The Book Thief

The Book Thief

From the toolbox, the boy took out, of all things, a teddy bear. He reached in through the torn windshield and placed it on the pilot’s chest. The smiling bear sat huddled among the crowded wreckage of the man and the blood. A few minutes later, I took my chance. The time was right. I walked in, loosened his soul, and carried it gently away. All that was left was the body, the dwindling smell of smoke, and the smiling teddy bear.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 154-58. Accessed: 1/21/2014

Her hair was a close enough brand of German blond, but she had dangerous eyes. Dark brown. You didn’t really want brown eyes in Germany around that time. Perhaps she received them from her father, but she had no way of knowing, as she couldn’t remember him. There was really only one thing she knew about her father. It was a label she did not understand. A STRANGE WORD Kommunist She’d heard it several times in the past few years. “Communist.” There were boardinghouses crammed with people, rooms filled with questions. And that word. That strange word was always there somewhere, standing in the corner, watching from the dark. It wore suits, uniforms. No matter where they went, there it was, each time her father was mentioned. She could smell it and taste it. She just couldn’t spell or understand it. When she asked her mother what it meant, she was told that it wasn’t important, that she shouldn’t worry about such things. At one boardinghouse, there was a healthier woman who tried to teach the children to write, using charcoal on the wall. Liesel was tempted to ask her the meaning, but it never eventuated. One day, that woman was taken away for questioning. She didn’t come back.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 354-64. Accessed: 1/21/2014

On her first night with the Hubermanns, she had hidden her last link to him— The Grave Digger’s Handbook—under her mattress, and occasionally she would pull it out and hold it. Staring at the letters on the cover and touching the print inside, she had no idea what any of it was saying. The point is, it didn’t really matter what that book was about. It was what it meant that was more important. THE BOOK’S MEANING 1. The last time she saw her brother. 2. The last time she saw her mother.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 445-50. Accessed: 1/21/2014

“Don’t ask him for help,” Mama pointed out. “That Saukerl.” Papa was staring out the window, as was often his habit. “He left school in fourth grade.” Without turning around, Papa answered calmly, but with venom, “Well, don’t ask her, either.” He dropped some ash outside. “She left school in third grade.”

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 460-63. Accessed: 1/21/2014

Ten years old meant Hitler Youth. Hitler Youth meant a small brown uniform. Being female, Liesel was enrolled into what was called the BDM. EXPLANATION OF THE ABBREVIATION It stood for Bund Deutscher Mädchen— Band of German Girls. The first thing they did there was make sure your “heil Hitler” was working properly. Then you were taught to march straight, roll bandages, and sew up clothes. You were also taken hiking and on other such activities. Wednesday and Saturday were the designated meeting days, from three in the afternoon until five.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 470-75. Accessed: 1/21/2014

“Did you hear that?” Mama asked her nearly every night. The iron was in her fist, heated from the stove. Light was dull all through the house, and Liesel, sitting at the kitchen table, would be staring at the gaps of fire in front of her. “What?” she’d reply. “What is it?” “That was that Holtzapfel.” Mama was already out of her seat. “That Saumensch just spat on our door again.” It was a tradition for Frau Holtzapfel, one of their neighbors, to spit on the Hubermanns’ door every time she walked past. The front door was only meters from the gate, and let’s just say that Frau Holtzapfel had the distance—and the accuracy. The spitting was due to the fact that she and Rosa Hubermann were engaged in some kind of decade-long verbal war. No one knew the origin of this hostility. They’d probably forgotten it themselves.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 524-31. Accessed: 1/21/2014

“Hundred meters,” he goaded her. “I bet you can’t beat me.” Liesel wasn’t taking any of that. “I bet you I can.” “What do you bet, you little Saumensch? Have you got any money?” “Of course not. Do you?” “No.” But Rudy had an idea. It was the lover boy coming out of him. “If I beat you, I get to kiss you.” He crouched down and began rolling up his trousers. Liesel was alarmed, to put it mildly. “What do you want to kiss me for? I’m filthy.” “So am I.” Rudy clearly saw no reason why a bit of filth should get in the way of things. It had been a while between baths for both of them.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 643-50. Accessed: 1/22/2014

