In chapters twenty-four through twenty-seven of The Book Thief, Liesel and Rudy’s stealing increases in volume and frequency, and a lone struggler finds his way to the Hubermann household. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.
CH. 24: THE ARYAN SHOPKEEPER
I didn’t necessarily intend to jam four chapters together in one review, but they were short and flowed naturally to the end of part three, so I figured…what the hell? Why not? The pacing of this book is also starting to increase, as Death moves more rapidly between other characters, bringing us to a surprising point at the end of chapter twenty-seven.
What worries me about Liesel is greed. Her two chapters in this section are full of her antics with Rudy Steiner and how comfortable they are becoming with stealing. I’m worried that they are going to get too comfortable and take things too far. But I also can’t deny that I am enjoying their growing friendship, one built on trust and humor, and chapter twenty-four is a great sign of that.
As the two of them stand outside Frau Diller’s shop, arguing about how many sucks they’ve taken on a piece of candy they bought that was impossible to split in half, I couldn’t help but grin at the happiness of it all:
“This is great, isn’t it?”
“It sure is, Saumensch.”
Just one piece of candy, handed back and forth after ten sucks, can bring these kids unbridled joy. I love that. I know how it feels, having grown up in poverty, to experience undying elation at finding a coin on the street. Finding a quarter meant I could pop the coin into those machines with the dull silver winders and maybe get a bouncy ball or a fake tattoo or another one of those tiny baseball caps with team insignias printed on them. I remember the first time I found a dollar and I tucked it away inside of a sock in the top drawer of my dresser, terrified that someone would take it from me, and some times I would slip away just to make sure it was still there, take it out and look at it, knowing that this one dollar was mine.
I imagine it’s not hard to think that Rudy and Liesel felt the same way. They proudly take that lone coin to Frau Diller’s shop, dutifully giving her the Heil Hitler she always requires before purchase, before Rudy slams it down on the counter.
Frau Diller smiled. Her teeth elbowed each other for room in her mouth, and her unexpected kindness made Rudy and Liesel smile as well. Not for long.
She bent down, did some searching, and came back. “Here,” she said, tossing a single piece of candy onto the counter. “Mix it yourself.”
Frau Diller sure feasts on devouring the joy of others, doesn’t she? Still, even with that working against them, Rudy and Liesel refuse to allow the situation to dampen their spirits. “This is the good life,” Rudy says at one point, and there’s nothing that can take this away from them.
The day had been a great one, and Nazi Germany was a wondrous place.
Which leads me to believe that Zusak is hinting that this is going to change soon.
CH. 25: THE STRUGGLER, CONTINUED
Death switches back to Max, the Jewish man being hidden somewhere, and now it looks like that information is given: Max was hiding in Stuttgart. He’s on a train, reading Mein Kampf, and the pieces start to fall together. We’ve only had the book mentioned in one context, and that context was always tied to Hans Hubermann. Hans bought the book because of an “idea” and that book ended up in Max’s hands. What’s going to become of Max?
Max’s visitor, now named as his friend Walter Kugler, doesn’t return as promised in a few days, as it turns out to be more than a week and a half, then another week, and Max takes a turn for the hopeless in terms of how he feels about his life.
“I’m leaving soon,” his friend Walter Kugler told him. “You know how it is—the army.”
“I’m sorry, Walter.”
Walter Kugler, Max’s friend from childhood, placed his hand on the Jew’s shoulder. “It could be worse.” He looked his friend in his Jewish eyes. “I could be you.”
That was their last meeting. A final package was left in the corner, and this time, there was a ticket. Walter opened Mein Kampf and slid it inside, next to the map he’d brought with the book itself. “Page thirteen.” He smiled. “For luck, yes?”
“For luck,” and the two of them embraced.
I think I have a better sense of what’s going on. Walter has been hiding Max from the Nazis and now I’m guessing that, somehow, Hans Hubermann got his copy of Mein Kampf to Max with a key taped to the inside cover. But what does the key open?
I really adored the scene where Max finds that the final gift from Walter was a razor, a spoon (“the closest thing to a mirror”), shaving cream, and a pair of scissors. Besides being necessary to act as a disguise, I feel that there has to be a sense of catharsis for Max when he shaves his face and cuts his hair. Maybe it’s a sense of cleanliness, a sense of being new as he steps into the world and tries to make his way to Pasing. However, the irony of the entire situation is not lost on poor Max:
Strangely, as he turned the pages and progressed through the chapters, it was only two words he ever tasted.
Mein Kampf. My struggle—
The title, over and over again, as the train prattled on, from one German town to the next.
Of all the things to save him.
It’s like being punched in the face, isn’t it? It is overwhelming in its sadness and pain, especially given that this book has destroyed so many lives, yet for this one man, it might actually save it.
CH. 26: TRICKSTERS
As I said before, Liesel and Rudy are getting a bit too comfortable for me in regards to their stealing. I mean…yes, they are children who are poor and hungry. I am not criticizing them in that manner, because this isn’t really a moral issue for me. I just don’t want anything horrible to happen to them and I’m worried about the idea of them getting caught on one of their raids.
What chapter twenty-six does well is build a great character history for Liesel and Rudy that parallels the growth of any one of us who started approaching our teenage years and coming to terms with our own morality. I don’t want to write off their actions as the result of mere peer pressure to fit in, though, as I think it’s a much more complicated situation than that. There is certainly the desperation of poverty motivating them. It’s weird, thinking back on my past of poverty, that I never really got into theft, even when I really could have needed it. But I have always been terrified of being caught by authority figures, which I will now squarely place on the shoulders of my mom. THANKS, MOM, I WILL NEVER COMMIT CRIMES BECAUSE OF YOU.
