In the eighth chapter of The Book Thief, Liesel Meminger makes her very first friend. Yes, that sounds cheesy, but it’s quite good. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.
I still haven’t figured out what direction the bulk of this book is going to head, as Zusak is still in the expository pages. But in chapter eight, we get the chance to be introduced to a character that will play a large part in the narrative to come. (Death said so!) On top of that, this is also an opportunity for us to see more of the neighborhood that Liesel is now a part of. As Death says, “Molching was filled with characters.” Death has a very matter-of-fact way of narrating, as evidenced here when he quite literally lists the people in this chapter. Really.
On the whole, it was a street filled with relatively poor people, despite the apparent rise of Germany’s economy under Hitler. Poor sides of town still existed.
I’m glad Zusak includes this, since this is actually what happened under Hitler. There’s no denying that Hitler did improve the economic situation in Germany, but that’s also not quite the reality of what happened. There was still rampant poverty under his reign and I imagine that the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda helped sweep that under the table.
It’s weird reading about Liesel hanging out with the neighborhood children because I can’t relate in the slightest. I have no personal insight to give any you about what it was like for me to play kickball with my friends or to run around and play tag at dusk until I was so tired I simply couldn’t run another step. My mother was strict and overprotective. When I lived in Idaho until I was eight, I wasn’t allowed to go beyond my driveway. I had no neighborhood friends. When I moved to Riverside in 1992, the same rules were in place. No friends. No time outside unsupervised unless it was in the backyard. No chance to form meaningful relationships or socialize with other people or have all those experiences most other people had.
Ok, I swear I am not trying to make this book or my reviews EVEN MORE DEPRESSING THAN THEY WILL INEVITABLY BE. But I wanted to explain a little bit about why I have literally NOTHING INTERESTING TO SAY about this wonderful scene of soccer on Himmel Street.
I like that Liesel straight up doesn’t give a shit and I love what that says about having a female character as well. Maybe it’s part of her natural survival instinct, but, given what happens at the end of this chapter, I feel like Liesel just knows that she’s good enough to fit in with the boys who are tougher than she is. Well, “tougher.” In this case, Liesel, the new kid on the block, gets stuck being the goalie and, during a penalty shot from the best player on the street, refuses to back down.
Snow had stopped falling on the filthy street now, and the muddy footprints were gathered between them. Rudy shuffled in, fired the shot, and Liesel dived and somehow deflected it with her elbow. She stood up grinning, but the first thing she saw was a snowball smashing into her face. Half of it was mud. It stung like crazy.
And this begins the friendship between Rudy Steiner and it looks like it will be a beautiful thing. I mean:
A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
I mean….right? RIGHT?
The Steiners, Rudy included, are an interesting family. I’m intrigued to know more about “The Jesse Owens Incident” and why Rudy himself is so in love with that specific athlete. The Steiners are a large, large family, and Liesel gets to meet them not long after she starts school. Rudy agrees to walk with her to class and even if it is stereotypical that the boy who likes a girl does weird shit to her, I found it sweet. He’s strangely respectful of her.
On the way to school, Rudy acts as a tour guide both for Liesel and for us, introducing the reader to all of the people who are of any importance for Liesel. There’s Tommy Müller, who nearly froze to death when he was five and it ruined his nerves, so he twitches and is the worst soccer player on Himmel Street. They come upon the corner shop that belongs to Frau Diller, who is fiercely obedient to Hitler. As Death puts it:
She lived for her shop and her shop lived for the Third Reich. Even when rationing started later in the year, she was known to sell certain hard-to-get items under the counter and donate the money to the Nazi Party. One the wall behind her usual sitting position was a framed photo of the Führer. If you walked into her shop and didn’t say “heil Hitler,” you wouldn’t be served. As they walked by, Rudy drew Liesel’s attention to the bulletproof eyes leering from the shop window.
Well, holy shit. I mean, that’s the reality of this situation and as silly as this chapter is for the most part, I have to remember. This is a world under the control of Nazi rule. This is real. This happened, despite that it’s a fictionalized account of it all.
