Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 19-20

In the nineteenth and twentieth chapters of The Book Thief, Liesel confronts her father about the Führer and steals her second book, both at a vicious and painful price. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.


Liesel is a largely a shy character, despite that she is so close to Hans Hubermann. Because of this, I suspected that she would choose to keep her revelation to herself, not just in the immediate future, but for a very long time. What I didn’t anticipate was the sheer terror of the realization shaking Liesel to the core, so much so that she would take a risk and confront her father about the damning epiphany she just had.

I love that Death’s aside regarding Liesel’s realization is in the form of a mathematical addition:


The word communist + a large bonfire + a collection of dead letters + the suffering of her mother + the death of her brother = the Führer.

It’s a painful moment for Liesel, one that ties together seemingly random and senseless acts of grief and sadness to one person, one man and the ideals that he propagates. I have to keep reminding myself that Liesel is just eleven years old. Good fucking god.

I pondered writing another personal story, but seriously, I’m in New York and it’s virtually impossible for me to feel sad about anything on the face of the planet right now. But what I wanted to elaborate on is what chapter nineteen does so terribly well: demonstrate and describe what happens when a person’s innocence is shattered. I don’t know that I could personally pinpoint a specific moment in time where I felt I was no longer a kid anymore. Rather, for me, a lot of what I went through from the ages of seven to nine helped shape my growing discontent with myself and the family I lived with. The thing is…well, those years were very overwhelming for me and, unlike Liesel, I could pinpoint a specific moment in time like this book does here. Mine is a collection of events and images and things yelled at me and faith lost.


For Liesel, realizing that Hitler is inherently behind all of the misery in her life, it only makes sense for her to vocalize that to the father she trusts with all her heart:

Did he bend down and embrace his foster daughter, as he wanted to? Did he tell her that he was sorry for what was happening to her, to her mother, for what had happened to her brother?

Not exactly.

He clenched his eyes. Then opened them. He slapped Liesel Meminger squarely in the face.

Zusak does spell it out in the coming pages, but I was happy (and I mean that more in a “I-am-satisfied-this-is-here” way and not a “I’m-way-stoked-that-Liesel-just-got-slapped” way) that he makes a point to have Death narrate Liesel’s heartbreak so explicitly. It’s not that Hitler has ruined her family that causes her such harm. It’s that this Führer has done something that made her foster father strike her. It seems to me that it’s all the more painful that someone she loves so much was reduced to such a frightening moment of violence.

And seriously, how awful is this section?

Liesel stood up and also raised her arm. With absolute misery, she repeated it. “Heil Hitler.” It was quite a sight–an eleven-year-old girl, trying not to cry on the church steps, saluting the Führer as the voices over Papa’s should chopped and beat at the dark shape in the background.

Fucked up. So fucked up.

But we end chapter nineteen with yet another beacon of hope: Liesel is going to be presented with another chance to act out some more of her thievery. It’s time–finally–for her to get another book.


Liesel’s dedication towards reading is so bizarrely relatable to me. Now, I certainly did not steal a book from a Nazi book and propaganda burning, and what happens at the end of this is not something I can even remotely compare my life to, but…you guys. YOU GUYS. I FUCKING LOVE BOOKS. I was lucky enough to be able to read so early in my life. It’s definitely something I am entirely thankful for in regards to my mother, who, aside from moments when she felt I wasn’t mature enough to read a specific book or author, largely encouraged me to be a bookworm. Well, she did yell at me for reading in darkness because I would sit and read for so long that there was no sunlight left to illuminate my book and I’m pretty sure that’s why my eyesight is kind of awful. REGARDLESS. I get the feeling that a lot of you responded positively to my constant nerdery about books when you recommended The Book Thief to me, because this book, so far, is pretty much written for bookworms like myself. The lengths I’ll go to finish a book? Pre-order it? Read books that are over a thousand pages long just because someone told me I couldn’t read it? I mean, most of my life has been fueled by my ravenous desire to consume the written word, and now I get to spit it back out to you fine folks.

Chapter twenty, in that sense, provides a revitalization of Liesel after such a painful, traumatic moment. Not only does she get the chance to continue reading with her father, but she is starting to realize the power of words and the power of theft. To her, books are more than just an escape, and I think that’s made all the more relevant and prescient when Death describes the book as “a small section of living material.” They’re beings to her. (Not literally, of course.) But they are adventures and curiosity and freedom and hope. They’re all that she has aside from her Papa.

