marches of Jews to Dachau that Liesel always watched, searching for Max. Michael Holtzapfel hanged himself feeling guilty for being a survivor. After Michael's funeral, Liesel read to the bereaved mother. It is 1943, and “The Germans were starting to pay in earnest by then” (p. 506).
Commentary on “The End of the World (Part I)” and “The Ninety-Eighth Day”
The narrator Death does the usual in jumping ahead to the death of characters and then backtracking up to the moment. The Germans on the home front are cracking. The war is not going well, and they are paying both on the front and at home. The Hubermanns are always shown to be kind and supportive neighbors in the crisis. Liesel reads to the shattered Frau Holtzapfel, and then survives the bombing by writing in the basement. Words are always her salvation.
Summary of the Way of the Words and “Confessions”
Liesel always waits for the parade of Jews going to Dachau. One day, a Jew is searching the crowd. It is Max. Liesel calls his name. Liesel wades through the crowd until she grabs Max's arm. He tells her they got him half way to Stuttgart. Max tells Liesel she has to let go of him. She keeps walking with him and the line of Jews, even when a soldier yells at her to get out. The soldier throws her to the side. She gets up and reenters the line of Jews. She stops and begins reciting Max's story “The Word Shaker” in a loud voice. Max stops and lets the words enter him. Everyone stops to watch. Max looks at the sun and says, “It's such a beautiful day.” He kisses her palm. The soldiers whip him, and Liesel is also hit, bleeding on the ground. Rudy and the other kids help her. After Liesel recovers, she takes Rudy for a walk towards Dachau and tells him about Max. Liesel is starting to love Rudy and wants him to kiss her now. She is actually saying good bye to him, says the narrator, for Rudy is only a month from his death.
Commentary on the Way of the Words and “Confessions”
The scene where Liesel goes to Max in the march of Jews is a climactic one. It is a triumph of their love and friendship over Hitler's atrocities. Max responds to this love. It gives him enough courage to face death. Liesel is also saying good bye to Rudy by her confession about Max. Rudy is pleased that Liesel had told Max about him. She shows where he is described in Max's book with “hair the color of lemons” (p. 518).
Summary of “Ilsa Hermann's Little Black Book” and “The Rib-Cage Planes”
Liesel experiences the paradox of living—its beauty and ugliness. She stops caring about things because Max is sent to a concentration camp. She rips up the book Ilsa gave her and now doubts the power of words. She writes Ilsa a letter explaining why she tore up her book and saying she is sorry; she just wanted to kill the words. Ilsa responds by coming to the Hubermann home with a gift. She gives Liesel a blank book to write her story in, and this is where she writes The Book Thief. Every night she writes in the basement. That is what she is doing when the bombs are dropped.
Commentary on “Ilsa Hermann's Little Black Book” and “The Rib-Cage Planes”
Liesel swears off words, thinking they are Hitler's weapons, but when Ilsa urges her to become a writer, she has a chance, like Max, to make her own world, her own meaning. This is one of the author's messages about the power of words.
Summary of “The End of the World (Part II)”
Death describes Himmel Street that last night and how he picked up the souls, one by one: Frau Holtzapfel, who was waiting for him, Frau Diller, the Fiedlers, the Steiners, Rudy, the Hubermanns. Hans's soul sat up to meet him: “Those kinds of souls always do” (p. 531). Liesel is the only one pulled out alive and Death watches the survivor. She searches for Rudy, and in grief, finally gives him a kiss on his mouth. She finds Mama and Papa and weeps, saying “Goodbye, Papa, you saved me. You taught me to read” (p. 538). Death takes Liesel's book and carries it with him.
Commentary on “The End of the World (Part II)”
Death has pretended to be the objective observer all this time, but when he gets to Rudy, he is quite emotional: “He steps on my heart. He makes me cry” (p. 531). He sees Rudy's life in brief and thinks he had so much life; he did not deserve to die.
Summary of The Epilogue: The Last Color
“Death and Liesel”; “Wood in the Afternoon”; “Max”; “The Handover Man”
Death announces that Liesel Meminger lived to an old age, and he just took her soul. She lived in Sydney, Australia, and met him sitting up, like her Papa. She had three children, a husband, and grandchildren.
When they cleared Himmel Street, they found Liesel holding her Papa's accordion. The police held her until Ilsa Hermann came for her and took her to her house. When Alex Steiner came back from the war, he was the only family member alive. Alex went back to work in his tailor shop after the war, and Liesel went with him. After the liberation of Dachau, Max found Liesel and they were reunited, crying and falling to the floor.
Death saves Liesel's book and gives it to her when she dies. He tells her that humans will always amaze him: “I am haunted by humans” (p. 550).
Commentary on The Epilogue: The Last Color
In the wrapping up, Death says again that he is amazed by the contradictory qualities of human life. It is both tragic and triumphant. One thing is clear—Liesel and Max are survivors. They come through, most certainly, because of the love and support they get and give. Death seems impressed that human life is worth it after all.