For Liesel and Rudy, I’m not really sure if boredom or desperation or a combination of the two motivate them, and I’m not really sure it matters. After spending so much time running about town with Arthur Burg and his gang of thieves, the two of them begin to observe patterns in other people around town. The first person they decide to focus on is Otto Sturm, who, every Friday afternoon, rides his bike to deliver goods to the priests there.
Rudy is quick to rationalize his plan to Liesel:
“All those priests,” Rudy explained as they walked through town. “They’re all too fat anyway. They could do with a feed for a week or so.” Liesel could only agree. First of all, she wasn’t Catholic. Second, she was pretty hungry herself. As always, she was carrying the washing. Rudy was carrying two buckets of cold water, or as he put it, two buckets of future ice.
Well, that’s some shady justification if I’ve ever seen one. I know that there is an element of humor to what happens to Otto, but it’s hard for me to see this as anything other but mean:
He wasted no time in losing control of the bike, sliding across the ice, and lying facedown on the road.
When he didn’t move, Rudy looked at Liesel with alarm. “Crucified Christ,” he said, “I think we might have killed him!”
Well, they don’t kill him, but I still feel bad for Otto. I don’t think it entirely negates this, but I do like that the first thing Liesel and Rudy do is take their stolen food to Arthur Berg. Arthur is appreciative of what they’ve done, rousing the entire gang to eat the spoils of their work.
A few more doors were knocked on. Names were called out to apartments from streets below, and soon, the whole conglomerate of Arthur Berg’s fruit-stealing troop was on its way to the Amper. In the clearing on the other side, a fire was lit and what was left of the eggs was salvaged and fried. The bread and Speck were cut. With hands and knives, every last piece of Otto Sturm’s delivery was eaten. No priest in sight.
Well, at least something positive came out of this. It started off from a bad place, but Liesel and Rudy fed some of the poorest people in the town with what they’ve done. Well…we don’t know if Otto was also poor himself, to be fair. This whole situation is one gigantic grey area of sorts. But the guilt doesn’t seem to go away for Liesel, who feels pangs of regret for harming Otto. Rudy isn’t so reluctant to state that he has no qualms about what he did, which makes me wonder if Liesel is later going to feel more awful about this, perhaps if there are unseen ramifications of this act.
But the two of them do get too close to danger when Arthur invites them back on another trip back to the farm where they stole potatoes before. This time, the farmer comes out and chases after the thieves with an ax and Rudy gets caught in the barbed wire fence. Everyone continues running except for Liesel, who returns to try and free Rudy. But it’s Arthur who actually saves him, and I’d like to think it’s his way of thanking Rudy for the food five days earlier.
“I’ll have you arrested! I’ll find you! I’ll find out who you are!”
That was when Arthur Berg replied.
“The name is Owens!” He loped away, catching up to Liesel and Rudy. “Jesse Owens!”
Love you, Arthur Berg.
It’s a bit jarring to read, but Death takes us out of the immediacy of this to tell us more about Arthur, who moves away to Cologne just three weeks after this. They only see him once more before he moves, but Death tells us about the next time he saw Arthur:
* * * A SMALL TRIBUTE TO ARTHUR BERG, * * *
A STILL-LIVING MAN
The Cologne sky was yellow and rotting, flaking at the edges.
He sat propped against a wall with a child in his arms. His sister.
When she stopped breathing, he stayed with her, and I could sense he would hold her for hours. There were two stolen apples in his pockets.
It’s just a brief story, one told beautifully, and I feel that a lot of this book is just brief flashes of tragedy and brilliance mixed in with the story of the Book Thief. CAN THIS BOOK NEVER END. I AM LOVING IT SO MUCH.
That same afternoon, they returned to Frau Diller’s, “heil Hitlered,” and waited.
“Mixed candy again?” She schmunzeled, to which they nodded. The money splashed the counter and Frau Diller’s smile fell slightly ajar.
“Yes, Frau Diller,” they said in unison. “Mixed candy, please.”
The framed Führer looked proud of them.
Triumph before the storm.
And that storm is about to arrive very, very soon.
CH. 27: THE STRUGGLER, CONCLUDED
This is a short chapter, but like I just said, I almost wish it could last forever. Zusak’s stilted, poetic style has grown on me completely and the staccato narration of this chapter, as Max reaches his destination, is one of my favorite parts of the whole book. As soon as Death mentioned that Max has walked from Pasing to Molching using the map Walter had given him, it all started to make sense. There is no other reason why Max would come to Molching unless it was for Hans Hubermann.
Glowing pockets of streetlights.
Dark, passive buildings.
The town hall stood like a gaint ham-fisted youth, too big for his age. The church disappeared in darkness the farther his eyes traveled upward.
It all watched him.
The terror here is so overwhelming. At any given moment, someone might capture Max. Even just blocks away from his final destination, it could all be swept away. As Death says:
(German children were on the lookout for stray coins. German Jews kept watch for possible capture.)
But the real joy (and slight fear, I have to admit) of this situation is the utter sense of ecstatic happiness that Max feels at this moment, knowing how close he is to the Hubermann household:
Now he turned on to the side street, making his way to number thirty-three, resisting the urge to smile, resisting the urge to sob or even imagine the safety that might be awaiting him. He reminded himself that this was no time for hope. Certainly, he could almost touch it. He could feel it, somewhere just out of reach.
Hans Hubermann has organized this. THIS is the idea he had after the confrontation with his son, the reason he visited the Nazis, and the reason he told Liesel to keep a secret. OH MY GOD, HE’S GOING TO HARBOR MAX. ;lkasdjasd;klf
This book. This fucking book.