In the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of The Book Thief, Death blatantly foreshadows what is to come (it’s awful) and then teases us by telling us about nothing but happiness. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.
the shoulder shrug
I don’t think I’ve ever thoroughly enjoyed a book this quickly. I’m not even 15% through The Book Thief and I already want to binge read this book and finish it off in one sitting. Good lord, I love this story and the way it is written. That’s not say that it’s perfect. I’m still a bit weirded out by the way Death constantly is like, “HEY HERE ARE FUTURE PLOT POINTS, LOL,” but I’m also willing to accept that they might be dropped here and there on purpose. Style-wise, as I said before, this is not something I’m willing to go to bat on, as I know that the way Zusak writes could potentially be very grating to some of you. That’s ok. We all have varying tastes. But as I came to the end of chapter fourteen, I had a gigantic grin on my face and I really appreciated that this book just plain made me feel good. And that is awesome.
CH 13: A GIRL MADE OF DARKNESS
Right off the bat, Death tells us that it takes Liesel 463 days to steal her second book, going as far to tell us that it was stolen out of a book burning and that it was also called The Shoulder Shrug. We’re given very little context for this all except for a long passage that starts off as such:
In a way, it was destiny.
You see, people may tell you that Nazi Germany was built on anti-Semitism, a somewhat overzealous leader, and a nation of hate-fed bigots, but it would all have come to nothing had the Germans not loved one particular activity:
What follows is a bit of cultural explanation about the Germans love of fire. I am curious to know if this bit of social acceptance and obsession with fire is actually accurate, as I couldn’t find anything online about it. (And really, try to Google the concept. I literally could not think of anything proper to get a good result. “German obsession with fire in world war II” just looks really odd.)
Can anyone else with knowledge about this provide some context? I’m interested.
Anyway, so now I know how Liesel acquires her second book via theft: from a book burning. And she does so with an angry, furious pride. But Death isn’t content just giving us that answer. He has to (quite literally) pose a few questions to keep us thinking:
The question, of course, should be why?
What was there to be angry about?
What had happened in the past four or five months to culminate in such a feeling?
In short, the answer traveled from Himmel Street, to the Führer, to the unfindable location of her real mother, and back again.
Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness.
GREAT. So we will be DESTROYED BY SADNESS. Ugh, this book is so happy so far! I suppose the sadness was INEVITABLE.
CH 14: THE JOY OF CIGARETTES
The good news is that things are not quite awful yet, so I can at least enjoy the family that Liesel now has in Molching.
She loved her papa, Hans Hubermann, and even her foster mother, despite the abusages and verbal assaults. She loved and hated her best friend, Rudy Steiner, which was perfectly normal. And she loved the fact that despite her failure in the classroom, her reading and writing were definitely improving and would soon be on the verge of something respectable. All of this resulted in at least some form of contentment and would soon be built upon to approach the concept of Being Happy.
What’s important here is that Death/Zusak make the point to say that the “Keys To Happiness,” as they are called, are specific to Liesel, suggesting there is no universal key for everyone else. I really enjoy that it’s not an issue of finding these grand, high-in-the-sky goals either.
That first key to happiness comes just eight days before Christmas, when Liesel wakes up from a familiar nightmare. It’s the train again, her brother’s death still fresh on her mind. Hans, as always, is there to comfort her, and they begin their nightly ritual of reading through The Grave Digger’s Handbook. They’re on chapter eleven this particular night, just one chapter short of the end. A few hours later, Hans closes the book, only one chapter remaining, and hopes to sleep.
Oh god, I love what happens next.
The light was out for barely a minute when Liesel spoke to him across the dark.
He only made a noise, somewhere in his throat.
“Are you awake, Papa?”
Up on one elbow. “Can we finish the book, please?”
There was a long breath, the scratchery of hand on whiskers, and then the light. He opened the book and began. “’Chapter Twelve: Respecting the Graveyard.’”
Oh, I love it. DO IT DO IT DO IT. How many of you have stayed up until daylight to finish a book? THIS GUY RIGHT HERE HAS. More times than I can count, really, especially during the last three to four years that I lived with my parents. LIESEL, WE ARE ~SOULMATES~
Hours later, as light crept in to Liesel’s bedroom, she finishes The Grave Digger’s Handbook. She has read her first book at ten years old, and a difficult book at that.
