Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapter 7

In the seventh chapter of The Book Thief, life under the rule of Rosa is not easy for Liesel. However, she does begin to find some solace in school and—you guessed it—a single book. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.

I’d say that the single sentence that opens up chapter seven accurately describes what follows it:

Those first few months were definitely the hardest.

Understatement of this blog. We’ve reached the longest chapter yet and this shit is DEPRESSING. Right off the bat, Death shares with us the fact that Liesel had nightmares every night. Nightmares about her brother:

On the other side of the room, the bed that was meant for her brother floated boatlike in the darkness. Slowly, with the arrival of consciousness, it sank, seemingly into the floor. This vision didn’t help matters, and it would usually be quite a while before the screaming stopped.

Oh god, they left her brother’s bed in the room? UGH THIS IS SO SAD.

A remarkable thing happens though, a silver lining that is completely unexpected:

He came in every night and sat with her. The first couple of times, he simply stayed—a stranger to kill the aloneness. A few nights after that, he whispered, “Shhh, I’m here, it’s all right.” After three weeks, he held her. Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness. The girl knew from the outset that Hans Hubermann would always appear midscream, and he would not leave.

I don’t want to suggest that a person needs a reason beyond simply being awesome and caring, but I’m curious about why Hans has gravitated so instantly to Liesel. It’s wonderful and I’m glad she has him, but his affinity is so immediate and I don’t understand why. I get a better sense of his motivation as the two of them grow closer. Hans begins to play his accordion for Liesel and each time, Rosa would yell at Hans to stop. Then:

He would wink at the girl, and clumsily, she’d wink back.

Hmmm. Maybe Hans likes that Liesel is on his side? What I mean is…if you look at a lot of chapter seven, we see that Hans and Rosa don’t necessarily seem to get along or be on the same page or show each other any sort of affection. Now, obviously this is only a rough theory at this point, but perhaps Hans enjoys that there’s someone who can also be there for him in a way. Someone who is not of the temperament of his wife.

It’s just an idea.

It’s nice that there’s some silliness to their relationship because this chapter is far from being silly. The accordion is a sign for Liesel that someone is in her life to bring her joy. The only other thing that is this important to her is the book she stole on the day she buried her brother. As Death points out, despite that she cannot read the book at all, the book holds a very important meaning to her. It marks a very specific moment in time.

  1. The last time she saw her brother.
  2. The last time she saw her mother.

The book will represent something else to Liesel, but we’ll get to that soon.

Liesel goes to school! I didn’t expect that so soon. Things are made even harder by the fact that Liesel cannot read or write at all and gets stuck with younger children, smaller than her, and, like most things in her new world, it makes her feel even more alone. Her new foster parents aren’t much help, as neither of them got out of grade school, so she’s on her own to learn the alphabet.

…the best Liesel could do was speak the alphabet under her breath before she was told in no uncertain terms to keep quiet. All that mumbling. It wasn’t until later, when there was a bed-wetting incident midnightmare, that an extra reading education began. Unofficially, it was called the midnight class, even though it usually commenced at around two in the morning. More of that soon.

Aw, don’t tease me with this, Death! I’ll comment more when we get there (and maybe tell a story!), but a lot of my book obsession was late at night, my blankets providing a tent (and protection in case my mother found out), and I’d take adventures far away when I should have been sleeping.

More of that soon.

Liesel is enrolled in the Bund Deutscher Mädchen, a German girls school under the Hitler Youth, and Liesel attended twice a week. And she does it, walked there by her Papa, and they do it quietly, unspoken. There’s not much more information about the schooling, but I get the idea that Liesel and her foster dad just obey. There’s nothing that needs to be said about it. They do what they are told. It’s the unspoken part, the fear that they live under. Zusak doesn’t need to spell it out for us.

What he does spell out is the fear that Liesel has to experience after her mother abandoned her. She’s become attached to Hans, but there’s still an “anxiety,” as Zusak says, whenever he leaves. I was reminded of the end of Mockingjay and Katniss’s similar fears, that at any point those she loved could be taken away from her, that her own happiness could have been seized by total strangers. I feel like this is similar, that Liesel’s own fears are related directly to her past. But then there’s also the problem of Rosa.

