Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 33-34

In the thirty-third and thirty-fourth chapters of The Book Thief, Max Vandenburg waltzes into the Hubermann house on Himmel Street and brings life-changing heartbreak to the entire family. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.

All right, so this is just going to continue to get more and more depressing, isn’t it? I’m not prepared, obviously, but at least stating this at loud will help. Max’s arrival has changed everything. And I’m fully aware that that is a cliché statement and one I am prone to making in my Mark Does Stuff ventures, but seriously, I have never meant it more than now. This whole book has to change now. Smartly, Markus Zusak is painfully aware of this and this chapter doesn’t disappoint in addressing this reality very well, despite how uncomfortable this all is.


A small complaint about how Zusak frames the opening bit of chapter thirty-three:

Exactly what kind of people Hans and Rosa Hubermann were was not the easiest problem to solve. Kind people? Ridiculously ignorant people? People of questionable sanity?

Well, ok, that last bit…I’m always reluctant to make points about ableism in regards to mental health because my own problems aren’t diagnosed and I don’t want to center the issue around myself. But that line struck me as a bit disappointing, only because people with mental health issues or “questionable sanity” are entirely capable of making good decisions, moral decisions, and doing wonderful things to people around them, so I don’t really like the implication that Hans and Rosa might be not “sane” because they are willingly choosing to help out Max Vandenburg. Though…these are Death’s words, and it might be an element of his character and not Zusak’s actual beliefs. And I get that. It’s just a very tiny moment in an otherwise amazing chapter that does everything else so wonderfully, but I thought I’d bring it up so we can discuss it. I think, in context, it might not be that problematic, but I am no expert on mental health and ableism. Thoughts?

But as I said, Zusak does get everything else right in this chapter, beautifully so. As uncomfortable and terrifying this situation is for Liesel, Hans, and Rosa, he never forgets to point out that out of everyone here, Max is truly the one who is the most oppressed, who has the most traumatic experience, and whose suffering is so much more frightening. That’s not to say that Zusak ignores the reality of the situation for the rest of the people in the house, because he doesn’t. And he doesn’t say that their experience here is totally disposable and useless, either. The threat of being found out is very, very real.

When a Jew shows up at your place of residence in the early hours of the morning, in the very birthplace of Nazism, you’re likely to experience extreme levels of discomfort. Anxiety, disbelief, paranoia. Each plays its part, and each leads to a sneaking suspicion that a less than heavenly consequence awaits. The fear is shiny. Ruthless in the eyes.

What I find so impressive about this is the way that Zusak crafts this section to show how Hitler’s tyranny creates a social environment where a person can be a mortal threat to happiness, life, and liberty simply be existing. And while the Hubermanns treat Max with the most amazing sense of compassion and empathy, I appreciate that Zusak doesn’t necessarily say, “The Hubermanns are perfect to all Jews forever,” or anything like that. If you read that section again and take out the phrase “a Jew,” it almost sounds like you’re reading about an inanimate object. A plague. A disease, a virus, a vicious outsider. And that’s what Hitler’s Germany did to the Jews. (Well, one of those things, as the situation is certainly not that easy to simplify at all.) By treating them as a diseased and undesirable part of the population, by punishing anyone and everyone who treated the Jews as if they were anything else but garbage, he helped create an environment where people could detach Jews from their humanity. It’s a terrifying, dehumanizing thing, by the very nature of the process. And we can see the same things being done around the world, even here in the United States, in modern times. To be a bit obvious, first of all, I don’t want to draw a parallel that suggests anything I’m about to say is the Holocaust, because these examples all have a different political context and historical weight, and what happened to those exterminated and abused and terrorized at the hands of the NSDAP is not the same.

But look at how the same technique of separating people from their humanity (or their womanhood or their faith or their heritage, etc) can be used to turn a nation against a group. I can name a very specific one that’s affected me: “illegal” immigration. I mentioned on Tumblr not too long ago that people in college literally believed I stole the spot of “well-deserving” white people because I got into school based on “reverse racist” policies. And while it was spelled out directly that they thought I was an “illegal” (at least not that time), that imperialist, racist dialogue is all-too-familiar for me. I’m Latino and it’s been used against me since I was in elementary school. Apparently I have to work harder than white folk in order to prove that I deserve a spot in certain parts of society!

