The Book Thief (2013) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • In 1938, the young girl Liesel Meminger is traveling by train with her mother and her younger brother when he dies. Her mother buries the boy in a cemetery by the tracks and Liesel picks up a book, "The Gravediggers Handbook", which was left on the grave of her brother and brings it with her. Liesel is delivered to a foster family in a small town and later she learns that her mother left her because she is a communist. Her stepmother, Rosa Hubermann, is a rude but caring woman and her stepfather, Hans Hubermann, is a simple kind-hearted man. Liesel befriends her next door neighbor, the boy Rudy Steiner, and they go together to the school. When Hans discovers that Liesel cannot read, he teaches her using her book and Liesel becomes an obsessed reader. During a Nazi speech where the locals are forced to burn books in a bonfire, Liesel recovers one book for her and the Mayor's wife Ilsa Hermann witnesses her action. Meanwhile Hans hides the Jewish Max Vandenburg, who is the son of a deceased friend that saved his life in the war, in the basement of his house and Liesel becomes his friend. One day, Rosa asks Liesel to deliver laundry to the Mayor and Ilsa invites Liesel to go to her library and tells that she can visit her to read whenever she wants. But in times of war there are many threats and the lives of Liesel, her family and friends will never be the same.

  • A little girl Liesel is separated from her parents and is forced to live with her adoptive parents Rosa and Hans during WW2 in Germany. Hans and Rosa have been hiding a Jew named Max in their basement. When Max is very sick, Lisa reads him a book every day and resorts to stealing books to read to him, only to return them back on completion.

  • A stunning tale of adolescence in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief follows the life of Liesel Meminger as she grows up in the home of her adoptive parents. Rebellious in nature, Liesel feeds her hunger for stories by stealing books from book burnings. Liesel is shown the true stakes of the war when her father hides a young Jewish man in thier basement. The more time she spends with this man, the more she learns about the value of life and of words.

  • In the wake of a terrible familial tragedy, the hopeless 11-year-old Liesel Meminger is taken in by the compassionate working-class painter Hans Hubermann and his stern but well-meaning wife, Rosa, in 1938 Germany. Bullied for being illiterate, young Liesel is encouraged to learn how to read and write by her foster father during perilous times, as the Nazi's grip on Germany progressively tightens, and public ceremonial book burnings have already begun. But soon, things will take a turn for the worse when the German couple offers shelter to Max Vandenburg, a mysterious Jewish man on the verge of death, from whom the voracious reader, Liesel, will learn the essence and the interminable power of words. In the end, it is the words and an irrepressible imagination that will paint a mystical escape from Adolf Hitler's tyranny.

  • The 550-page, World War II-era novel, narrated by Death, tells the story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken at age 9 to live with a foster family in a German working-class neighborhood. Liesel arrives having just stolen her first book, "The Gravediggers Handbook" -- it will be the beginning of a love affair with books.

  • While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. In the basement of her home, a Jewish refugee is being protected by her adoptive parents.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In April 1938, a voice representing Death (Roger Allam), tells about how the young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) has piqued his interest. Liesel is traveling on a train with her mother (Heike Makatsch) and younger brother when her brother dies. At his burial she picks up a book that has been dropped by his graveside (a gravedigger's manual). Liesel is then delivered to foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann, because her mother, a Communist, is in danger. When she arrives, Liesel makes an impression on a neighbor boy, Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch).

    Rudy accompanies her on her first day of school. When the teacher asks Liesel to write her name on the chalkboard, she is only able to write three 'X's, showing that she doesn't know how to read. Later that day, she is taunted by her schoolmates who chant "dummkopf", "stupid" in German. One of the boys, Franz Deutscher, challenges her to read just one word to which Liesel responds by beating him up. She impresses Rudy and they become fast friends. When Hans, her stepfather, realizes that Liesel cannot read, he begins to teach her, using the book that she took from the graveside. Liesel becomes obsessed with reading anything she can get her hands on.

