Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 22-23

In the twenty-second and twenty-third chapters of The Book Thief, Death takes us far away from Molching to give us hints towards Hans’s work during World War II, and Liesel’s life becomes a bit more interesting. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.

Author’s Note: Ok, I fucked this up. I labeled my files completely wrong and posted the review that comes after this yesterday. I apologize for pushing these out in the wrong order. Here’s chapters 22 and 23. After today, I’ll put them back in the correct order chronologically, but I wanted this to be the first review this morning. I AM SORRY!!! I will do my best to make sure this doesn’t happen again!


Well, this book just got a whole lot more intriguing to me.

Death takes the entirety of chapter twenty-two to take the narrative hundreds of miles away from the lives of Liesel, the Hubermanns, and the Steiners, to some place of pain and suffering. It’s unnamed (in terms of a city or town) and I’m not sure it’s a concentration camp either. Zusak purposely leaves it vague, as I’m sure he has plans to explain this at a later point. There has to be a reason he would introduce this side character at this moment in the book as well, so I’d rather talk about what actually happens here.

I know that for some of you, the style is a bit grating, and I admit that it’s hard to get used to. For me, though, I find that Zusak’s style is a fantastic addition to the story he’s telling. The choppy lines, the visual prose, the constant asides from Death—all of these contribute in positive ways to the plot being laid down in The Book Thief. In this chapter, that specific style seems to rear its head most obviously than any of the others. The passages of terror and confusion being experienced by this specific Jewish man, Max, are riddled with some of Zusak’s best metaphors and imagery:

He had eaten only the foul taste of his own hungry breath for what felt like weeks, and still, nothing. Occasionally voices wandered past and sometimes he longed for them to knuckle the door, to open it, to drag him out, into the unbearable light. For now, he could only sit on his suitcase couch, hands under his chin, his elbows burning his thighs.

Chilling. Honestly one of the more unsettling things he has written. But who is this man? Why is his confinement of the solitary nature? Who is he waiting for?

Just leave everything as it is, at all cost. It might be time to go soon. Light like a gun. Explosive to the eyes. It might be time to go. It might be time, so wake up. Wake up now, Goddamn it! Wake up!

What impresses me about Zusak is that in just a few sentences, he can communicate what you could easily spend a novel on. The urgency here is conveyed via these short, repetitive sentences, like bursts of the gun referenced when he talks about light. It also gives the feeling that this place is so dark that light is literally painful to Max.

When Max is visited, it’s by someone whose motivations are unspoken, but I’d like to think it’s a friend of Max. So I don’t believe he’s in a prison of any kind. This stranger is too friendly, too comfortable to be in a position of power like this. The stranger brings max an identity card inside of a book. (Books are very important in this novel for multiple reasons, now. Must remember that.) Inside the book is a key. To what, I don’t know, but the stranger also mentions “the map.” After giving him a small bit of food, he leaves. “I’ll be back in a few days,” he tells Max.

I still have no idea where Max is or what has happened to them. Zusak is giving no answers. Instead, he focuses on a segment where Max eats for the first time in a very, very long time, and it’s a detailed and terrifying moment that is further proof of his talent as a writer.

Again, he set two aside and devoured the third. The noise was astounding. Surely, the Führer himself could hear the sound of the orange crush in his mouth. It broke his teeth with every bite. When he drank, he was quite positive that he was swallowing them. Next time, he advised himself, drink first.

Like before, it’s very short, but speaks volumes about this man’s terrifying and traumatic experience. The real twist, though, comes right after this, when Max picks up the book the stranger left:

“Please,” he said. “Please.”

He was speaking to a man he had never met. As well as a few other important details, he knew the man’s name. Hans Hubermann. Again, he spoke to him, to the distant stranger. He pleaded.


What the fuck???? Ok, so we know Hans had an “idea” when he went to go trade to get his copy of Mein Kampf. Is that the book Max is holding in his hand? What does the book do? Ugh I want to know EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW.


In contrast to the brevity of chapter twenty-two, chapter twenty-three feels like the longest chapter in the entire book, understandably so once you read about all that happens to Liesel that summer of 1940. (Isn’t she close to being with the Hubermanns for a year now?)

Death outlines the four major areas that Liesel deals with that summer, starting with her quest to read all of The Shoulder Shrug. Finally, we get more information about this book and why Hans insisted that Liesel and him keep that book a secret:

The authorities’ problem with the book was obvious. The protagonist was a Jew, and he was presented in a positive light. Unforgivable. He was a rich man who was tired of letting life pass him by—what he referred to as the shrugging of the shoulders to the problems and pleasures of a person’s time on earth.

