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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

DEATH AND CHOCOLATE


First 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 fact
Does 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 thievery


I saw the book thief three times.


BESIDE THE RAILWAY LINE


First 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.
Markus Zusak

About Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak - The Book Thief

Photo © Bronwyn Rennex

"I always had stories in my head. So I started writing them."--Markus Zusak


Markus Zusak received the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year Award for I Am the Messenger. He lives in Sydney, where he writes, occasionally works a real job, and plays on a soccer team that never wins.

***Check out www.markuszusak.com for more information!

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

13 Facts (+ a few more) about Markus Zusak

1.He has severe troubles writing biographies about himself because he doesn’t find himself particularly inspiring.
2.He lives in Sydney near the Royal National Park, where he has lunch with the local deer, the kookaburras (a very tough brand of laughing birds) and other creatures.
3.He is a dog person, but he has two cats, Bijoux and Brutus. He named the second one.
4.His middle name is Frank. (When he hated the name Markus, his brother and one of his sisters suggested he use his middle name…Clearly, Frank was not really a step in the right direction.)
5.His three favorite books are:
·What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges.
·The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen.
·My Brother Jack by George Johnston.
6.The last book he read was Werewolves in their Youth by Michael Chabon, and the book he is currently reading is Ulysses by James Joyce.
7.In 2005, he is attempting to read 52 books. He is writing a book about this ridiculous reading challenge and calling it 53 Killers. People ask him, “Why fifty-three and not fifty-two?”
8.His three favorite movies are:
·Amelie by John Pierre Juenet.
·The Big Lebowski by the Cohen Brothers.
·Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer.
(And although it’s not a favorite, he also has a soft spot for The Goonies.)
9.The last movies he’s seen are A Very Long Engagement and The Motorcycle Diaries.
10.If he could meet anyone who ever lived, he would choose Michelangelo.
11.He got the idea for I am the Messenger when he was sitting in a park one night eating fish and chips and saw a bank with a fifteen minute parking zone out front. He thought, “Fifteen minutes, that’s not very long — every time I go the bank it takes a lot longer than that.” He then thought, “What if you were in that bank when it was being robbed and your car was out in the fifteen minute parking zone? How the hell would you get out to move your car to avoid a fine?” (That’s exactly what happens at the start of the book.)
12.He is riddled with self-doubt about I am the Messenger but is glad he wrote it because he loves The Doorman.
13.His favorite number is thirteen.
Praise | Awards

Praise

“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

Awards

NOMINEE 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (South East Asia & South Pacific)
WINNER 2007 Book Sense Children's Pick List
WINNER 2007 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2006 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
WINNER 2006 Horn Book Fanfare
WINNER 2006 Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice Award
WINNER 2008 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
NOMINEE 2007 Michigan Reading Association Great Lakes Book Award
WINNER 2006 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
WINNER 2007 Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year
NOMINEE 2008 Rhode Island Teen Book Award
WINNER 2007 Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
WINNER 2007 Virginia Young Readers Program Master List
WINNER 2006 IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
WINNER 2007 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
WINNER 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
WINNER 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year
WINNER 2006 Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year
WINNER 2006 Booklist Children's Editors' Choice
WINNER 2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Master List
NOMINEE Kentucky Bluegrass Award
NOMINEE New York State Charlotte Award
NOMINEE Rhode Island Teen Book Award
NOMINEE Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award
WINNER New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award
NOMINEE Iowa High School Book Award
SUBMITTED Michael L. Printz Honor Book
WINNER 2007 Printz Honors
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



ABOUT THIS BOOK

Liesel Meminger is only nine years old when she is taken to live with the Hubermanns, a foster family, on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, in the late 1930s. She arrives with few possessions, but among them is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, a book that she stole from her brother’s burial place. During the years that Liesel lives with the Hubermanns, Hitler becomes more powerful, life on Himmel Street becomes more fearful, and Liesel becomes a full fledged book thief. She rescues books from Nazi book-burnings and steals from the library of the mayor. Liesel is illiterate when she steals her fi rst book, but Hans Hubermann uses her prized books to teach her to read. This is a story of courage, friendship, love, survival, death, and grief. This is Liesel’s life on Himmel Street, told from Death’s point of view.

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Markus Zusak has asserted himself as one of today’s most innovative and poetic novelists. With the publication of The Book Thief, he is now being dubbed a “literary phenomenon” by Australian and U.S. critics. Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger, recipient of a Michael L. Printz Honor. He lives in Sydney, Australia. For more information on the author, visit www.markuszusak.com