As was often the case, a few rows of troops in training came marching past. Their uniforms walked upright and their black boots further polluted the snow. Their faces were fixed ahead in concentration.
It’s almost like Zusak is reminding us (read: me) that we cannot forget the context of where and when this is all happening. He continues to give us particularly frightening visual/physical cues towards this:
A few of the shops were abandoned and still labeled with yellow stars and anti-Jewish slurs. Farther down, the church aimed itself at the sky, it’s rooftop a study of collaborated tiles. The street, overall, was a lengthy tube of gray—a corridor of dampness, people stooped in the cold, and the splashed sound of watery footsteps.
Again, some bleak and stunning imagery here. I don’t want to suggest that Collins or Rowling were bad writers at all (they’re not), but it’s nice to read a book with a different tone and feel to the way these words are strung together.
After passing the Steiner’s tailor shop, Rudy and Liesel reach the “last stop,” known as the “road of yellow stars.” It’s haunting, terrifying, painfully real:
It was a place nobody wanted to stay and look at, but almost everyone did. Shaped like a long, broken arm, the road contained several houses with lacerated windows and bruised walls. The Star of David was painted on their doors. The houses were almost like lepers. At the very least, they were infected sores on the injured German terrain.
“Schiller Strasse,” Rudy said. “The road of yellow stars.”
At the bottom, some people were moving around. The drizzle made them look like ghosts. Not humans, but shapes, moving about beneath the lead-colored clouds.
Unbelievably unsettling. Again, not just because Zusak describes it in a manner that explains the total horror of this, but because it’s completely real.
Pfiffikus is introduced after this. It’s a little jarring after the scene with the road of yellow stars, as he is…I hate saying this, but he is quite a character. He swears. A lot. He is full of rage. A lot. Known for whistling the Radetzky March (and known for becoming violently upset when kids whistle it back at him), Liesel is quick to fall in with the rest of the neighborhood, especially Rudy, in taunting the old man through whistling. After the man so inappropriately calls Liesel a slut (REALLY. SHE IS TEN.), Rudy and her take off running in joy. Rudy leads her to the Hubert Oval, the site of the Jesse Owens incident, and I really adore what happens here. Liesel has been through so much already in her life and she’s still making the best out of her life. I don’t know…I think I’m just happy that she has a friend.
Rudy, naturally, does exactly what he thinks is best for his new friend: he challenges her to a 100-meter race.
“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.
She thought about it while examining the weedy legs of her opposition. They were about equal with her own. There’s no way he can beat me, she thought. She nodded seriously. This was business. “You can kiss me if you win. But if I win, I get out of being goalie at soccer.”
Good for you, Liesel. I can’t relate to this because I didn’t have a friend similar to Rudy as a child and I wasn’t really the competitive type until much later in my life. But I like Liesel a lot already. She’s got a lot of spirit to her, and that makes me smile. She’s also one who’s not read to take shit, even at ten years’ old. As the two of them set out on their race, they fall into the thick mud just shy of their goal.
Rudy looked over, all sharp teeth and gangly blue eyes. Half his face was painted with mud. “If it’s a draw, do I still get my kiss?”
YOU SLY DOG.
“Not in a million years.” Liesel stood up and flicked some mud off her jacket.
LOVE YOU LIESEL.
As they walked back to Himmel Street, Rudy forewarned her. “One day, Liesel,” he said, “you’ll be dying to kiss me.”
Well, AREN’T YOU POSITIVELY SURE OF YOURSELF.
As long as both she and Rudy Steiner lived, she would never kiss that miserable, filthy Saukerl, especially not this day. There were more important matters to attend to. She looked down at her suit of mud and stated the obvious.
“She’s going to kill me.”
In their moment of childish joy, they’d forgotten about returning home. I can’t relate to it, but…oops. I laughed. Even though Liesel was punished, I’m glad she got to spend the day with Rudy. But I imagine I am utterly unprepared for what is about to come.