Never have I internally cheered so much for petty theft. The context makes all the difference, of course, but I can’t recall a book I’ve read where a character makes a poor decision (in this case, stealing books from a pile of burning anti-Nazi books and other such propaganda) that’s clearly illegal, but is so gloriously victorious. The detail with which Zusak describes this singular, burning book is truly fantastic, even if it is brief. It’s loving. And I like it a lot.

Liesel, though, has become far more terrified in a way by what she’s doing. It’s the exhilaration of doing something you know you’re not supposed to and thinking you might not get away with it, though there’s not quite as much joy as I imagine there will be in the future.

Speaking about the future, this made no sense to me:

* * * A REALIZATION * * *

A statue of the book thief stood in the courtyard….It’s very rare, don’t you think, for a statue to appear before its subject has become famous.

Yeah, I don’t get this at all. IS THIS A TIME TRAVEL BOOK. Y’all know how much I adore time travel I WOULD NOT FIGHT IT IF IT TURNED OUT TO BE SO

I get the feeling that I should be laughing at the end of chapter twenty, as Liesel clutches the smoldering book to her chest with anticipation, which quickly turns to nervous fear when she realizes it is literally still on fire. The only reason I say that is because I did laugh when I read this section for the first time, only to stop and think, “Hey, what if this is actually really serious and you are making fun of it, MARK YOU ARE A BIGOT.” I was initially confused at the mention by Death that the book “seemed to be igniting” as they got closer to the Hubermann household. I thought this was meant figuratively, but the chapter progresses in a much more literal manner after this. So it’s literally still burning her.

Even stranger was Liesel’s recognition of the shadow, which I’m pretty confident is Death himself watching Liesel steal her second book. How can she see him at all?? How does she know about this?

But seriously. SERIOUSLY. How can you not laugh at this?

“What’s wrong?” Papa asked.


Quite a few things, however, were most definitely wrong:

Smoke was rising out of Liesel’s collar.

A necklace of sweat had formed around her throat.

Beneath her shirt, a book was eating her up.

Ok, this is actually the second time I’ve read this passage, and I suppose it is sort of ambiguous in tone. The image of smoke rising out of Liesel’s shirt is hilarious, but it seems like it’s burning her FOR REAL. OUCH. Oh god, I hope Liesel doesn’t get caught. Also HOW CAN SHE SEE DEATH.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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41 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 19-20

  1. FlameRaven says:

    About the statue comment– I think what Death meant was that Liesel stood absolutely still, like a statue, in the courtyard before she ran in and grabbed the book. I don't think there's a literal statue of her, even in the future. It would be awesome if there was! But I haven't seen anything to imply she would be famous enough for a statue.

  2. jennywildcat says:

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension">

    Ask and you shall receive 🙂

    Hans and Liesel's relationship reminds me so much of mine and my dad's it's not even funny. My dad is a really calm person – it takes a lot to get him angry (compared to my mother, who gets mad about anything at the drop of a hat). So, when Hans slapped Liesel, I felt like I had been slapped. But that was the reality of saying that you hated Hitler. I think Hans was more scared for Liesel than angry at that point. If someone heard her say that, she likely would be carted off by the Nazis and Hans has no desire to see that happen.

    When I was had just got my driver's license, I wasn't supposed to have friends in the car, but I did drive some friends home after a church activity once. My dad saw me and later, he yelled at me (my mom yelled at me too, but I was used to that – it was my dad yelling at me that drove home the point). But later when things had calmed down, he explained why he was mad at me and that he didn't want me driving with friends in the car until I had more experience. Just like what Hans did with the cigarette – my dad doesn't stay mad for long.

  3. A statue of the book thief stood in the courtyard….It’s very rare, don’t you think, for a statue to appear before its subject has become famous.

    That was Liesel, frozen in place. She'd just taken the book when one of the sanitation guys shouted "Hey!" and she was terrified that she'd been caught. She wasn't an actual statue. Death/Zusak is just being poetic again.