But I digress, as I could spend thousands of words talking about dehumanization. The point being….Zusak gets this. He gets how even the most well-meaning people can sometimes slip up if they’re sold a particular idea about a group of marginalized people. And there are no more well-meaning people than the Hubermann’s here, so this is not a criticism of them at all. I just found it very fascinating and appropriate that the description of their situation briefly reflected the world they lived in.

Anyway, back to The Book Thief. The day after Max arrives, Liesel knows that the dynamic of her household is going to change dramatically, and the first sign of that is when she awakes the following morning and her father tells her she is not going to school that day.

Mama announced the day’s priority. She sat at the table and said, “Now listen, Liesel. Papa’s going to tell you something today.” This was serious—she didn’t even say Saumensch. It was a personal feat of abstinence. “He’ll talk to you and you have to listen. Is that clear?”

The girl was still swallowing.

“Is that clear, Saumensch?”

That was better.

The girl nodded.

I find Rosa’s transformation to be the most fascinating to me. It starts off small, like this moment here where she doesn’t leap to insult Liesel as she normally does. But that transformation will most likely grow in ways we haven’t seen before, and I’m intrigued to find out why this is what changes Rosa’s temperament. CAN WE PLEASE HAVE A ROSA FLASHBACK, ZUSAK. THANK YOU

In the basement later that day, Hans begins his attempt to explain the severity of the situation. Alone with Liesel, he paces the floor, back and forth, choosing his words carefully:

“Listen,” he said quietly, “I was never sure if any of this would happen, so I never told you. About me. About the man upstairs.” He walked from one end of the basement to the other, the lamplight magnifying his shadow. It turned him into a giant on the wall, walking back and forth.

When he stopped pacing, his shadow loomed behind him, watching. Someone was always watching.

“You know my accordion?” he said, and there the story began.

We know the story and I was actually thinking how this might have been an amazing time for Zusak to have revealed it to both Liesel and the reader, but I think he was smart for giving us this flashback so much earlier, so that Max’s arrival also brings a heavy dose of dread as well. Additionally, Zusak is expanding out from focusing entirely on Liesel, showing us this story is not solely about her either. We don’t need to experience this book through her eyes only, so I love what he’s done here.

Hans takes Liesel back to the night of the Führer’s birthday, when Liesel promised that one day she would need to keep a secret, and he lays it all out for her: this is that secret she must keep.

Between the hand-holding shadows, the painted words were scattered about, perched on their shoulders, resting on their heads, and hanging from their arms. “Liesel, if you tell anyone about the man up there, we will all be in big trouble.” He walked the fine line of scaring her into oblivion and soothing her enough to keep her calm. He fed her the sentences and watched with his metallic eyes. Desperation and placidity. “At the very least, Mama and I will be taken away.” Hans was clearly worried that he was on the verge of frightening her too much, but he calculated the risk, preferring to err on the side of too much fear rather than not enough. The girl’s compliance had to be an absolute, immutable fact.

As terrifying as this is, Hans is aware of how all of this can crumble in a second, with one word spoken to the wrong person at the wrong time. So, to communicate this, Hans goes directly to what he knows will have an affect on Liesel: he tells her he will destroy her books. It’s an act that, for Liesel, is utterly inconceivable. As Death says:

The shock made a hole in her, very neat, very precise.

But Hans knows that Liesel loves more than just her books, so he has to explain the irreversible damage that will arrive on the doorstep if she tells anyone about Max Vandenburg.

“They’ll take you away from me. Do you want that?”

She was crying now, in earnest. “Nein.”

“Good.” His grip on her hand tightened. “They’ll drag that man up there away, and maybe Mama and me, too—and we will never, ever come back.”

And that did it.