Rosa has her ways of communicating with the world around her:

She was constantly arguing and complaining. There was no one to really argue with, but Mama managed it expertly every chance she had. She could argue with the entire world in that kitchen, and almost every evening, she did.

Hello, Rosa. Have you met my mother? I mean, seriously, that is my goddamn mother. That’s what growing up with her was like. A constant stream of arguing and negativity and one-sided rants and MY HOUSE WAS SO LOUD. (FYI, the infamous Kasper has met my mother and can confirm that this is indeed 100% factual and correct and made up of all the facts).

We get to know more of Rosa, too, and I’m glad Zusak doesn’t focus entirely around Hans. Liesel spends some of her days after school walking around town with Rosa as she picks up and drops off the laundry and ironing that she does for the richer part of town. What we’re given is a long string of that very complaining, as Rosa imparts her wonderfully negative opinions about the people she works for. Not that what she has to say is incorrect or anything, but Rosa really does seem to exist solely on complaining.

It was like a roll call of scorn.

I must use this in the future. I must!

The only thing I want to note from this section is that Zusak focuses a bit on the house at 8 Grande Strasse more than anything else. It belongs to the mayor and his “defeated” wife. I wanted to point this out because I think we will return here. AND I JUST WANT TO PREDICT ONE THING RIGHT BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON.

Moving on.

When she finished berating the people she worked for, Rosa Hubermann would usually move on to her other favorite theme of abuse. Her husband. Looking at the bag of washing and the hunched houses, she would talk, and talk, and talk. “If your papa was any good,” she informed Liesel every time they walked through Molching, “I wouldn’t have to do this.” She sniffed with derision. “A painter! Why marry that Arschloch? That’s what they told me—my family, that is.” Their footsteps crunched along the path. “And here I am, walking the streets and slaving in my kitchen because that Saukerl never has any work. No real work, anyway. Just that pathetic accordian in those dirt holes every night.”

Again, are you my mother. Well, it’s not exactly the same, because I didn’t realize that Hans might actually be failing to contribute as much as Rosa might want, so she might actually have some basis for the way she treats her husband. Plus…that’s just how some relationships work. I don’t know these people that well quite yet.

Basically, I want to know more.

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.

Ok, so there’s a part of me that feels that I might grow to like Rosa a lot, despite that she reminds me of the negative parts of my own mother, because she is feisty. She’s got a great sense of self-preservation to her. In the meantime, though, we’re left with Liesel having to clean Holtzapfel’s spit off of their door each time she sends her saliva that way.

Each night, Liesel would step outside, wipe the door, and watch the sky. Usually it was like spillage—cold and heavy, slippery and gray—but once in a while some stars had the nerve to rise and float, if only for a few minutes. On those nights she would stay a little longer and wait.

“Hello, stars.”

Waiting.

For the voice from the kitchen.

Or till the stars were dragged down again, into the waters of the German sky.

At least after all of this, Liesel still seems to have hope. And maybe that’s all one can have in a situation like this.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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65 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapter 7

  1. psycicflower says:

    “A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children."
    Sometimes you just need someone to be there for you. Whenever my youngest sister used to have nightmares all she'd need was for me(or my other sister depending on who was sharing the double bed) to put their arm around her and she'd be okay, knowing that there's someone else there. Hans provides that security that Liesel so badly needs.

    I always just assumed that Hans liked children and liked having them around since, as mentioned in this chapter, the Hubermann kids are all grown up and moved out and maybe that's why he takes an instant liking to Liesel. I like your idea too though. I already said yesterday how much I like Rosa because she reminds me of people I know but I love the idea that she has a long standing fued with Frau Holtzapfel that nobody knows the origin of but that they both keep going on principle.
    I like how the Hitler Youth is presented as a fact of life. Liesel has to attend it and there's nothing that she or Hans can do about it. It's just the way things are.

    “Each night, Liesel would step outside, wipe the door, and watch the sky. Usually it was like spillage–cold and heavy, slippery and gray–but once in a while some stars had the nerve to rise and float, if only for a few minutes. On those nights, she would stay a little longer and wait.”
    Firstly, I love that description, and secondly that is so me. I always stop a moment and look at the stars if I'm out at night. I wholeheartedly agree that it's nice to see that Liesel at least still has hope.