    Liesel and Rudy become members of the Hitler Youth movement. While at a Nazi book burning ceremony, Liesel and Rudy are bullied into throwing books onto the bonfire by Franz, but Liesel is upset to see the books being burned. When the bonfire ends and everyone but she has left, she grabs a book that has not been burned. She is seen by Ilsa Hermann (Barbara Auer), the mayor's (Rainer Bock) wife. Hans discovers that she has taken the book and tells her she must keep it a secret from everyone. One day, Rosa asks Liesel to take the laundry to the mayor's house. Liesel realizes that the woman who saw her taking the book is the mayor's wife and she is scared she will be found out. Instead, Ilsa takes her into their library and tells Liesel she can come by anytime and read as much as she'd like. Liesel also finds out about Johann here, who was the son of Ilsa and is now missing. She realizes Ilsa feels deeply about the loss of her son and thus, had made a library to commemorate him. One day Liesel is found reading by the mayor who not only puts a stop to her visits but dismisses Rosa as their laundress. Liesel continues to "borrow" books from the mayor's library by climbing through a window.

    There is a night of violence against the Jews (known historically as Kristallnacht). Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer) and his mother, who are Jewish, are told by a friend that one of them (but only one) can escape and Max's mother forces him to go. Max goes to the Hubermann's house where Rosa and Hans give him shelter. Max is the son of the man who saved Hans' life in World War I. Max is initially allowed to stay in Liesel's room while recovering from his trip and they begin to become friends over their mutual hatred of Hitler, as Liesel blames Hitler for taking her mother away. World War II begins, initially making most of the children in Liesel's neighborhood very happy. Max is later moved to the basement so he can move around more, but it is colder in the basement and Max becomes dangerously ill. Liesel helps Max recover by reading to him every spare moment.

    One day while borrowing a book from the mayor's home, Liesel is followed by Rudy. He discovers the secret of the books, and also the secret of Max, whose name he reads on a journal Max gave to Liesel for Christmas. Rudy guesses that her family is hiding someone and he swears to never tell anyone. Franz overhears them, but only Rudy's last words of keeping it a secret. Franz violently pushes Rudy to reveal the secret but Rudy throws the journal into the river to keep it away from Franz. However, after Franz has gone, Rudy plunges into the icy river to rescue the journal and Liesel realises that she can truly trust him. Soon a local party member comes by to check the Hubermann's basement and they have to hide Max. However, they are told that their basement was being checked as a potential bomb shelter and realize they weren't suspected of harboring a fugitive.

    While working one day, Hans sees a neighbor and friend being taken away by the police because he is a Jew. Hans tries to tell the police that the man is a good German, and the man says his son is in the war fighting for Germany, but he is dragged off nonetheless and Hans' name is taken by the soldiers. Hans realizes what a mistake he has made, as this has made them visible. He tells the family and Max realizes he must leave in order to protect them. Hans then receives a telegram that he has been conscripted into the army and must leave immediately.

    On the way home from school one day, Liesel believes she has seen Max in a line of Jews marching through town on their way to a death camp, and she begins screaming his name, running through the line. She is thrown off the street twice by a German soldier and finally relents when Rosa picks her up and takes her home. Within a few days, Hans returns from the front because he was injured by a bomb that hit his unit's truck. The family is reunited only for a short time, as one night the city is bombed and the air raid sirens fail to go off. Hans, Rosa and Rudy's family (except for his father who has also been conscripted into the Army) are killed in the blast. Liesel was spared from the bombing because she fell asleep in the basement while writing in the journal given to her by Max. Rudy is brought out of his house by neighbors and he is barely alive. He begins to tell Liesel that he loves her but he dies before he can finish the sentence. Liesel begs him to not die, telling him that she will give him that kiss he has been asking for and actually kisses him, but he has already died. During this scene, Death is heard speaking again about how he received the souls of the dead. After this, Liesel sadly passes out while one of the soldiers carries her and puts her to safety on a stretcher. When she wakes up, she sees a book amongst the rubble and picks it up. She then sees the Major and Ilsa drive up. With Ilsa being the only friend left, Liesel runs up to her and hugs her.

    Two years later, Liesel is seen working in a tailor shop of Rudy's father, and then Max appears. She looks up to see him. Overjoyed by his survival and return, she runs to hug him. The final scene is the Angel of Death speaking again about Liesel's life and her death at the age of 90, mentioning her husband, children and grandchildren, as we look over her modern day Manhattan Upper East Side apartment with pictures of her past and a portrait of her, upon which the camera lingers. The narrator does not state whom she married, but does imply that she became a writer. Death says that he has seen many good and bad things over the years, but Liesel is one of the few that ever made him wonder how it would be to live life. But in the end, there were no words, only peace. Lastly, Death says that the only truth it knows is true is that he "is haunted by humans."

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