They walked around a few corners onto Himmel Street, and Alex said, “Son, you can’t go around painting yourself black, you hear?” Rudy was interested, and confused. The moon was undone now, free to move and rise and fall and drip on the boy’s face, making him nice and murky, like his thoughts. “Why not, Papa?” “Because they’ll take you away.” “Why?” “Because you shouldn’t want to be like black people or Jewish people or anyone who is . . . not us.” “Who are Jewish people?” “You know my oldest customer, Mr. Kaufmann? Where we bought your shoes?” “Yes.” “Well, he’s Jewish.” “I didn’t know that. Do you have to pay to be Jewish? Do you need a license?” “No, Rudy.” Mr. Steiner was steering the bike with one hand and Rudy with the other. He was having trouble steering the conversation. He still hadn’t relinquished the hold on his son’s earlobe. He’d forgotten about it. “It’s like you’re German or Catholic.” “Oh. Is Jesse Owens Catholic?” “I don’t know!” He tripped on a bike pedal then and released the ear. They walked on in silence for a while, until Rudy said, “I just wish I was like Jesse Owens, Papa.” This time, Mr. Steiner placed his hand on Rudy’s head and explained, “I know, son—but you’ve got beautiful blond hair and big, safe blue eyes. You should be happy with that; is that clear?” But nothing was clear. Rudy understood nothing, and that night was the prelude of things to come. Two and a half years later, the Kaufmann Shoe Shop was reduced to broken glass, and all the shoes were flung aboard a truck in their boxes.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 724-41. Accessed: 1/22/2014

The white page was suddenly written in another tongue, and it didn’t help that tears were now forming in her eyes. She couldn’t even see the words anymore. And the sun. That awful sun. It burst through the window—the glass was everywhere—and shone directly onto the useless girl. It shouted in her face. “You can steal a book, but you can’t read one!” It came to her. A solution. Breathing, breathing, she started to read, but not from the book in front of her. It was something from The Grave Digger’s Handbook. Chapter three: “In the Event of Snow.” She’d memorized it from her papa’s voice. “In the event of snow,” she spoke, “you must make sure you use a good shovel. You must dig deep; you cannot be lazy. You cannot cut corners.” Again, she sucked in a large clump of air. “Of course, it is easier to wait for the warmest part of the day, when—” It

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 949-57. Accessed: 1/22/2014

The night she wrote the letter, she overheard a conversation between Hans and Rosa. “What’s she doing writing to her mother?” Mama was saying. Her voice was surprisingly calm and caring. As you can imagine, this worried the girl a great deal. She’d have preferred to hear them arguing. Whispering adults hardly inspired confidence. “She asked me,” Papa answered, “and I couldn’t say no. How could I?” “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Again with the whisper. “She should just forget her. Who knows where she is? Who knows what they’ve done to her?” In bed, Liesel hugged herself tight. She balled herself up. She thought of her mother and repeated Rosa Hubermann’s questions. Where was she? What had they done to her? And once and for all, who, in actual fact, were

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 1184-92. Accessed: 1/23/2014

“So have they let you in yet?” Hans Junior was picking up where they’d left off at Christmas. “In what?” “Take a guess—the party.” “No, I think they’ve forgotten about me.” “Well, have you even tried again? You can’t just sit around waiting for the new world to take it with you. You have to go out and be part of it—despite your past mistakes.” Papa looked up. “Mistakes? I’ve made many mistakes in my life, but not joining the Nazi Party isn’t one of them. They still have my application—you know that—but I couldn’t go back to ask. I just . . .”

