Selected quotations from The Book Thief
25th August 2020


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“It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it had pulled it on, the way you pull on a jumper.”

Colour and Metaphor

“There were two guards.

There was a mother and her daughter.

One corpse.

The mother, the girl and the corpse remained stubborn and silent.

Uee of Listing

“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.”

Introducing minor characters first. A “periodic structure” building tension

“Spinnst du?”

German – clues to setting

“His skin widened. ”

Implausible imagery


Personifying the colour and the snow. There’s a naiivity to this.

“I stood a little to the right.”

Dischordant level of specificity. More information given about where he stands than the soul in his arms, which he treats with neutrality. 

“ dynamic train guard duo”

Pop culture reference!

“ I clearly remember that my breath was loud that day. I’m surprised the guards didn’t notice me as they walked by.”

Can he truly be perceived?

“Tears were frozen to the book thief’s face.”


“Next is a signature black, to show the poles of my versatility, if you like. It was the darkest moment before the dawn.”

Further development of colour imagery

“This time I had come for a man of perhaps twenty-four years of age. It was a beautiful thing in some ways. The plane was still coughing. Smoke was leaking from both its lungs.”

Further personification – Death seems not to recognise the special status of humans

“From the toolkit, the boy took out, of all things, a teddy bear.”

Gentle incongruity

“I walked in, loosened his soul and carried it gently out.”

The way “Death” works. Like a mechanic.


“was the colour of bone.”

Continuing colour imagery – Bone

“As I made my way through”

Further suggestion that Death has a ‘human’ form – that he ‘walks among us’

“He remained shrouded amongst his uniform as the greying light arm-wrestled the sky. ”

Extensive personification

“The last time I saw her was red.”

Red Colour

“The streets were ruptured veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood after the flood.”

Every chapter starts with the setting personified

“A packet of souls.”

Human souls as a commodity

“Was it fate?


Is that what glued them down like that?

Of course not.

Let’s not be stupid.

It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds.”

From metaphysical to the mundane

“Apart from everything else, the book thief wanted desperately to go back to the basement, to write, or to read through her story one last time. In hindsight, I see it so obviously on her face. She was dying for it – the safety, the home of it – but she could not move. Also, the basement no longer existed. It was part of the mangled landscape.”

Very interesting 3rd person omniscience from Death – especially when contrasted against the nativity he seems to exhibit elsewhere

“But that is not allowed.”

Death is not all-powerful

“Her book was stepped on several times as the clean-up began, and although orders were given to clear only the mess of concrete, the girl’s most precious item was thrown aboard a garbage truck, at which point I was compelled. I climbed aboard and took it in my hand, not realising that I would read her story several hundred times over the years, on my travels. I would watch the places where we intersected, and marvel at what the girl saw and how she survived. That is the best I can do – watch it fall into line with everything else I spectated during that time.”

Is this a reference to the past or the future. Is Death telling this of the past? What time is he in now?

“When I recollect her, I see a long list of colours, but it’s the three in which I saw her in the flesh that resonate the most. Sometimes, I manage to float far above those three moments. I”

He saw her three times, and there were three colours – Red, White, Black – (Nazi Flag)

“It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt – an immense leap of an attempt – to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.

Here it is. One of a handful.

The Book Thief.

If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story.

I’ll show you something.”

The reason for writing this book.

“We now know, of course, that the boy didn’t make it.”

Told from the omniscient future. Use of “we” suggesting we as readers are also looking back. As we are – on history.

“but I really have no control over that.”

Limits to death’s power

“boy’s spirit was soft and cold, like ice-cream.”

Discordant analogy

“Her heart at that point was slippery and hot, and loud, so loud so loud.”

Does Death have access to the insides of us? This is true omniscience


other did what he was told.

The question is, what if the

other is a lot more than one?”

A reference to the ‘operating under orders’ excuse for many Nazi war criminals, perhaps?

“I waved.

No-one waved back.”

Death is invisible

“Liesel was sure her mother carried the memory of him, slung over her shoulder. She dropped him. She saw his feet and legs and body slap the platform.

How could she walk?

How could she move?

That’s the sort of thing I’ll never know, or comprehend – what humans are capable of.”

Death’s compassionate perception of humanity

“A   T R A N S L A T I O N   

Himmel = Heaven”

“The day was grey, the colour of Europe.”