The girl began to sob so uncontrollably that Papa was dying to pull her into him and hug her tight. He didn’t. Instead, he squatted down and watched her directly in the eyes. He unleashed his quietest words so far. “Verstehst du mich? Do you understand me?”

Did you hear the sound of MY HEART SHATTERING INTO A BILLION PIECES. Good god, this is so intense. But Hans has to do it! He seriously needs to impart on Liesel just how ridiculous this situation is, that there is no room for an exception or a misstep or a mistake. She can tell no one. Despite that Liesel really does understand what her father says to her and that she’s relieved that the hardest part for her is over, she gets the sense that things aren’t going to be the same in her house again.

Everything was good.

But it was awful, too.

God, shit is getting so real.


We switch the narrative away from focusing on the dire need to address the obvious reality of Max’s stay at the Hubermann household to Max and Liesel’s interaction. And despite that Max is asleep for three days and we are still seeing everything through Liesel’s eyes, the focus never strays too far from what Max has gone through. Liesel is fascinated by Max, initially because he’s new to the house and he’s sleeping in her room. And he does so for three days, largely in total silence.

Sometimes, close to the end of the marathon of sleep, he spoke.

There was a recital of murmured names. A checklist.

Isaac. Aunt Ruth. Sarah. Mama. Walter. Hitler.

Family, friend, enemy.

As soon as I read this part, I thought about how there’s a man in Liesel’s room who is tormented by his past, such in a way that it affects his sleep. Hey, that’s like Liesel! I thought to myself, and while I appreciated the parallel and thought I was being all clever and shit, Zusak immediately proves he’s way ahead of me.

Liesel, in the act of watching, was already noticing the similarities between this stranger and herself. They both arrived in a state of agitation on Himmel Street. They both nightmared.

Well, drat! There goes my huge piece about the parallel between these two characters. I am shaking my fist at you, Zusak!

The time comes when Max inevitably has to wake up, and when he does, Liesel happens to be right next to him, and in a panic of disorientation, he reaches out to her before she can back away, grabbing her arm, pleading with her for no discernible reason.


His voice also held on, as if possessing fingernails. He pressed it into her flesh. “Papa!” Loud.

“Please!” Soft.

I don’t know what this moment means. I don’t have any clever insight. I can only imagine that there’s a subtext here, that maybe Max is begging Liesel not to tell anyone about him, or maybe he is begging for company or affection, or maybe he is just confused. It’s Hans who diffuses this situation, though.

When Papa came in, he first stood in the doorway and witnessed Max Vandenburg’s gripping fingers and his desperate face. Both held on to Liesel’s arm. “I see you two have met,” he said.

Max’s fingers started cooling.

So now the real question is: How is Liesel going to deal with having Max Vandenburg in her life?

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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59 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 33-34

  1. @Zippy8604 says:

    I love this book but up until this point I have been fine with putting it down after a chapter or two, reading the reviews the next day, and then reading a little more the next night, until last night. After reading these two chapters I almost couldn't put my book down, I am finally dying to know what is going to happen next and it is so exciting.

    • cait0716 says:

      Me too! I read an extra chapter last night before I managed to tear myself away. Staying on track with Mark is getting harder.

      • Mowgli3 says:

        I have no idea how you guys manage to stay with Mark at all– when I read this, I read it it one sitting. SO GOOD. Kudos to you for self-control.

    • Tiffany says:

      I’ve been very good with staying with Mark this time. After probably about chapter 7 of THG I went and bought the other two and finished them all in a day or two, but this I have been good with.

      Also, its a good way to keep me from ignoring my studying if I get to read only 1 or 2 a day.

    • LOTRjunkie says:

      I think that's something Markus Zusack does really well. His books just build until you're completely engrossed. Which is why Mark really needs to read I am the Messenger next.

  2. cait0716 says:

    All the tears for this section. I started crying on the metro when Hans was lecturing Liesel. The entire situation is so awful and horrible and hard.

    Aside #1: I recently finished Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett which contains the line "Sin is treating people like things." I immediately thought of it while reading your thoughts on oppression and dehumanization. I think it's a nice summation of the entire idea, which you expanded on quite nicely.