  2. ThreeBooks says:

    I don't know why, but the mayor's wife stayed with me from the start, just the way she silently hands over the bag of clothes and how Rose sends Liesel up alone…

  3. Natalie says:

    I always forget how much I love the descriptive writing in this book, it's so beautifully weird. I HAVE to read this again :)

  4. cait0716 says:

    Death's definition of "not leaving" nearly made me cry. Especially when juxtaposed with Hans' constant leaving. He won't leave her alone in the middle of the night, but every evening when he leaves, there's a distinct possibility that he simply won't come back. Just like the woman at the boarding house, and Liesel's father (I'm assuming) and her mother. People just disappear.

    I thought the BDM was more like mandatory girl scouts than school. It had the feel of extra-curricular activity.

    I really liked the description of Hans giving music to Liesel. It broke my heart that she grew up ten years without music. That seems to be one of the very first things we give each other – in the form of lullabies and moms who put headphones over their bellies (does anyone really do that, or do I just watch too much TV?). Songs I first heard when I was little still make me feel safe and warm and I can't even imagine simply not having that.

    Also, "hello stars" made me smile. I do that, too

  5. PatR says:

    I've been around families where there is a lot of verbal negativity. It makes me appreciate my family a lot more. It's like growing up with post-traumatic stress disorder to constantly be verbally barraged. God bless Hans.

  6. zulaihaha says:

    I really love the image of Liesel clumsily winking back.

  7. I never thought about Hans's motivation for being so kind to Liesel. I think it's just the kind of person he is. I love him.

    He would wink at the girl, and clumsily, she’d wink back.

    Strangely, this is one of my very favorite bits from the whole book. I imagine her all tiny in her nightgown, sitting on her bed with her arms around her drawn-up knees, giving an owlish, clumsy, two-eyed wink. It makes me smile.

  8. Andrea says:

    Reading about the relationship developing between Hans and Liesel makes me wonder about Hans' relationship with his own children and if he has always been the more nurturing one. This is my first time reading this book and I'm not exactly sure where the story is going, but I hope we get lots more Hubermann family backstory.

  9. monkeybutter says:

    Well, as long as Kasper can vouch for you, I guess I'll believe it. Honestly, my father is more like Rosa, with the insults, ranting, and negativity (I grew up in a loud house, too!), and I probably take after him more than is healthy. I may have to use roll call of scorn in real life.

    Even though the chapter is sad, the winking and relationship between Hans and Liesel cheers me up, and the imagery gives me hope. Liesel's a resilient kid.

  10. jessicaduh says:

    Each night, Liesel would step outside, wipe the door, and watch the sky. Usually it was like spillage-cold and heavy, slippery and gray-but once in a while some stars had the nerve to rise and float, if only for a few minutes.
    ___________________________________

    Okay, every time i read this passage, I think he's describing the spit as being like spillage, "cold and heavy, slippery and gray," before i get to the second half of that sentence….gagging. just FYI FWIW

  11. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I love the idea that not leaving, rather than simply being the opposite of leaving, is an act in and of itself. It really does seem to encapsulate the way children often express themselves when they're worried, everything in terms of specific threats and fears present or absent. Being there, as such, is far less useful than not leaving.

    "It's okay" and "everything's fine" were always decidedly less reassuring than "there are no monsters."

  12. Hotaru-hime says:

    The mayor's wife. I want to see more of her.
    I ran a chapter ahead of you, but I'll be back on track! One chapter a day!

  13. theresa1128429 says:

    “A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children."
    This makes me want to let my daughter sleep in my bed every night so I can just hold her until she wakes up. Some lines just stick with me when I read a book, and this is one of them.

    I don't think that Hans has any real reasons for being nice. I think he is just the fatherly type. Hell, I don't think many people could listen to a child scream in the middle of the night and not go comfort them. I hate other people's kids but if I heard that I would be there in an instant.

    And Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
    <img src="http://img858.imageshack.us/img858/9701/stpatricks3.gif"&gt;

  14. ldwy says:

    First off, as I'm reading your reactions to Rosa, all I can think is:
    <img src="http://28.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lhxckg58JV1qbf11po1_500.gif"&gt;

    Secondly, Rosa is really growing on me too. I sometimes slip into that complain-about-everything mode, and I try to notice when I'm doing it and stop, but I can only imagine if I was in a more desperate situation, like Rosa and Hans in the midst of WWII (or nearly) it would be so easy to have that attitude. And I feel like it's pretty harmless from her.