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 1289-95. Accessed: 1/23/2014

You didn’t see people. Only uniforms and signs.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 1395. Accessed: 1/23/2014

He was the they that Hans and Rosa Hubermann were talking about that evening when she first wrote to her mother. She knew it, but she had to ask. “Is my mother a communist?” Staring. Straight ahead. “They were always asking her things, before I came here.” Hans edged forward a little, forming the beginnings of a lie. “I have no idea—I never met her.” “Did the Führer take her away?” The question surprised them both, and it forced Papa to stand up. He looked at the brown-shirted men taking to the pile of ash with shovels. He could hear them hacking into it. Another lie was growing in his mouth, but he found it impossible to let it out. He said, “I think he might have, yes.” “I knew it.” The words were thrown at the steps and Liesel could feel the slush of anger, stirring hotly in her stomach. “I hate the Führer,” she said. “I hate him.” And Hans Hubermann? What did he do? What did he say? Did he bend down and embrace his foster daughter, as he wanted to? Did he tell her that he was sorry for what was happening to her, to her mother, for what had happened to her brother? Not exactly. He clenched his eyes. Then opened them. He slapped Liesel Meminger squarely in the face. “Don’t ever say that!” His voice was quiet, but sharp.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 1426-39. Accessed: 1/23/2014

“You can say that in our house,” he said, looking gravely at Liesel’s cheek. “But you never say it on the street, at school, at the BDM, never!” He stood in front of her and lifted her by the triceps. He shook her. “Do you hear me?” With her eyes trapped wide open, Liesel nodded her compliance. It was, in fact, a rehearsal for a future lecture, when all of Hans Hubermann’s worst fears arrived on Himmel Street later that year, in the early hours of a November morning. “Good.” He placed her back down. “Now, let us try . . .” At the bottom of the steps, Papa stood erect and cocked his arm. Forty-five degrees. “Heil Hitler.” Liesel stood up and also raised her arm. With absolute misery, she repeated it. “Heil Hitler.” It was quite a sight—an eleven-year-old girl, trying not to cry on the church steps, saluting the Führer as the voices over Papa’s shoulder chopped and beat at the dark shape in the background.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 1445-53. Accessed: 1/23/2014

Are you ready? Liesel craned her neck a little, as if she might see over the door that stood in her way. Clearly, that was the cue to open it. “Jesus, Mary . . .” She said it out loud, the words distributed into a room that was full of cold air and books. Books everywhere! Each wall was armed with overcrowded yet immaculate shelving. It was barely possible to see the paintwork. There were all different styles and sizes of lettering on the spines of the black, the red, the gray, the every-colored books. It was one of the most beautiful things Liesel Meminger had ever seen. With wonder, she smiled. That such a room existed! Even when she tried to wipe the smile away with her forearm, she realized instantly that it was a pointless exercise. She could feel the eyes of the woman traveling her body, and when she looked at her, they had rested on her face. There was more silence than she ever thought possible. It extended like an elastic, dying to break. The girl broke it. “Can I?” The two words stood among acres and acres of vacant, wooden-floored land. The books were miles away. The woman nodded. Yes, you can. Steadily, the room shrank, till the book thief could touch the shelves within a few small steps. She ran the back of her hand along the first shelf, listening to the shuffle of her fingernails gliding across the spinal cord of each book. It sounded like an instrument, or the notes of running feet. She used both hands. She raced them. One shelf against the other. And she laughed. Her voice was sprawled out, high in her throat, and when she eventually stopped and stood in the middle of the room, she spent many minutes looking from the shelves to her fingers and back again. How many books had she touched? How many had she felt? She walked over and did it again, this time much slower, with her hand facing forward, allowing the dough of her palm to feel the small hurdle of each book. It felt like magic, like beauty, as bright lines of light shone down from a chandelier. Several times, she almost pulled a title from its place but didn’t dare disturb them. They were too perfect.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 1657-76. Accessed: 1/23/2014

A SMALL BUT NOTEWORTHY NOTE I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 2138-40. Accessed: 1/24/2014