WELL, THAT’S NOT TOO NAZI-FRIENDLY. Hans was smart to make Liesel keep this a secret. On a more positive note, though, Liesel realizes the joy inherent in reading, how words can communicate sensations and feelings that are so terrifically realistic:

In the early part of summer in Molching, as Liesel and Papa made their way through the book, this man was traveling to Amsterdam on business, and the snow was shivering outside. The girl loved that—the shivering snow. “That’s exactly what it does when it comes down,” she told Hands Hubermann.

Well, this does feel kind of meta. Again, sometimes I feel like some of you recommended me this book specifically because of passages like this. AND I DEEPLY LOVE YOU FOR IT.

Liesel, thankfully, also continues to go to Ilsa’s house to spend time in the mayor’s library, which surprisingly causes the two of them to start to grow closer.

The mayor’s wife, having let the girl in for the fourth time, was sitting at the desk, simply watching the books. On the second visit, she had given permission for Liesel to pull one out and go through it, which led to another and another, until up to a half a dozen books were stuck to her, either clutched beneath her arm or among the pile that was climbing higher in her remaining hand.

God, THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL. This is how I consumed books as a child. I’d pile them up around me and I’d read the back portion and maybe the first few pages of each one before I committed to that specific book. UGH MARKUS ZUSAK, HOW DO YOU KNOW MY LIFE SO WELL.

That specific summer of 1940 was key to Liesel’s growth as a reader and a writer. (Well, unless Death is just a total liar, and I’m inclined to trust him as a narrator at this point.) She memorizes specific passages to ask her father about them and reads so many portions of so many books that later in her life, she’s unable to remember exactly what she read during that summer.

When Liesel finds a picture book with a boy’s name written on the inside cover (Johann Hermann), she can’t resist asking her who it is.

The woman looked beside her, somewhere next to the girl’s knees.

Liesel apologized. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be asking such things…” She let the sentence die its own death.

The woman’s face did not alter, yet somehow she managed to speak. He is nothing now in this world,” she explained. “He was my…”

Her son. Lost in the first World War, according to death, “parceled up in barbed wire,” he says.

High above the earth, we sank together, to our knees. It was just another day, 1918.

I love that this suggests the normalcy of this kind of death at the end of the war. For Ilsa Hermann, however, it came to define the rest of her life, having chosen to succumb to the grief and suffering, causing her to be exactly who she is, robed and standing in the mayor’s library, her face written with sadness and pain. Therefore it makes no sense to her when Liesel, on her way out that afternoon, turns and says she is sorry to Ilsa. For what? What is there left to be sorry for?

For Liesel, though, the joy of reading distracts her from this moment:

Once, words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power. It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence.

She was a girl.

In Nazi Germany.

How fitting that she was discovering the power of words.

How fitting indeed.

The third thing Liesel dealt with during the summer of 1940 was street soccer, but more specifically Tommy Müller, the kid Liesel beat up for merely smiling at her. Liesel does feel some guilt for causing Tommy to be so deathly afraid of her (and justifiably so), but we don’t see many attempts on her end to rectify the situation, aside from taking a few shifts as goalie in Tommy’s place.

The final key event of summer in the year 1940 is when Rudy Steiner discovered that he could steal. It’s ironic, given that Liesel’s life has changed (and for the better, I’d say) because she also learned that she could steal. For Rudy, his own unending hunger motivates his desire for and future obsession with stealing. Both families are experiencing the negative effects of the economy at war, and neither of them seem to complain.

It’s when they spot an older boy, Fritz Hammer, eating an apple do they begin to pursue something dangerous, foolish, and totally exhilarating. After trying to get him to tell them where he got it from, he instead is followed to a spot upstream on the Amper River, where Rudy and Liesel meet a group of older boys who immediately begin to size them up.

“I’m starving,” Rudy replied.

“And he’s fast,” said Liesel.

Berg looked at her. “I don’t recall asking for your opinion.” He was teenage tall and had a long neck. Pimples were gathered in peer groups on his face. “But I like you.” He was friendly, in a smart-mouth adolescent way. “Isn’t this the one who beat up your brother, Anderl?” Word had certainly made its way around. A good hiding transcends the divides of age.

And so Liesel gets accepted into the gang for being a BAMF and Rudy’s participation in the Jesse Owens incident gets him inducted as well. Utilizing burlap sacks to get across barbed wire, that afternoon the group of boys and their young recruits head to a farm to steal apples.