    I'm so glad Liesel is still hopeful. Looking at the sky really does have the potential to inspire hope for so many.

  15. andreah1234 says:

    Mark, YOU AND I HAVE THE SAME MOTHER. IT IS WEIRD. My mom is pretty much like Rose, in the sense she's loud and somewhat (most of the time MORE than somewhat) insulting, and that she has a list of insults that would make a sailor blush in shame. BUT, she also has the same protective strike to her, and she ( most of the times) stick to her loved ones. Her relationship with Hans intrigues me, because to some degree I do think Rosa loves him, it's just in her personality to trate him like that, as she has never seen different. Or maybe I'm just projecting, WHO KNOWS.

    Death's definition of "not leaving" CRUSHED MY HEART. Because I used to feel like that when I was a kid (ZUSAK WHY DO YOU KNOW MY SOUL. STOP IT), it wasn't until I was older that I realized that some people, even if they're not with you, never really leave. T_T.

  16. E.L.S.O.S says:

    So not prepared. So not fucking prepared….

    And I need to stop reading your reviews for this book when I'm in lab. My Professor is looking at me funny since I'm trying so hard not to burst into tears. This book is fucking sad.

  17. stellaaaaakris says:

    So I'm trying to learn German (I'm still very, very not good) but I think I'm going to at least learn a good number of insults thanks to Rosa. Especially related to pigs.

    Hans and Rosa Hubermanns are like real world, nonmagical versions of the Weasleys. Obviously it's not a perfect comparison (Molly is much gentler), but there are a good number of parallels. Molly and Rosa are both short and plump; they both are loud and yellers. Molly usually yells with good reason, but there's no denying she's the punishment enforcer of the couple. Arthur and Hans are both tall and, I imagine, lean. They are quiet but when they yell, it makes more of an impression (I'm guessing about Hans). They also both have hobbies/jobs their wives don't completely approve of (all things Muggle-related, painting/accordion). I'm really hoping there will be a Rosa "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH" moment.

    On another note, I'm really excited you're doing His Dark Materials next. As much as I'm enjoying reading along with you so far (it's soooo hard not to keep reading, and I never know where you're going to divide the parts), I think I prefer being able to tell you you're not prepared and know for a fact that I'm right. Plus the fact that HDM is one of my favorite series, following only HP, doesn't hurt.

  18. ldwy says:

    Yes! Happy St. Patrick's Day :)
    <img src="http://seattletwist.com/wp-content/uploads/st-patrick.jpg"&gt;
    I don't know who that guy is, but he's pretty fantastic.

  19. jennywildcat says:

    Okay, I've been behind the last few days, but now I'm all caught up.

    Hans and Liesel's relationship reminds me so much of mine and my dad's. My mother has a horrible, horrible temper and when she gets pissed off… there were days when I'd hide in my room praying for my dad to get home and calm her down. Or at least take her attention away from me – usually she was really angry at my dad over something, but I'm so much like my dad that I would get caught in the crosshairs. It was not a pleasant experience, to say the least. The abuse never got physical, but the screaming and yelling was bad enough. I still have to deal with it sometimes.

    But I am really glad you picked this book, Mark. I am loving it so far.

  20. psycicflower says:

    Happy St. Patrick's Day.
    <img src="http://i52.tinypic.com/2r3h7v9.jpg&quot; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

  21. k.r.d. says:

    Mark, just so you know, Jennifer Lawrence has officially been cast as Katniss in "The Hunger Games"
    http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=7

  22. MajorWhoaButWhy says:

    It's freaky, but I can't stoop watching it for some reason.

  23. potlid007 says:

    IS THERE ANYTHING HANS CAN'T SOLVE??

  24. barnswallowkate says:

    Yep, Rosa is my mother-in-law! The roll call of scorn is so, so apt. My favorite is when no one will argue with her so she starts insulting her own cooking (which is always good). I'm always impressed that people like my husband & Mark come from houses like that.

  25. BradSmith5 says:

    The little girl can't even read? She doesn't even know that her book is about digging graves, then. I want her to learn, but man, is that gonna be the only thing she has to practice with? :(

    And your writing style is very similar to Zusak's today, Mark. Not to mention the TEASING of stories to come later! I am looking forward to it!