    Regarding the shadow Liesel saw: I don't think it's a spoiler for me to remind you that at the beginning of the book, Death told us he saw Liesel in person three times, and he told us what those three times were. This was not one of them. The identity of the person Liesel spotted is not a secret here; I think you're just not realizing who it is because of the nature of how you're reading the book. Since you're reading it slowly, one or two chapters at a time, it's been a while now since you read about the person who fits the exact description given here. But when reading the book at a slightly quicker pace, it's immediately obvious who this person is.

    • cait0716 says:

      I'm reading along with Mark and I have absolutely no idea who that person is. I definitely have a few guesses, though. I'll blame my slower reading pace on this and not my lack of observational skills. 🙂

      • The issue is definitely your slower reading pace and not lack of observational skills. I'll elaborate on how I know that later. I don't want to risk spoiling anything.

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      "Since you're reading it slowly, one or two chapters at a time, it's been a while now since you read about the person who fits the exact description given here. But when reading the book at a slightly quicker pace, it's immediately obvious who this person is."

      Indeed. The only reason I know who Death is referring to is that I reread the beginning last night because I couldn't remember for sure who it was.

      I really like that Death didn't mention this person explicitly in this chapter, because it kind of rewards you for putting up with Death's sometimes annoying spoilers. If Death had mentioned the name here, there would've been no point in having him talk about the person earlier and I think it would tend to cheapen the way Death narrates.

      "It had fluffy hair.
      If it had a face, the expression on it would have been one of injury.
      It was Hermione."

  4. Annie says:

    I've quoted this already but: "Where they burn books, they will soon burn people." Heinrich Heine. (1823…)

    • monkeybutter says:

      Great quotation and always relevant. And I know it's not really related, but this sparked the memory of more historical German burning: Walpurgisnacht.

    • I remember reading about William Tyndale being burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. I guess this is a good example of burning books AND people..

  5. stellaaaaakris says:

    I do like how Death's/Zusak's tone is always so flowery and metaphorical that we're not always sure when he says that something was happening is literal or not. Like a book igniting. It could be igniting Liesel's soul or, as it actually is doing, starting to burn. It keeps us on our toes.

    Also, my reaction to those last few bits with the book: OOOuuuccchhh.

    And you're on my coast, Mark! In my state! Welcome!

  6. momigrator says:

    I didn't think it was death, I thought it was the boy that had a hurt ankle…. Then I was like OH CRAP!

  7. cait0716 says:

    I love when Liesel stole the book. It very much felt like she liberated it. I actually felt happy for the damn book because it wasn't going to be burned.

    I don't think the figure in the shadows was Death. First off, no one died, so why would Death even be there? Also, if Death was there, wouldn't s/he have mentioned it in the prologue? S/He only met the book thief three times, and this wasn't mentioned as one of those times. I think it's probably someone sinister, like Frau Diller or the guy who whistles all the time, someone who will cause problems for Liesel. It also might be the Mayor's Wife, which I think could lead to interesting developments.

    My heart broke for both Hans and Liesel when he slapped her. I understand why it was necessary, especially out in public. It was just so hard. I liked his cigarette olive branch later.

    Like Liesel, I had a moment where I felt like my childhood had ended abruptly. My parents divorced when I was young and my mom ended up moving out less than a week after my 12th birthday. They had joint custody, but I was spending the first week with her. I remember standing in my empty bedroom – all the furniture was going to her new house – knowing that I'd be back in a week with brand new furniture in my same old room. Everything was changing and staying the same all at once. And all I could think was that I was 12 now, and this must be what being an adult felt like.

    • ldwy says:

      Oh, what a sad story. Divorce can be so hard on kids, even when the parents do it as civilly and as "right" for the kids as possible.
      Like Mark, I really don't have a defining moment like you or Liesel…so I do find it really interesting to hear and/or read about that kind of transformation from other people's perspecives. So thanks for sharing.

      And I love how you phrased that-she's liberated the book and you're happy it's free. Me too! The idea of a book burning is so tragic to me; like all of us here, I LOVE books. I'm glad just one escaped through Liesel.

  8. Dan Hulton says:

    Hm. I don't think it's Death, Mark. Death doesn't have fluffy hair, I'm pretty sure.

    I'm guessing Pfiffikus – wasn't he described as having fluffy hair? Or maybe Rudy?

    Pretty sure it's someone she knows, though.

  9. anninyn says:

    The statue Is liesel standing really still, I'm pretty sure.