    Aside #2: I don't really have much to add to a discussion of ableism. I'm privileged every which way but male (something I learned from reading these reviews) and am mostly here to read these discussions and learn and grow and change. But while I was reading this, I happened to be listening to the radio. Bill Maher called in and he and the DJ (whose son is autistic) were discussing the terms "retard" and "retarded" and how much damage they can do and how people mostly don't think about it and that makes it really hard to actually weed those terms out of every day language. It was an interesting coincidence, and I thought I'd throw it into the mix for discussion.

    But back to The Book Thief, which is slowly breaking my heart. I'm so scared for the Hubermans. I really, really hope that Max stays safe.

    • enigmaticagentscully says:

      Love the reference to Carpe Jugulum – It's one of my favourite books and I had that same thought when reading this!
      That's one book I'd love to see Mark read in the future. Though it's brilliantly funny and lighthearted for the most part, it has some really interesting ideas about personal faith, identity and, (as you said) sin.
      Also, waaaaaay better treatment of vampires than Twilight. 😉

    • monkeybutter says:

      Was it Elliot? I can almost picture that conversation in my head. Somehow, I don't see Bill Maher making an effort to weed out "retard" or other words from daily use, but it is a good conversation to have. And I agree with them that it's hard, but it's not impossible. It forces you to be more creative with your insults!

      Which reminds me, I've got to find a way to call someone Arschgrobbler.

  3. redheadedgirl says:

    I take the "people of questionable sanity" part to mean that the Hubbermans are doing something that is good and kind and moral and caring but has the very very VERY real chance that if they are caught, they will be killed. Risking life and limb for another person against a very real, very tyrannical machine is the moral choice, but it isn't the sanest.

    Or maybe, it is the most sane thing they could possibly do.

    My point is, I don't think Zuzak (or Death) meant that in a way that implied that people with mental disorders can't be moral. But in the world of Nazi Germany, being moral (and knowing the consequences thereof) is an insane choice.

    • Avit says:

      Eh. Refer back to: "people with mental health issues or 'questionable sanity' are entirely capable of making good decisions". That applies whether you're talking about "good" as in "moral" or "good" as in "wise and sensible".

    • I'm always torn on the term "insane".. I rather wish he had used the term rationable, perhaps.
      I know a lot of people don't think intentions matter, but for me, they do to a certain degree. (This depends on the word, the use, and the situation involved. I do NOT mean that all or even most ableism is excusable) Otherwise we wouldn't differentiate between "Manslaughter" and "murder", and even accidents resulting in death would be treated as first degree murder.
      I agree that Zusak was saying using "insane" to mean that what they were doing perhaps was not the best thing for self-preservation, but that their compassion and humanity were stronger. I take this as a compliment, rather than as a demeaning term. I do not mean that everyone should agree with me, or that I am even necessarily right. I can only speak for myself.

  4. Ellalalala says:

    I did hear the sound of your heart shattering into a million pieces and in was echoed in my own chest cavity because OH MY GOD THIS IS ALL SO AWFUL! And wonderful, obviously. BUT AWFUL.

    Hans' threat to burn Liesel's books did raise a little bit of a smile (THROUGH THE TEARS OF DESPAIR). I can't really imagine him standing there at the stove throwing The Shoulder Shrug et al into the flames with, I dunno, THE FUCKING GESTAPO AT THE DOOR.

    Effective threat to an eleven(or twelve now?)-year-old girl, though. Kudos to Hans for getting the tone absolutely right (and destroying me in the process).

    Oh Max. Be OK. The last bed he slept in was presumably his own. I am broken.

  5. k.r.d. says:

    Well. To be honest, and you can all prepare to throw rocks at me, I think that the whole "ableism" thing isn't a big deal. In our day and age using words like "mad" "insane" "sanity" are normal adjectives. People who do suffer from mental issues should hopefully be able to read books, see sentences like the one we saw in this chapter, and realize that it was not a delibrate insult to them. If that's the case, then people with anger management issues should be offended by the word angry, or any description of people being upset. People who are alcholics would be upset about phrases like "Punch drunk" or "Drunk with love". The truth is, we can choose to let these things bother us or not. I'd wager that the only people who are truly upset by "ableism" are the ones who don't have any mental disorders at all. It's the ones who do have mental disorders who are able to stop and see that the author meant nothing offensive by it at all. It's simply an expression, and a common one at that.