More colour imagery

“A man was also in the car. He remained with the girl while Frau Heinrich disappeared inside. He never spoke. Liesel assumed he was there to make sure she didn’t run away, or to force her inside if she gave them any trouble. Later, however, when the trouble did start, he simply sat there and watched. Perhaps he was only the last resort, the final solution”

Constant references to the language of the Nazi Holocaust

“When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started not just to mean something, but everything. Was it when she first set eyes on the room with shelves and shelves of them? ”

Continued foreshadowing

“Her hair was a close enough brand of German-blonde, but she had dangerous eyes. Dark brown.”

First specific reference to her jewishness

“He had already cheated me in one world war, but would

later be put into another (as a perverse kind

of reward) where he would somehow

manage to avoid me again.

Hans Hubermann is presented as likely to survive the war right from the start. But what about Rosa?

“The human child – so much cannier at times than the stupefyingly ponderous adult.”

Observation about the use of children’s point of view in literature.

“When he turned the light on in the small callous washroom that night, Liesel observed the strangeness of her foster father’s eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that Hans Hubermann was worth a lot.”

Liesel sees the value in Hans Hubermann

“But she did love Liesel Meminger.”

Rosa also loved Liesel

“I know it sounds strange, but that’s how it felt to her.”

Death’s First Person Omniscience. So interesting.

“Soon they would both be in the war. One would be making bullets. The other would be shooting them.”

Death moves through time.

“The first thing they did there was make sure your Heil Hitler was working properly”

Death’s conscious understatement

“Frau Diller was a sharp-edged woman with fat glasses and a nefarious glare. She developed this evil look to discourage the very idea of stealing from her shop, which she occupied with soldier-like posture, a refrigerated voice and even breath that smelt like Heil Hitler. The shop itself was white and cold, and completely bloodless. The small house compressed beside it shivered with a little more severity than the other buildings on Himmel Street”

Dark humour and personification 

“She lived for her shop and her shop lived for the Third Reich.”

Frau Diller

“Their uniforms walked upright and their black boots further polluted the snow.”

Liberal use of personification 

“the imposing town hall, which in later years would be chopped off at the knees and buried. A few of the shops were abandoned and still labelled with yellow stars and anti-Jewish slurs”

Personification perhaps used to distance from the acts of war. References to anti-semitism as if it were an unchanged level fact

“Those houses were almost like lepers. At the very least, they were infected sores on the injured German terrain.”


“He was there for her at the beginning, and he would be there later on, when Liesel’s frustration boiled over. But he wouldn’t do it for free.”


“At the request of the starter, he raised to crouching position – and the gun clipped a hole in the night”

Vivid original metaphor, somehow naiive

“T H E   C O N T R A D I C T O R Y   P O L I T I C S   O F   

A L E X   S T E I N E R

Point One: He was a member of the Nazi Party but he

did not hate the Jews, or anyone else for that matter.”

How a decent person can not act

“Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his

heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it.

He was afraid of what might come leaking out.”

Metaphor for guilt

“I didn’t know that. Do you have to pay to be Jewish? Do you need a licence?”

Rudy’s naivety 

“I know, son – but you’ve got beautiful blond hair and big, safe blue eyes. You should be happy with that, is that clear?”

“others with hands that burned from applause”

burning metaphor

“Four years later, when she came to write in the basement, two thoughts struck Liesel about the trauma of wetting the bed.”

Further foreshadowing – reminder that death is timeless

“This might be harder than I thought.

She caught him thinking it, just for a moment.”

Swift shift in point of view

“T H E   S M E L L   O F   F R I E N D S H I P”


“Soon, they were on Himmel Street, carrying the words, the music, the washing.”

Zusak takes pleasure in juxtaposition of the mundane and the sacred 

“She saw it but didn’t realise until later, when everything came together. She didn’t see him watching as he played, having no idea that Hans Hubermann’s accordion was a story. In the times ahead, that story would arrive at 33 Himmel Street in the early hours of morning, wearing ruffled shoulders and a shivering jacket. It would carry a suitcase, a book, and two questions. A story. Story after story. Story within story.”

Post-modern self-reference. Foreshadowing 

“Words fooled her.”

Personification of words

“. A halo surrounded the grim reaper nun, Sister Maria. (By the way – I like this human idea of the grim reaper. I like the scythe. It amuses me.)”

Death re-enters the narrative

“Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out, like the rain.”

The metaphors for words begin

“In a way it was destiny.