When the book closed, they shared a sideways glance. Papa spoke.
“We made it, huh?”
Liesel, half-wrapped in a blanket, studied the black book in her hand and its silver lettering. She nodded, dry-mouthed and early-morning hungry. It was one of those moments of perfect tiredness, of having conquered not only the work at hand, but the night who had blocked the way.
I not only felt that way about books, but I remember experiencing that exact sensation in college a lot, having to pull all-nighters studying or writing lengthy papers. There’s something about defying your internal clock and rationality and staying up all night to accomplish something, and that feeling can be so euphoric.
Liesel still held the book. She gripped it tighter as the snow turned orange. On one of the rooftops, she could see a small boy, sitting, looking at the sky. “His name was Werner,” she mentioned. The words trotted out, involuntarily.
Papa said, “Yes.”
What’s so unique about the relationship between Liesel and Hans is how often they can say so little and yet communicate entire volumes of ideas, concepts, feelings, emotions, or facts. It’s this strange, unspoken bond that makes me love them so much. There really couldn’t have been a more perfect foster father for Liesel to end up with.
In school, Liesel’s reading is not only improving, but she decides to consciously work on the way she presents herself in class, most especially to avoid another paddling from Sister Maria in the hallways. She wants to avoid that humiliation again; though it’s not said, I think that she also has done enough to give herself a reputation as one not to be bothered with as well. Happiness Key #2, it seems.
The final piece of happiness comes on Christmas morning. Liesel knows her foster parents are poor, and thus does not expect that she will get much of anything (or anything at all that Christmas, so she’s pleasantly surprised to find a single present, wrapped in newspaper, waiting for her under the tree.
Unfurling the paper, she unwrapped two small books. The first one, Faust the Dog, was written by a man named Mattheus Ottleberg. All told, she would read that book thirteen times. On Christmas Eve, she read the first twenty pages at the kitchen table while Papa and Hans Junior argued about a thing she did not understand. Something called politics.
Thirteen times in one day? Or total? PLEASE SPECIFY, DEATH.
The second book was called The Lighthouse and was written by a woman, Ingrid Rippinstein. That particular book was a little longer, so Liesel was able to get through it only nine times, her pace increasing ever so slightly by the end of such prolific readings.
I used to do this with those Goosebumps books that were so popular in the 90s. (In hindsight, SO MANY OF THOSE were utter rip-offs of Poe, Lovecraft, and The Twilight Zone. Hmph.) I would beg my mom to either buy them when we made trips to our local Wal Mart, where hundreds of them would be lined up with their colorful spines, or I’d ask for money whenever we had book fairs. I would read those books in maybe an hour. Maybe 90 minutes. Then I’d trace my way back to see what clues the author had dropped along the way. If it was especially good, I might read it three times in one single day.
Ugh, I love that this book is about LOVING BOOKS. It truly ~speaks to me~
I like that Liesel has no presumption about Santa Claus and knows that her parents bought her the books. So when she asks Hans how he got the money to buy her books, knowing they have none, the true dedication he has to his foster daughter is shown. Eight cigarettes per book. He traded them in town in order to give her those books for Christmas.
Liesel swapped a customary wink with her papa and finished eating her soup. As always, one of her books was next to her. She could not deny that the answer to her question had been more than satisfactory. There were not many people who could say that their education had been paid for cigarettes.
I love that it comes so soon after they’d finished The Grave Digger’s Handbook. I’m sure that Hans knew that Liesel would be itching to read more. SERIOUSLY, BEST FATHER FIGURE EVER.
Rosa does make a good point, though, that he hasn’t done quite the same for her, despite her need for a new dress or shoes. A few days later, he comes home with a box of eggs. Not quite the same, but Rosa appreciates it all the same.
Mama didn’t complain.
She even sang to herself while she cooked those eggs to the brink of burndom. It appeared that there was great joy in cigarettes, and it was a happy time in the Hubermann household.
It ended a few weeks later.