Summary and Analysis
Part 1: The Grave Digger's Handbook: Arrival on Himmel Street
It is January 1939. The book thief, Liesel Meminger, and her six-year-old brother, Werner, are on a train to Munich with their mother. Liesel is nine, soon to be ten. She has a dream about Adolf Hitler, theFührer, and one of his powerful speeches. As she wakes from the dream, she sees that her brother is dead. The train stops for track repairs, and Liesel's mother exits the train with Werner in her arms. Liesel follows, as do the two guards who discuss what to do. They drop the three of them off at the next township, where Werner is buried two days later by a pair of gravediggers, one of whom is a young apprentice. The apprentice drops a book from his pocket, The Grave Digger's Handbook, and Liesel picks it up. She and her mother continue their journey to Munich, where they say good-bye. Frau Heinrich, a foster care woman, takes Liesel to a town called Molching to live on Himmel Street with Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel does not want to get out of the car. Eventually, Hans is able to remove her from the car, quietly holding her hand.
This chapter establishes multiple characters who will come back to haunt Liesel later in the novel: her brother, her mother, and the Führer. It also illustrates how early on Liesel is aware of the power of words, particularly Hitler's. Already she understands the effect that words can have on people, despite that fact that she can neither read nor write. She also doesn't believe that she speaks very well.
The Grave Digger's Handbook is the first book that Liesel steals, prompting her not only to learn how to read, but also to steal more books. Liesel will learn to read in the Hubermanns' home on Himmel Street. Death reveals that himmel is the German word for heaven. This is both a suitable and ironic name for the street: suitable because of the love that Liesel will find in the Hubermanns' house, and ironic because of the ugliness that will sweep down this street in the form of marching Jews and bombings.
Hans's ability to remove Liesel from the car in such a quiet and gentle way foreshadows the close relationship Liesel and Hans will develop. Even this early in the story, they understand one another.