    • QuoteMyFoot says:

      My understanding of ableism:

      Ableism is not a problem because people are being offended. Ableism is a problem because it is always used in the context of disabled = bad, terrible, stupid, etc. etc. Using those words only reinforces the belief in society that people with disabilities are incapable of doing things themselves, or less than human, somehow. (I'm sure someone with a less priveleged position than me can give a better definition!)

      I have a disabled cousin, so I'm really trying to understand this – if I've got this wrong, please correct me!

      • k.r.d. says:

        The issue is that if author's aren't allowed to use phrases such as, "I questioned his sanity when he told me he was going to quit his job and join the circus" then where will we draw the line? Because if we can do that than we can throw a fit over some other thing people write and next thing you know everyone who writes is trying to make sure they don't unknowingly offend anyone.
        People are going to write things that we aren't always going to agree witih. Sometimes we just need to acknowledge that it wasn't done on purpose. And even if someone DID (as terrible as that is) they are allowed to. Because this is a country in which we can write and say whatever we want.
        This is meant as no offensive to the disabled. My husband's sister was extremely disabled and she recently passed away. So it isn't like I'm some jerk who's never expierenced this myself.

        • QuoteMyFoot says:

          I'm not sure that the instance here qualifies as ableism, either, though I can see how it might. But your words were "I think that the whole "ableism" thing isn't a big deal", which is more problematic than, "I don't think this is an instance of ableism".

          I agree that ableism is not always meant to be overlooked/dismissed in literature. And you are certainly right that we have freedom of speech. But I don't think it's wrong to try and educate people when that freedom of speech happens to demean the lives of others.

          I also don't think you meant to be offensive to any disabled people and I apologise if you feel I implied that. I'm sorry to hear about the death of your sister-in-law. I hope that your family is coping alright.

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          Ok, well, I was going to avoid doing this, but this comment is seriously ridiculous.

          For those of us who have the energy and the means to write, being asked to use another word or phrase really is not that hard. It's actually an interesting challenge and one that is not life-ending or destructive or freedom-killing like you'd like to portray. Someone doesn't want me to use the word "crazy" in an appropriative, shitty manner? Well, then I'll say a word that fits even better.

          I have a rule on my site. I imagine that you did not read it. If you check out the Site Rules/Spoiler Policy page, you'll see #5 is very applicable to you:

          5) I am not the government. The First Amendment doesn’t apply here. This is my site and you post by my rules. If you invoke any free speech bullshit and claim that I’m infringing your right to say what you want on my blog, that is an instant, permanent ban. Not only are you wrong, but I won’t waste my time dealing with you.

          By anyone on the face of the earth asking you not to use shitty, oppressive language, they ARE NOT INFRINGING YOUR FREE SPEECH. Please take…I don't know–5 seconds of your day?–to internalize this idea and never forget it again.

          So please think very carefully about what you say next. Please don't erase ableism, don't say that the only people who are "offended" probably aren't even disabled, and don't trot out this tired, boring rhetoric about how sad you are that someone else called you out on being an asshole.

          THE END.

          • Tookiecj says:

            Great points Mark. I do believe that the best way to deal with the problem is to educate people and bringing up the subject in conversation. I do believe that the majority of people in the US do not know about ableism. I sincerely appreciate your efforts to get the word out to your readership.

            I am not sure however that characterization in books is the same as a real individual making ableist remarks. I do not think that any author espouses every thought, word, and deed of his/her/hirs characters. I also believe that authors make very specific choices when it comes to syntax and diction, and that Death having an ableist viewpoint is an important aspect of the character.

