That unadulterated kiss Rudy wants in The Book Thief

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Meet Rudy (played by Nico Liersche) in the endearing The Book Thief. He is every mom’s ideal kind of friend to her precious daughter.  

The story and its characters sprang from the imagination of author Markus Zusak whose novel The Book Thief was published in his native Australia in 2005 and throughout the rest of the world in 2006. The book has sold eight million copies worldwide, held a place on The New York Times best-seller list for almost seven years and has been translated into over 30 languages. It has also won over a dozen literary awards, held the No. 1 position on Amazon.com and appeared on numerous best-of-the-year lists.

Zusak’s book and director Brian Percival’s (Downton Abbey) film adaptation tell the story of Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), who is sent to live with foster parents, the kind-hearted Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his prickly wife Rosa (Emily Watson). Reeling from the tragic death of her younger brother, Liesel is sent immediately to her new “parents” and struggles to fit in — at home and at school, where her classmates taunt her as “dummkopf” due to her inability to read.

With the single-minded obsession of a budding scholar, Liesel is determined to change that. And she gets help. Her empathetic “Papa,” Hans (Rush) works day and night with Liesel as she pores over her first tome, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, which she walked off with following her brother’s funeral — an impulsive act of thievery that will have profound consequences for the young heroine.

 Liesel’s love for reading and her growing appreciation for her new family are heightened when she befriends a new guest in Hubermann’s home — a Jewish refugee named Max (Ben Schnetzer), who shares her passion for books and encourages Liesel to expand her powers of observation, even as he hides from the Nazis in a dark and dank basement. Equally transformative is her burgeoning friendship with a young neighbor, Rudy who teases Liesel about her book thievery even as he finds himself falling in love with her.

Rudy is a major transformative figure in Liesel’s journey with her exponentially growing love of books and the power beyond words. Liesel and Rudy become fast friends and do everything together, including stealing (“borrowing,” Liesel insists) books. In fact, it is Rudy who nicknames Liesel, “The Book Thief.” 

While Liesel’s passion is reading books, Rudy dreams of being a champion racer. His idol is African-American Olympic hero Jesse Owens, who achieved international fame by winning four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Rudy even goes so far as to cover himself with black paint (which he stole from Hans’ work cart), in honor of his idol — a choice that’s none too popular with a town being consumed with the doctrine of Aryan supremacy.

Young German actor Liersch describes Rudy as, “always happy, nice to everyone, and never sad,” and that description fits also the actor who plays him. Sophie and Nico became close friends during production — though Sophie would squeal with laughter through almost every take while shooting scenes where Rudy tries to kiss Liesel — much to the crew’s amusement.

Relive young love, first love in The Book Thief when it opens tomorrow, Feb. 19 in theaters nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.

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