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.
- The last time she saw her brother.
- 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.
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.
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.