            Death is constantly surrounded by the mortality of humans, which is reflected in his storytelling capabilities. Death has a knack for spoilers because the endgame for a character is his only contact with them. Therefore, Death has a hyper-awareness of human mortality as well as the tremendous survival capabilities of humans. It fits with his character to be nonplussed by such an act.

            It is also a reminder to never forget the immense courage and selflessness of the people who saved lives during the Holocaust. To put oneself in such a deadly position to help others goes against what might be seen as an instinct to survive. However, what draws Death to humans is their actions of altruism or bravery. It perplexes Death that contradictory motives exist in humans. My favorite summation of human action during WWII is that the most evil expressions of human nature coincide with expressions of the most beautiful and good. I believe that Death is struggling to understand human nature and this is exposed in his ableist understanding of the amazing qualities that human beings possess.

            However, this is also an excellent time to remember to always question the narrator, as they can be purposefully unreliable.

          • ShinSeifer says:

            I have to say… I kinda agree with k.r.d., here… maybe the wording was harsh, and it ignores the fact that ableism is an issue that goes beyond the use of specific language…
            but yeah, I don't really find most usage of words like "crazy", "insane" or similar to be ableist, in the sense that they are loaded with bad connotation that may perpetuate biases or misconceptions.
            Biases and misconceptions DO exist, obviously, I just don't think that words are the real issue here. attitudes are.
            I think k.r.d. is right, if we ban words that are for all intents and purposes innocent words, we never draw a line, and someday some other normal word, like "drunk" will be considered offensive or even oppressive in regards of alcoholics.

            These are my two cents, I'm open to changing my mind, and after all, I'm far from an expert in the issue. Just my instinctive thoughts.

        • elusivebreath says:

          I wasn’t going to comment on all of this, because I had never even heard of ableism until I started reading Mark’s blogs, so I don’t necessarily feel qualified to have an opinion, but this reminded me of something I thought I would share.

          On another forum, I was reading a debate (I use the term loosely here lol) about why it is ok for black people to use the “N” word and not white people. The original poster made some claims that I was sort of nodding along to, thinking that he did make some sense with what he was saying, when another poster, after post after post explaining why it was either ok or not ok etc, and just said, “Why do you want to use that word? There are a ton of words in the English language, why do you want to use that particular one?” (btw, I’m paraphrasing, this was a long time ago) That really brought me up short, because regardless of the arguments you could make for or against, that question was really the heart of the whole thing. As far as I can tell, there is no actual reason why I would ever want/need to use that word, so the point is moot.

          • elusivebreath says:

            Applying this to ableism, as I was reading along, at first I kind of agreed with the first poster, and then I thought back to that thread and thought the same thing – why would I need to use ableist language when there are so many other words to choose from? Regardless of whether or not I find those words offensive (for the record, I personally don’t, despite suffering from two mental disorders myself, but I would not dare to assume that because I am not offended, no one else should be either), I have so many words at my disposal, why not choose some that might not be hurtful?

            I hope this post made some sense, I am still trying to understand ableism (and classism and privilege).

            • This post is beautifully worded.
              I have disabilities, and am not personally offended by all terms deemed "ableist", but I prefer not to use those terms for the sake of others. If I use ableist language without knowing it all I ask is that people help me understand and improve. When people offend me, unless it's done with the intention to belittle, I try to help them understand the situation so they can grow too.

        • flootzavut says:

          Speaking as someone who is both disabled and has mental health issues, I'm much inclined to agree k.r.d. Some of the words that ableism is trying to eradicate, I do find offenseive personally, but unless the intent is to offend I don't take it that way, and I find some of the extreme PC language gets a little silly.

          • flootzavut says:

            Not that I think it is OK to imply that people with disabilities are lesser or whatever. I do however struggle to understand this whole thing. And another problem I have is that it's the attitude not the words that are important. Once upon a time words that we now find very offensive were not considered offensive. As time goes on, the euphemisms themselves frequently become offensive and so we find a euphemism for the euphemism. Where does that stop? I don't know, I guess I just find the use of PC language tends to paper over problems without changing attitudes. One person could use crazy in a way that was totally inoffensive. Another person could use "person with mental health issues" in a way that was totally insulting and demeaning.