You see, people may tell you that Nazi Germany was built on anti-Semitism, a somewhat overzealous leader and a nation of hate-fed bigots, but it would have all come to nothing had the Germans not loved one particular activity – to burn.”

Observations about the simple components of horrors

“Look at the colours,’ Papa said. It’s hard not to like a man who not only notices the colours, but speaks them.”

Associating observation of colour with sensitivity to feeling

“The silver in his eyes, however, wasn’t warm, like Papa’s – they’d been Führered.”


“That was when a great shiver arrived.

It waltzed through the window with the draught. Perhaps it was the breeze of the Third Reich, gathering even greater strength.”

Personifying the Third Reich

“Or something grotesque and alien that had somehow landed miraculously in the middle of town and needed to be snuffed out, and fast.”

The town

“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sandcastles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”

Death’s opinion on Human nature

“mound of guilt,”

Personified guilt

“The crowd was itself. There was no swaying it, squeezing through or reasoning with it. You breathed with it and you sang its songs. You waited for its fire.”

Personification of the crowd

“Perhaps people did get injured. Personally, I can only tell you that no-one died from it, or at least, not physically.”

Not died physically

“You didn’t see people. Only uniforms and signs.”


“an eleven-year-old girl, trying not to cry on the church steps, saluting the Führer as the voices over Papa’s shoulder chopped and beat at the dark shape in the background.”

Setting revealing the themes 

“By the time she made it back to Papa and Wolfgang Edel, the book was starting to burn her. It seemed to be igniting.”

“The shadow’s identity,


Is this Death? Can Liesel see Death?

“Beneath her shirt, a book was eating her up.”

Personification of the book

“He will never be approved,’ it said, ‘even if he buys a hundred copies of Mein Kampf.”

“The cold was climbing out of the ground.”


“We’ve both had it too easy till now, my friend, don’t you think? How about we forget Molching for a minute or two?”

Direct address to reader as “my friend”

“So there you have it.

You’re well aware of exactly what was coming to Himmel Street by the end of 1940.

I know.

You know.”

“the snow was shivering outside. The girl loved that – the shivering snow.”

Liesel noticing personification 

“useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power. It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence.

She was a girl.

In Nazi Germany.

How fitting that she was discovering the power of words.

And how awful (and yet exhilarating!) it would feel many months later, when she would unleash the power of this newfound discovery the very moment the mayor’s wife let her down. How quickly the pity would leave her, and how quickly it would spill over into something else completely . . .”

Power of words

“Mein Kampf.

Of all the things to save him.”

Another function of books

“Rudy Steiner couldn’t resist smiling. In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer – proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water.”

Death’s developing view of humanity. We have it all within us. 

“His mouth ripped open. The word flew out, and the word was axe”


“He followed the map in his mind, from Pasing to Molching”

Interesting in the light of the fact that Molching doesn’t exist. 

“It all watched him.”

Personification of setting 

“Hans, I think he was doing his best to avoid me.”


“He was either too lucky, or he deserved to live, or there was a good reason for him to live.”


“The darkness stroked him.”

Max and Darkness

“Max stood up, like a struck match. The darkness swelled now, around him.”

Continuation of the ‘fire’ metaphor associated with anti-semitism

“One wildcard was yet to be played.”

Tension building

“A   S H O R T   H I S T O R Y   O F   T H E

J E W I S H  F I S T – F I G H T E R”

A Narrative shift back in time.

“He had not looked something like me in the face. Not yet.”

Death and Max

“When death captures me,’ the boy vowed, ‘he will feel my fist on his face.’

Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.


I like that a lot.”

Death likes Max for his Stupid Gallantry

“His legs were parted in a V. Tears like crystal floated down his skin, despite the fact that he was not crying. The tears had been bashed out of him.


“Max disagreed. ‘Yes we could. You can’t marry a Jew, but there’s no law against fighting one.’

Walter smiled. ‘There’s probably a law rewarding it – as long as you win.”

Black Humour

“You don’t always get what you wish for.

Especially in Nazi Germany.”

Death’s deadpan – his laconic humour

“The wildcard.”

Rosa Hubermann

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ R”

Christian blasphemy

“Who were these people?”

What makes these people different? Why are they acting in this way?

“When he stopped pacing, his shadow loomed behind him, watching. Someone was always watching.”

Building paranoia – tinged with Death

“Max’s fingers started cooling.”

Interesting to reflect on in relation to the earlierassociations made with fire and heat

“Even death has a heart.”


“Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest and astound me.”

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