In the sixth chapter of The Book Thief, we begin to learn what sort of life Liesel Meminger is given when she is taken in with the Hubermanns. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.
I really did pick a bleak book to read after the Hunger Games trilogy. It doesn’t help that Doctor Who over on Mark Watches has also been pretty depressing as well, but STILL. I’m hoping this book doesn’t deal with child abuse because HELLO THAT WILL BE TOO CLOSE TO HOME.
Let’s start with some non-depressing info-dumping for chapter six, shall we?
CH. 6: GROWING UP A SAUMENSCH
I should hasten to admit, however, that there was a considerable hiatus between the first stolen book and the second. Another noteworthy point is that the first was stolen from snow and the second from fire. Not to omit that others were also given to her. All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.
Ok, so I definitely got a lot wrong before. So why does Liesel collect books in this manner? What is it about The Grave Digger’s Handbook that inspires her to seek out other books? I ask a lot of questions. THEY ARE RHETORICAL, FYI.
But I do get absolute confirmation that what Death is relating to us is the story taken from Liesel’s own book. I imagine I’m going to like where this is heading a lot, as it’s becoming clear that Liesel is going to finally discover books and begin her long affair with them. I mean, I can relate to that. Books helped save me while growing up. It’s what helped me feel whole, that helped create the sense of creativity and foster my own imagination in ways I’ll always appreciate. SO I DO HOPE THIS TURNS INTO A FUCK YEAH BOOKS SORT OF BOOK.
I’m getting sidetracked. Back to Liesel. As much as Zusak jumped around during the prologue, I’m glad that he settles down to introduce us to the new place that Liesel will grow up in, as well as filling in parts of her past. She arrives in her new home with the baggage of her past, both immediate and years ago. Still raw from her freak out at her brother’s funeral, she is also scarred from the small life that she has known. Her father is gone, taken away for being a Communist. I love the way Zusak describes this:
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.
It’s a world where a word can haunt, where people can disappear in just a moment’s time, unheard of ever again. What Zusak communicates well here is how these moments are so matter-of-fact to Liesel. It’s the way the world is. I wouldn’t say that it’s a form of Liesel’s ignorance or innocence or naivete. I think that even at nine years old, she’s acutely aware of the horrors around her, especially ones that force your own mother to give you up to strangers to keep you alive.
No matter how many times she was told that she was loved, there was no recognition that the proof was in the abandonment. Nothing changed the fact that she was a lost, skinny child in another foreign place, with more foreign people. Alone.
And that’s what abandonment will do to a person. It’s heartbreaking, for sure.
In the Hubermann household, things are not at all what Liesel is used to so, so even in this initial sense, she has a lot that she has to work through before she can begin to feel comfortable with these new people in her life. The first immediate difference is the swearing. Rosa has a very…imaginative tongue. Liesel’s foster mother is harsh with her words and the behavior seems second nature to her. That first night, it’s not with understanding or affection that Rosa greets her new foster child with, but a contemptuous anger. There’s no reason we’re given to explain why Rosa is like this, but given Liesel’s heartbreak and stubbornness, it’s practically the worst method Rosa could use to convince Liesel to take a bath.
In contrast, Hans is much softer-spoken. He’s gentle. His eyes are full of a cold kindness. I think that regardless of the way Rosa behaved, Liesel would never have gravitated toward her anyway. Rosa could not have replaced her mother. I mean, yes, it doesn’t help that Rosa is so mean, but given that Liesel grew up with her own mother this entire time, I can see why she might feel more of an affinity towards Hans. But I think it’s also important to note that Liesel, who barely knew her father at all before he went away, has a soft affection for his memory. It might make sense that she would seek out another father figure to comfort her.
That’s what Hans provides. Perhaps this is just the way this couple works. Hans is meek, Rosa is forceful. Either way, I loved the mental image of Liesel and Hans sitting in the growing darkness, Hans teaching his new foster daughter how to roll cigarettes. It’s a calming thought.
It seems that Hans was just a calming person in general. As Death describes it to us:
Somehow, though, and I’m sure you’ve met people like this, he was able to appear as merely part of the background, even if he was standing at the front of a line. He was always just there. Not noticeable. Not important or particularly valuable.
This sort of quiet, unassuming existence appeals to Liesel. At a time when the world is shouting at her with all its might, someone has come into her life who can fill her space with nothing but a smile and those silver, kind eyes.
I’m hoping that Rosa doesn’t merely exist as some sort of rude stereotype in the coming pages, but at this point, there is a sense that she more resembles a cartoonish concept of an authority figure than an actual character. However, I am on page thirty-four. I’ve got a lot to go.
There is some growth here, as months rapidly pass in just a few sentences. Liesel takes a bath—two weeks after she arrives. And I beginning to feel that Rosa’s crude language has less to do with her being mean and more as just her way of speaking or showing affection. Calling her a saumensch almost has a ring of care to it by the end of chapter six.
If anything, Rosa might just have come on strong. By the finish of this chapter, months after Liesel has arrived, Rosa makes no qualms about asking Liesel to call her Mama. But it’s important to note that she is “Mama Number Two.” She is not replacing anyone. She is a continuation, the next chapter in Liesel’s life.
At that moment, Hans Hubermann had just completed rolling a cigarette, having licked the paper and joined it all up. He looked over at Liesel and winked. She would have no trouble calling him Papa.
As some who so desperately wanted affection as a child, I can at least confirm this: Sometimes, all a kid wants is a little love.