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.
CH 19: THE GATES OF THIEVERY
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:
* * *A SMALL 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.
SERIOUSLY DO I ALWAYS PICK BOOKS THAT MAKE MY LIFE LOOK SO SAD. christ WHERE IS MY PERPETUAL HUG MACHINE aka David Tennant.
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?
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.
CH 20: BOOK OF FIRE
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.