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

DISCUSSION QU ESTIONS
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 fi nding humans at their best and worst.
I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be
both.” (p. 491) What is ugly and beautiful about Liesel, Rosa and Hans
Hubermann, Max Vandenburg, Rudy Steiner, and Mrs. Hermann? Why is
Death haunted by humans?
What is ironic about Liesel’s obsession with stealing books? Discuss other
uses of irony in the novel.
The Grave Digger’s Handbook is the fi rst book Liesel steals. Why did she
take the book? What is signifi cant about the titles of the books she steals?
Discuss why she hides The Grave Digger’s Handbook under her mattress.
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. How does
Hans gain Liesel’s love and trust? Debate whether Liesel is a substitute for
Hans’s children, who have strayed from the family. Why is it so diffi cult 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?
Debate whether she was abandoned by circumstance or by the heart.
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.”
(p. 208) 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? Max gives Liesel a story called “The Standover Man” for her
birthday. What is the signifi cance of this story?
Death says that Liesel was a girl “with a mountain to climb.” (p. 86)
What is her mountain? Who are her climbing partners? What is her greatest
obstacle? At what point does she reach the summit of her mountain?
Describe her descent. What does she discover at the foot of her mountain?
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.
Describe Liesel’s friendship with Rudy. How does their friendship change
and grow throughout the novel? Death says that Rudy doesn’t offer his
friendship “for free.” (p. 51) What does Rudy want from Liesel? Discuss
Death’s statement, “The only thing worse than a boy who hates you [is] a
boy who loves you.” (p. 52) Why is it diffi cult for Liesel to love Rudy?
Discuss why Liesel tells Mr. Steiner that she kissed Rudy’s dead body.
How does Zusak use the literary device of foreshadowing to pull the reader
into the story?
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.

REVIEWS

“An achievement.”
–PUBLIS H ERS W EEKLY, Starred

“Bri ll iant and hugely ambitious. . . .
It’s the kind of book that can be l ife ch ang ing.”
–TH E N EW YORK TIM ES
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
★ “Beautiful and important.”–KIRKUS REVI EWS, Starred

BEYOND THE BOOK

A CONVSERSATION WITH
MARKUS ZUSAK
Q: Wh at inspired you to write about a hu ng ry, i ll iterate g irl who h as
such a desire to read th at sh e steals books?
A: I think it’s just working on a book over and over again. I heard stories of
cities on fi re, teenagers who were whipped for giving starving Jewish people
bread on their way to concentration camps, and people huddled in bomb
shelters. . . . But I also had a story about a book thief set in my hometown
of Sydney. I just brought the two ideas together and realized the importance
of words in Nazi Germany. I thought of Hitler destroying people with
words, and now I had a girl who was stealing them back, as she read books
with the young Jewish man in her basement and calmed people down in
the bomb shelters. She writes her own story–and it’s a beautiful story–
through the ugliness of the world that surrounds her.
Q: How did you decide to make Death th e narrator of th e book?
A: With great diffi culty! I thought, “Here’s a book set during war. Everyone
says war and death are best friends.” Death is ever-present during war, so
here was the perfect choice to narrate The Book Thief. At fi rst, though,
Death was too mean. He was supercilious, and enjoying his work too
much. He’d say extremely creepy things and delight in all the souls he was
picking up . . . and the book wasn’t working. So I went to a fi rst-person
narration, a simple third-person narration . . . and six months later I came
back to Death–but this time, Death was to be exhausted from his eternal
existence and his job. He was to be afraid of humans–because, after all, he
was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout
the ages–and he would now be telling this story to prove to himself that
humans are actually worth it.
Q: Liesel h as an u ncanny u nderstanding of peop le and an abi l ity to
befriend those who most need comp anionshi p . Who do you think
is Liesel’s most u nforg ettable friend?
A: For me it’s Rudy, but a lot of people will tell me it’s Hans Hubermann, Max,
the mayor’s wife, or even Rosa Hubermann. Rudy is just my favorite character.
From the moment he painted himself black and became Jesse Owens, he was
my favorite. Liesel kissing his dusty, bomb-hit lips was probably the most
devastating part of the book for me to write. . . . I was a mess.
On the other hand, I’m also drawn to all of the relationships Liesel forms,
even her reading with Frau Holtzapfel, and the return of her son. Even
Ludwig Schmeikl–the boy she beats up on the playground and reconciles
with at the book burning . . . I think the relationship with Rosa is the most
unexpected, though. The moment when she sees Rosa with the accordion
strapped to her (when Hans is sent to the war) is when she realizes exactly
how much love her foster mother is capable of.
Q: Your use of fig urative lang uag e seems natural and effortless.
Is this something th at you h ave to work to develop, or is it
innately a p art of your writing style?
A: I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably
what I love most about writing–that words can be used in a way that’s like
a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around.
They’re the best moments in a day of writing–when an image appears that
you didn’t know would be there when you started work in the morning.
At other stages, it takes time. It took three years to write this book, and some
images remained from start to fi nish, but others were considered and reconsidered
dozens of times, if not more. Often, to keep the workday fl owing, I’ll
continue writing the story and then come back later to develop an image that
hasn’t worked from the outset. I might even take it out completely.

COPYRIGHT

Prepared by Pat Scales, retired director of library services, South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities
Random House • Marketing Department • 1745 Broadway, Mail Drop 10-4 • New York, NY 10019 • BN0715 • 09/06

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