Burn After Reading

By guest columnist Grace Hepp

    The Book Thief a seven-part story about (among other things) a book thief, a Jewish fist-fighter, a boy with “hair the color of lemons,” thievery, and death.

Set in the backdrop of WWII, it tells the story of young Liesel Meminger living on Himmel Street with her foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann. With her brother dead and mother gone, Liesel turns to stealing everything from food to books. She learns to read, write, and survive as bombs rain down upon Nazi Germany. If this whole paragraph hasn’t convinced you yet, I’ve read this page-turner eight times! So, as the character personifying Death would say, “If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I’ll show you something.”



Imagine a snow-filled grave, two foster parents waiting at a grimy window, a Jew hiding in a handmade hole in the ground, and having Death tell all this to you in his words. Sounds confusing, right? I won’t lie, it is, but don’t give up! The book begins with their trek through grimy German snow, where Liesel refuses to leave the car to greet her foster parents. After a large amount of German schwiening from Rosa Hubermann and coaxing from Mr. Hubermann she enters her new world, and what a world it is. Very soon you are introduced to Rudy Steiner, the next door neighbor who is passionate about Jesse Owens; Frau Diller, an Aryan shop owner; Tommy Muller, a child with a tendency to twitch; and Pfiffikus, a strange whistling man.


One interesting character in the book is Liesel’s foster father, Hans Hubermann. Death explained Hans admirably in this way: “Some Crunched Numbers: In 1933, ninety percent of Germans showed unflinching support of Adolf Hitler. That leaves 10 percent who didn’t. Hans Huberman belonged to that 10 percent. There was a reason for that.”


Hans had evaded death twice, once in WWI and later he would do it again. Hans Hubermann also had an accordion that he would “breath life into as he played, pumping the bellows.” But there was once a man who could play more magnificently than Hans; he was the reason Hans Hubermann was part of that ten percent. When Hans went to war he struck a firm friendship based on rolling cigarettes, playing cards and gambling with a man called Erik Vanderburg who would be later found in several pieces on a grassy hill with his eyes open. I guess I shouldn’t spoil all for you. I’ll give you a small hint: Erik was Jewish, he had a son, Hans made a promise, and he never went back on his promises.


Weaved intelligently within all this, Liesel has been stealing—accompanied by her best friend Rudy Steiner—food for the hungry children and books for herself. In all she soon possessed a total of twelve books: one was stolen from snow, another from fire, four were given, three were stolen from the mayor’s wife’s library, two were given by a hidden Jew, and one she wrote herself.


The hidden Jew gave Liesel two books, but he would say she gave him much more than he gave her. Liesel and Hans would often creep down to the basement where they were hiding him. There they would hold their nightly reading seasons, and that is where the Jew and Liesel find out just how much they have in common and how oddly a NaziGerman girl and a Jew find a common enemy.


And so the seven-sided die concludes with fire raining down from the sky and the howls of the book thief echoing thru the streets of Mulching while workers trample upon the ashes of her beloved books. The most important book is thrown into the rubbish until the one who has seen her only three times, and who is the narrator of this story, picks up her story and finds beauty within its pages. I believe that if you were to ever take the time to read The Book Thief, you would find the very same beauty within its pages.