  26. BradSmith5 says:

    You guys over in "Mark Watches" got me hooked on the Doctor. I started over at the beginning of the new series and JUST saw that episode. Now, as I recover from the horror, I open my browser today and see THIS.

    EEEEEEEEEEEE.

  27. blessthechildren says:

    This may not be popular, but let me say this:
    I had a really hard time reading the Book Thief. I usually read 800+ page books in a day, and this took me over a year. I did come to enjoy the book, and I really like the way this little family unit is developing in this chapter.

    Granted, that had to do with the fact that our district was going to try an make me teach this wonderfully unconventional book to my ESL classes, and that tainted the experience. Instead of just reading it I kept thinking "how on earth will I explain all of this?"

    That being said, I'm surprised by how low the comment levels are. Maybe it would help to review more chapters at a time?

    …. or throw in an HP re-read every few days 😉

  28. lilygirl says:

    Loved this book from the first page and have since made it my mission to use it in all my Readers's Advisory. I like the comment about it being "real" and so many of us have a connection to this part of history. I have lead a lot of book discussions and the best way to do this book is after the read. This story is such an accumulation of character, plot, style that breaking it up in small choppy pieces make discussion difficult. We can pick out special phrases, language usage, personal moments and use them in the comments but big WOW's are few and far between. It really is, as Death said, I little story.

  29. Whispy360 says:

    When I started out on this book a couple days ago, I thought to myself, "Oh, I haven't read this book before, so I'll read along at the same pace as Mark!" Yeah… that really worked. I don't see how you do it. xD (Did you have to hide the book somewhere while reading The Hunger Games so you wouldn't read ahead?!) Though I'm not that far ahead.

    I visualize the narrator as Death from the Discworld series, probably because he's my favorite book character (by the way, Mark… you have to read Discworld. Oh my god, those books are amazing).

    I really like this style. It's not like what I usually read, but I like the way it sounds on the page. (I'm sure that doesn't make sense…) The things it doesn't say, but it sort of lets your imagination fill in.

  30. lecielazteque says:

    I was also wondering why there weren't as many comments. Perhaps historical fiction isn't for everyone. All the things we've read and even the things on MarkWatches are mostly science fiction or fantasy, so this is a bit out of the ordinary for these blogs. But this book is AMAZING. I kept seeing it at B&N and wondering if it was good, so when I saw that so many people said it was good and Mark was gonna read it, I decided to just read it. I'm not one to just follow along because once a story gets me, I just have to finish the book and this is one of those books you just have to keep reading, It's not so much about SHIT GETS SO REAL OMG, plot-wise (or is it?). But it definitely gets you emotionally. It helps that I just love sad shit, especially books. Sometimes movies not so much because it feels that they're being sad just to be sad, but with books, I don't mind it and might even prefer it.

    Anyway, I'm so happy Mark is reading this because when I was reading, I kept thinking, "I wonder what Mark will say/think about this" every few lines or events lol

  31. SecretGirl127 says:

    SPOILER

  32. lecielazteque says:

    this is a bit spoilery

  33. arctic_hare says:

    I'm deleting this for expectation spoilers.

  34. leebea says:

    I have the same name as the main character and I am getting very distracted with this Mark reads because of it. It so depressing!

  35. tchemgrrl says:

    I haven't gotten the book yet (library waiting list), but it seems like Hans is treating Liesel the way many caring humans would treat their traumatized foster child–no sudden moves, physically or emotionally, just being there, being yourself, and letting the child learn to trust you. Doesn't read oddly to me at all.

  36. Kelly L. says:

    Just to add on to my comment on the previous chapter, re: Hans & Rosa being like my grandparents… I can totally get why Hans would gravitate toward Liesel. I feel like they are sort of cohorts against Rosa's "abuse" (as well-intended as she might mean to be.) My grandpa is the same way. When my grandma's all crazy hollering about this, that, or the other thing, my grandpa makes little conspiratorial comments behind her back. Just like the accordion and the wink.

  37. Kelly L. says:

    Whoops – I was also going to say, I found this bit to be interesting also because for as many things as I've read that were set in WWII era, I don't think I've ever really read anything from the perspective of an Aryan-type German, in Germany, during this time. I don't know why it never really occurred to me to wonder what it was like to be in that particular situation, but this book is kind of answering the questions I never asked.

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