            I dunno, I just feel like it doesn't address the issues to attack the words, and in my experience people can use very PC, non ableist language in a way that misses the point totally. Changing the words doesn't change people's attitudes…

            I don't know if I am making any sense here so will shut up… I wouldn't dismiss what people are trying to do by avoiding ableist language, and respect the intent, but it seems like a sticking plaster on a broken leg to me.

      • cait0716 says:

        I think there's also an aspect of appropriating someone else's situation when you have no way of really understanding that experience (this taken from the last time we discussed this – when Katniss compared herself to an Avox). I've been drunk and I've been angry, so I know what those experiences are like. But I'm not an alcoholic, nor do I have an anger management problem, so I can't speak to or appropriate those experiences. It's a fine line, especially when it comes to addiction, but I think these fall under ableism, too, to some extent.

  6. monkeybutter says:

    I love that Rosa stops calling people names in serious situations. It's only appropriate to use Saumensch in casual settings!

    Oh man, you ask a tough question. I don't attribute any malice to what Zusak is saying, and it seems like it's meant to be humorous, but that doesn't mean its not also perpetuating the use of supposed craziness for laughs. I didn't see it as saying that people of "questionable sanity" are incapable of making moral or good choices, but somewhat the opposite: that they aren't capable of considering the bad consequences and are only doing good. It's a little infantilizing. But maybe Death sees so many humans doing bad, that he sees the Hubermann's as atypical and that's how he is trying to make sense of their behavior. I would probably let it slide on that account if only people who were declared "incurably insane" weren't some of the first to die at the hands of the Nazis. In this time period, it wasn't unknown to declare people who behaved or believed things outside of the norm "insane" (though I might be conflating Germany with the USSR in this regard, people who acted outside of what was deemed acceptable by the state were dehumanized) and locked away. Maybe this is a subtle commentary on that? I don't know, but thanks for drawing attention to that.

    As for your classmates…I just can't. If you went to a public university in California, they're assholes with no comprehension of admissions guidelines and state law, in addition to being stupid enough to think that "reverse-racism" is a thing. You've made an excellent point about the political expediency of dehumanizing minority groups. I don't think I can start on calling people "illegals" without going on a rant, but I'm sorry people have made you feel that way. I'm ever sorrier that it doesn't seem to be changing for the better, and that someone's skin color and name still throws their citizenship and civil rights into limbo (thanks Birthers, Teabaggers, and racist jackasses who manipulate them).

    Well, that was longer than I intended!

    • Cerrie says:

      I laugh every time I hear "reverse racism" used in a serious context. Racism = the belief that a race is superior to others/another, and/or discriminating against people on the basis of race. NOTICE THAT IT DOES NOT SAY WHAT RACE IS BEING MENTIONED. So reverse racism is the opposite of racism, which would be… tolerance and equality.

      I get into SUCH heated arguments with people in my school about this stuff, and what I've found is that people are completely sexist, racist, ableist, etc without knowing that they are. People don't walk around thinking that they discriminate, or make undue assumptions, because everybody thinks highly of themselves and they genuinely think that they aren't being discriminatory. They're just ~ right ~ about everything, and refuse to question their beliefs. They misunderstand the concepts of racism, sexism, ableism, etc entirely. (Though I'm making progress with one guy. He's now challenging our COMPLETELY DELUSIONAL social studies teacher when she says racist things in class, and believes that homosexuals should be allowed to marry. I'm working on two things right now: convincing him that guys CAN take yoga classes without being "sissies" or perverts, and that opening a door for a woman because she's female and letting a male get it himself because he's "stronger and should be able to do it" is SEXISM, not BEING NOBLE.)

      Though I agree with you on most of this, I have to point something out:
      A) Why are you assuming that the racism Mark experienced was at a public university?
      B) Why are public university students collectively assholes with no comprehension of admissions guidelines, etc etc?

      • Cam says:

        haha, my B ) turned into an emoticon! Learned a new one!

