80 pages 2 hours read

Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2005

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Symbols & Motifs


The Book Thief’s central motif is books. In fact, books define its structure. There are 88 segments in the novel: Four are Prologue, and four are Epilogue. The remaining 80 chapters are divided into ten parts, and each part describes one of the ten different books that Liesel either acquires or writes. The story of each individual title is told in exactly eight chapters apiece.

Surprisingly, not all the books are fictional stories. The Grave Digger’s Handbook is a factual description of the tasks related to the eponymous job. The Duden Dictionary, as the name implies, is simply a book that defines words. Mein Kampf is Hitler’s autobiography, though its pages are turned to a completely different use over the course of the story.

The books in this novel also deviate from expectations in another way. They don’t all come from a printer’s shop. Max makes two of them by hand. He gives The Standover Man to Liesel as a birthday present. At a later point, he creates The Word Shaker as a gift to be given to her when she is ready for it. Both chapbooks are created from the whitewashed pages of Mein Kampf. It is significant that Max covers over Hitler’s words of hate with his own words of encouragement and hope.