Liesel was more specific. “I’ve stolen two books,” at which Arthur laughed, in three short snorts. His pimples shifted position.

“You can’t eat books, sweetheart.

Hey Arthur, I bet nothing you ever stole and hid on her personage was ever LITERALLY ON FIRE. How’s that for your smug condescension?

While Liesel doesn’t seem at all concerned about her past with theft, she’s just not anywhere near as sure about stealing apples from a farm. Regardless of how she feels, Rudy peer pressures her into coming along. Thankfully, they don’t get caught, but I wondered how this event would play into her own future. Would she begin to steal books more rapidly if she knew how easy theft was? Would she branch out into stealing things besides apples?

At least for the moment, there are no real problems created by this, aside from upset stomachs. Between the two of them, Liesel and Rudy are given a dozen apples. Afraid that bringing them home will just cause too much suspicion and too many questions, they eat all of the apples in one sitting. THAT IS A LOT OF APPLE.

Unfortunately for Liesel, all that food causes her to throw up that night. Rosa is of course upset at this, but Liesel doesn’t tell her what really happened.

She said nothing.

The apples, she thought happily. The apples, and she vomited one more time, for good luck.

On that note, I’ll end this review with a small prediction. That luck is going to run out soon.


About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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17 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 22-23

  1. monkeybutter says:

    Fred and George screwed up your reviews as a birthday present to themselves. Demands to know EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW are much funnier this way!

    He had eaten only the foul taste of his own hungry breath for what felt like weeks, and still, nothing.

    That chapter does have a lot of amazing imagery, but that line in particular makes me want to brush my teeth for ten minutes. The talent to make the reader squirm at the impact of the words is just what's needed for this sort of book.

  2. Sparkie says:

    It's not a problem. I just feel less bad at reading ahead knowing that you have as well! 😛

  3. Ellalalala says:

    The collective noun for pimples simply has to be peer group. Zusak, you rock SO HARD.

  4. Mauve_Avenger says:

    Before "Enter the Struggler," I was predicting that the Jewish man would be someone Hans already knew, probably the man who taught him to play the accordion (it seemed kind of significant that the Nazi flag had been covered up/obscured by his accordion). Now, though, we get absolute confirmation that Max and Hans have never met each other. 🙁

    There was another Death-ly spoiler in this section, but I'm not sure if I want to talk about it more bluntly.

    And did anyone else get Malcolm Reynolds/Haymitch Abernathy vibes from Arthur, with his "you're our kind of idiot" to Rudy and "you can't eat books, sweetheart" to Liesel?

    • mc-Lola says:

      haha, I totally thought of Haymitch when Arthur called Liesel sweetheart.

    • monkeybutter says:

      When Haymitch said sweetheart, he reminded me of a Southern lady. When Arthur says it, I think of 30s mob films, or better yet, Bugs Bunny cartoons. Either way, I'm snorting too hard to take them seriously. I really hope Arthur picked it up from watching gangsters on screen and wanting to emulate them in running his own gang. It's kind of adorable.

  5. Ida says:

    I like the description of Max eating. The sheer agony of it. His fear that THEY will hear it. The pain in his teeth. Hi imagination that his teeth will come loose because he has not used them for so long. I have never experienced that myself, OF COURSE, and I hope no one else reading this has either, but it feels very plausible. I can really imagine what it must feel like.
    That is all I have to say.

    Yes, plus: I love Arthur Berg.

  6. mc-Lola says:

    actually she arrived at the hubbermans at the very beginning of 1939, so she has been with them for over a year.
    I love the parts with Max so far, Zsusak writes in a way to where I feel Max's anxiety. I also like the choppiness of it, I think it makes things hit a little harder.

  7. HieronymusGrbrd says:

    I loved the contrast of this two chapters (which BTW are chapters 23-24).

  8. Inessa says:

    Was the chapters mix up an April Fool’s thing? You should go ahead and pretend it was on purpose.

  9. Phoebe says:

    i love the last chapter because despite living in Nazi Germany, these two young children can still experience the joy and recklessness of summer.

  10. lindseytinsey says:

    Why does this only have 19 comments? April fools???

  11. Valerie says:

    OMG When is the next review going up? I'm dying here……..

  12. Rachel O. says:

    Maaaaark! I don't comment, but I have been with you since the beginning of Twilight, and I am so into this book with you, but I need you to come back and post!

  13. Emily Crnk says:


  14. Brieana says:

    about the "fuck yeah books" nature of the novel: considering that it is a book itself and a pretty large one at that, wouldn't it be safe to assume that most of the audience is comprised of bookworms?
    I think it would be.

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