Literature Study GuidesThe Book ThiefPart 2 Chapters 1 4 Summary

The Book Thief | Study Guide

Marcus Zusak

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The Book Thief | Part 2, Chapters 1–4 : the shoulder shrug | Summary



Chapter 1: A Girl Made of Darkness

As Part 2 begins, Death states that 463 days go by between Liesel's first stolen book and her second, the later theft connected to fire. Death says the Germans loved to burn things, and this practice has given Liesel the opportunity to get her next book, The Shoulder Shrug, and also given other Germans the opportunity to lay their hands on books they otherwise would never have read—or known existed. Death describes Liesel as "a girl made of darkness," full of "anger and dark hatred," caused by Hitler and the separation from her mother.

Chapter 2: The Joy of Cigarettes

By the end of 1939 Liesel is happier. She loves her foster parents, even though her foster mother is harsh. She still struggles at school but is getting better at reading and writing and managing to avoid Sister Maria's anger. She and Hans keep reading The Grave Digger's Handbook until they finish it, and the next morning she and Hans look at the pink dawn on a frosty landscape. Hans trades some of his precious cigarettes to get her two books for Christmas.

Chapter 3: The Town Walker

Some of Rosa's laundry clients decide to stop using her services, making money tighter for the Hubermanns. Rosa sends Liesel alone to fetch the laundry in the future, giving Liesel a new sense of freedom.

When they learn to write letters at school, Liesel asks Hans if she can write to her real mother. Hans reluctantly says yes. That night Liesel overhears Rosa telling Hans no one knows where Liesel's real mother is or what "they" have done to her. Liesel wonders who "they" are.

Chapter 4: Dead Letters

The chapter begins with a "flash forward" to 1943, as Hans tells Liesel he almost forged a letter from her mother so Liesel wouldn't worry.

Returning to 1940, it is Liesel's birthday and there is no money for a gift. Liesel gives herself a present by stealing some of the laundry money to pay for mailing her as-yet-unsent letters. When Rosa finds out, she beats Liesel but then apologizes. Liesel understands the apology is for her mother, not for the beating. She realizes she will never see her mother again.


By having Death tell the story of the book thief in a nonlinear way, Zusak foreshadows events and easily changes the story's mood. Liesel's happiness seems bittersweet when the reader knows she will soon be unhappy. At the start of these chapters Liesel is described as "a girl made of darkness." Her sorrow is soon dispelled by a period in which life seems somewhat better, "a happy time in the Hubermann household," more on an even keel, until "it ended a few weeks later" when troubles return. Death talks about the relationship between happiness and misery. Every time Liesel has some happiness, something unanticipated spoils it. She is settling in with the Hubermanns when their finances take a turn for the worse. She learns to read and write, but discovers that something bad has happened to her mother.

Hans, whom Liesel calls "Papa," continues to be an absolute force of good in her life. Their relationship is important because in future pages he will take actions that may be questionable. But Zusak—and Death—are making it clear: Hans is a good person, and he should be trusted.

As her command of language increases, Liesel grows as an observer and communicator. As events unfold, she becomes aware of how the political situation is affecting her own life, beginning to understand somewhat the fate of her parents. Her continuing dream of Nazis and trains is directly linked to events of which she is unaware but that will become very much a part of life in Germany during the war.

Rosa, in these chapters, begins to reveal unexpected depths. She continues to speak harshly and hits Liesel with a wooden spoon, but she sympathizes with her foster daughter about the loss of her mother. Rosa is described as having a "cardboard face." Cardboard is plain, simple, strong, and sturdy, yet it can collapse unexpectedly if it gets wet or crushed: a suitable image for Rosa.

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