    MARK, I FUCKING LOVE BOOKS TOO. That might be the new name of my personal blog. I spent half my disposable income on books. I spend my free time reading and buying books. I love books, and I like to think I would save them too.

    Sometimes, when I think of how many books there are in the world, the fact I will never be able to read them all, or even just all the ones of a personal interest to me makes me so sad I can't handle it.


  10. Hotaru-hime says:

    When Hans slapped her, I wanted to cry for Hans, not Liesel. He loves this little girl so much, wants to take her in his arms and tell her he knows, he understands, but he knows, he knows that to acknowledge and confirm this hatred in public could be the death of both of them, of Rosa, of Trudy. It's so sad, but it's such a painful necessity for him.
    But a book setting you on fire? I'd drop it.

  11. tethysdust says:

    About the "statue of the book thief", my first thought was that it was a reference to the bonfire pile. It was described almost as a living creature before, an embodiment of all the things Hitler wanted to destroy. Most of it was destroyed, but deep down, there were still 'living' parts. Just like Liesel had realized that Hitler had destroyed almost everything in her life.

    Of course, it's very possible I'm just overthinking things, and it meant she was standing like a statue :).

  12. mugglemomof2 says:


    That's what you have us for (((hug))) Sorry I suck at adding lovely little gifs.

  13. feminerdist says:

    I too, don't think it's death. I'm gonna venture a guess here (since I should know this already and since I'm reading with Mark and have absolutely no idea) and say it was the cursing guy. Though that's probably a very bad sign. Or it could be Rudy. If it was Rudy, I would feel better.

    • Gabbie says:

      I thought it was just her being paranoid. She just stole an anti-Nazi book from a book burning in Nazi Germany!

  14. canyonoflight says:

    He's already watched Misfits. He didn't do reviews for it is all.

  15. Mauve_Avenger says:

    "A statue of the book thief stood in the courtyard….It’s very rare, don’t you think, for a statue to appear before its subject has become famous."

    My first thought about this was that it was like the statue of the Kolker in Everything is Illuminated (because I apparently can't read more than three chapters of this book without being reminded of it).

    Then I reread and realized that it was just talking about how Liesel was standing completely still in the courtyard, like a statue, but I didn't really think that that was something Death would say (at least, not in the way I'm reading it). Which is kind of strange but I guess makes sense, sort of like how you can tell if a LOLcat poster has wrong LOLcat grammar.

  16. L_Swann says:

    For some reason, I felt like sad moments in the book didn't feel quite so sad while reading it. It wasn't until I sat back, put the book down, and realized what I'd just read that I realized it was actually heartbreaking. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it's because Death is extremely detached. He's fascinated with Liesel, sure, but I'm not sure that he actually comprehends her heartache and sadness and simply explains the details in a concrete, matter-of-fact way. His fluid sense of time (the constant jumps between past and future and the "present" of the story he's telling) seems to lend his tale a sense of inevitability, and while he could sometimes be wistful or ominous, I felt like Liesel would ultimately be okay. The book IS sad and heartbreaking, but I think I would have felt it a lot more strongly if it'd been narrated by Liesel herself, who could have narrated in the present tense (and so every heartache was real and immediate and she didn't know if she WOULD recover) or in the past tense, where she could poetically paint her exact feelings and recapture the horror she felt. I don't know. I just feel badly because I wanted to feel more emotions about this book while actually reading it, instead of having to sit down and think about it and realize how terrible it was later on. Am I a terrible person? 🙁

    • momigrator says:

      I get what your saying, and I don't think you are a terrible person. I for one am glad that I don't have to feel all those raw emotions so immediately while reading this book. The disconnect that we get because Death is narrating makes it easier to read, which I appreciate, because I believe more people will read it since it's not SO TERRIBLY HEARTBREAKING. And I think it's a good book to be read to illustrate how things were without making you feel terrible while reading it. I think it's good that it makes people reflect and such without feeling like horrible people while reading it. Does that make sense? I have read other nazi stories that were much more intense in emotion, and I like that this one lets you breathe while reading it.

    • erin says:

      I feel exactly like you do about the narration. It's okay, we can be terrible people together. 😛

  17. syntheticjesso says:

    I think it IS a myth- I read in dim light all the time (stupid sun, leaving before I'm done with my book) and my eyesight is better than average.

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