He wrote the letters as best he could while the rest of the men went into battle. None of them came back. That was the first time Hans Hubermann escaped me. The Great War.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 2188-90. Accessed: 1/24/2014

He was a Jew, and if there was one place he was destined to exist, it was a basement or any other such hidden venue of survival.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 2556-57. Accessed: 1/25/2014

Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 2612-14. Accessed: 1/25/2014

In February 1941, for her twelfth birthday, Liesel received another used book, and she was grateful. It was called The Mud Men and was about a very strange father and son. She hugged her mama and papa, while Max stood uncomfortably in the corner. “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag.” He smiled weakly. “All the best for your birthday.” His hands were in his pockets. “I didn’t know, or else I could have given you something.” A blatant lie—he had nothing to give, except maybe Mein Kampf, and there was no way he’d give such propaganda to a young German girl. That would be like the lamb handing a knife to the butcher.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 2761-65. Accessed: 1/25/2014

At home, as luck would have it, when Liesel walked through the door, Rosa was in the kitchen. “And?” she asked. “Where’s the washing?” “No washing today,” Liesel told her. Rosa came and sat down at the kitchen table. She knew. Suddenly, she appeared much older. Liesel imagined what she’d look like if she untied her bun, to let it fall out onto her shoulders. A gray towel of elastic hair. “What did you do there, you little Saumensch?” The sentence was numb. She could not muster her usual venom. “It was my fault,” Liesel answered. “Completely. I insulted the mayor’s wife and told her to stop crying over her dead son. I called her pathetic. That was when they fired you. Here.” She walked to the wooden spoons, grabbed a handful, and placed them in front of her. “Take your pick.” Rosa touched one and picked it up, but she did not wield it. “I don’t believe you.” Liesel was torn between distress and total mystification. The one time she desperately wanted a Watschen and she couldn’t get one! “It’s my fault.” “It’s not your fault,” Mama said, and she even stood and stroked Liesel’s waxy, unwashed hair. “I know you wouldn’t say those things.” “I said them!” “All right, you said them.”

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 3162-73. Accessed: 1/25/2014

There were certainly some rounds to be made that year, from Poland to Russia to Africa and back again. You might argue that I make the rounds no matter what year it is, but sometimes the human race likes to crank things up a little. They increase the production of bodies and their escaping souls. A few bombs usually do the trick. Or some gas chambers, or the chitchat of faraway guns. If none of that finishes proceedings, it at least strips people of their living arrangements, and I witness the homeless everywhere. They often come after me as I wander through the streets of molested cities. They beg me to take them with me, not realizing I’m too busy as it is. “Your time will come,” I convince them, and I try not to look back. At times, I wish I could say something like, “Don’t you see I’ve already got enough on my plate?” but I never do. I complain internally as I go about my work, and some years, the souls and bodies don’t add up; they multiply.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 3671-77. Accessed: 1/26/2014

They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 3691-93. Accessed: 1/26/2014

On the way home, they stopped at the bridge and inspected the heavy black book. As Rudy flipped through the pages, he arrived at a letter. He picked it up and looked slowly toward the book thief. “It’s got your name on it.” The river ran. Liesel took hold of the paper. THE LETTER Dear Liesel, I know you find me pathetic and loathsome (look thatword up if you don’t know it), but I must tell you that I am not so stupid as to not see your footprints in the library. When I noticed the first book missing, I thought I had simplymisplaced it, but then I saw the outlines of some feet on the floor in certain patches of the light. It made me smile. I was glad that you took what was rightfully yours. I thenmade the mistake of thinking that would be the end of it. When you came back, I should have been angry, but Iwasn’t. I could hear you the last time, but I decided to leave you alone. You only ever take one book, and it will take a thousand visits till all of them are gone. My only hope is that one day you will knock on the front door and enter the libraryin the more civilized manner. Again, I am sorry we could no longer keep your fostermother employed. Lastly, I hope you find this dictionary and thesaurususeful as you read your stolen books. Yours sincerely, Ilsa Hermann

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 4443-58. Accessed: 1/26/2014

Now more than ever, 33 Himmel Street was a place of silence, and it did not go unnoticed that the Duden Dictionary was completely and utterly mistaken, especially with its related words. Silence was not quiet or calm, and it was not peace.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 4818-20. Accessed: 1/27/2014

“Our papa’s going, too,” Kurt said. Quietness then. A group of kids was kicking a ball, up near Frau Diller’s. “When they come and ask you for one of your children,” Barbara Steiner explained, to no one in particular, “you’re supposed to say yes.”

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 5045-48. Accessed: 1/27/2014

At 1 a.m., Liesel went to bed and Papa came in to sit with her, like he used to. She woke up several times to check that he was there, and he did not fail her. The night was calm. Her bed was warm and soft with contentment. Yes, it was a great night to be Liesel Meminger, and the calm, the warm, and the soft would remain for approximately three more months. But her story lasts for six.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 5912-16. Accessed: 1/27/2014

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half. Then a chapter. Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better. What good were the words? She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. “What good are the words?” The book thief stood and walked carefully to the library door. Its protest was small and halfhearted. The airy hallway was steeped in wooden

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 6205-11. Accessed: 1/27/2014

As it turned out, Ilsa Hermann not only gave Liesel Meminger a book that day. She also gave her a reason to spend time in the basement—her favorite place, first with Papa, then Max. She gave her a reason to write her own words, to see that words had also brought her to life. “Don’t punish yourself,” she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing. In the night, when Mama and Papa were asleep, Liesel crept down to the basement and turned on the kerosene lamp. For the first hour, she only watched the pencil and paper. She made herself remember, and as was her habit, she did not look away.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 6251-56. Accessed: 1/27/2014

Lastly, the Hubermanns. Hans. Papa. He was tall in the bed and I could see the silver through his eyelids. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do—the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places. This one was sent out by the breath of an accordion, the odd taste of champagne in summer, and the art of promise-keeping. He lay in my arms and rested. There was an itchy lung for a last cigarette and an immense, magnetic pull toward the basement, for the girl who was his daughter and was writing a book down there that he hoped to read one day. Liesel. His soul whispered it as I carried him. But there was no Liesel in that house. Not for me, anyway. For me, there was only a Rosa, and yes, I truly think I picked her up midsnore, for her mouth was open and her papery pink lips were still in the act of moving. If she’d seen me, I’m sure she would have called me a Saukerl, though I would not have taken it badly. After reading The Book Thief, I discovered that she called everyone that. Saukerl. Saumensch. Especially the people she loved. Her elastic hair was out. It rubbed against the pillow and her wardrobe body had risen with the beating of her heart. Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving. Remember that she was the woman with the instrument strapped to her body in the long, moon-slit night. She was a Jew feeder without a question in the world on a man’s first night in Molching. And she was an arm reacher, deep into a mattress, to deliver a sketchbook to a teenage girl.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 6330-44. Accessed: 1/27/2014

Slow. Slow. “God, Rudy . . .” She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers. Her hands were trembling, her lips were fleshy, and she leaned in once more, this time losing control and misjudging it. Their teeth collided on the demolished world of Himmel Street.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 6390-94. Accessed: 1/27/2014

On the day of the funerals, she still hadn’t bathed, and Ilsa Hermann asked politely if she’d like to. Previously, she’d only shown her the bath and given her a towel. People who were at the service of Hans and Rosa Hubermann always talked about the girl who stood there wearing a pretty dress and a layer of Himmel Street dirt. There was also a rumor that later in the day, she walked fully clothed into the Amper River and said something very strange. Something about a kiss. Something about a Saumensch. How many times did she have to say goodbye?

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 6464-69. Accessed: 1/27/2014

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race—that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant. None of those things, however, came out of my mouth. All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you. A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR I am haunted by humans.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Kindle Edition. loc. 6505-10. Accessed: 1/27/2014