      • monkeybutter says:

        Crud, I didn't mean to make it seem like I thought public universities are worse than private ones, because it's sadly sort of like that saying about Shakespeare being the same wherever you go to school: the douchebags are the same, too. I was saying if he attended a public university, in California specifically, because I've heard the same things Mark in reference to affirmative action — completely and deliberately misunderstanding how affirmative action works — but affirmative action is illegal to use in public university admissions in California. There was a huge fight over it about 15 years ago, resulting in Prop 209, which passed and was upheld in court. So, if it was at a California public school, not only are they being racist by assuming that Mark or other minority students got in because of their race or ethnicity, they're also completely ignorant of the law and a very prominent, all-over-the-national-news fight. In the true fashion of the perpetually victimized majority, they're using tired-ass talking points because they're butthurt about things that don't exist. But like I said, private school students aren't exempt from being ignorant or hateful, so it could have happened anywhere. I actually deleted a rant about this in my first comment, but I decided it was too long!

        And, sheesh, you really should hold the door for everyone, no matter your sex or theirs — it's polite!

  7. ldwy says:

    Reading about Hans scaring Liesel because he has to, for Max's safety, the Hubermann's safety, and Liesel's own safety was so heartbreaking. I feel bad for Liesel, because Han's has always been her quiet calm one, and this is a huge change. She knows it's serious and she must be terrified. But I almost feel worse for Hans. Or maybe I feel equally awful for everyone. But from his perspective, imagine. A quiet, unassuming man. Having to step outside his element and be frightening to a girl he loves. How awful. I know it was necessary. And I understand. I even think he walked that line between too little fear and too much fear just right. But I hope it doesn't change their wonderful relationship.

    The way that Max sleeps for three days. Also heartbreaking. Even if all you're doing is hiding, being constantly terrified exhausts you mentally and also physically. The fact that he can sleep parallels that he's finally safe again, with the Hubermanns. That he wakes up with a list of names is so sad. We don't really know what's happened to any of them. Neither does he.

    I too saw the parallels between Max and Liesel, Mark. I was reading and thinking to myself, ooooh yeah, lookit you disecting literature, good job. And then Liesel notices it about a second later. I felt so cool and smart for a moment there. Oh well. It's still wonderful symmetry.

  8. Word nerd says:

    Excuse me while I get pedantic on the term "reverse racism" even though what I say will totally not be the point. But reverse racism is not a thing. The definition of racism is prejudice against a particular race. Note that means it can be any race. If people discriminate or think poorly (or favorably, that's still prejudging) about white people, that's still racism. What people mean when they say reverse racism is actually "reverse discrimination" because it's about discriminating against those who are normally the discriminators. Although I suppose even that is still technically incorrect, as discrimination is discrimination no matter who it's towards.

    The only time ableism regarding mental issues has bothered me is in Glee, where they repeatedly call Terri crazy (even the narrator at the beginning) but then spell out that she has depression and anxiety disorder (or at least is on the medication for it. I almost wish they had just left her as being "crazy" because now fans who don't know better will equate anxiety and depression with craziness, and even though I'll tell people "It's because I'm CRAZY" when they ask why I'm bad with dealing with physical contact and opening up to people, I know I am still utterly capable of living day to day life without faking a pregnancy.

    • MaggieCat says:

      "The only time ableism regarding mental issues has bothered me is in Glee, where they repeatedly call Terri crazy"

      I have many issues with Glee (even though I like it) and that is one that really ticks me off as someone with a few mental diagnoses. Because as far as I know depression and anxiety disorders rarely lead to the complete self centeredness required for her stunts.

      This is related to the reason it didn't bother me that Death asked the question here — it was just that, a question. He's not calling them insane, but I don't believe it's out of line to list it in passing as one of the possibilities, especially for a non-human observer. There's a reason that people who regularly risk their lives (for whatever reason) have to get the occasional psych evaluation : being able to disregard your own safety, even for a good cause, almost requires that someone at least ask the question about whether or not there are factors that might affect your decision. (See: Catch-22 and the whole if you're sane you're terrified to go into battle but required to, if you aren't terrified you're crazy and can't go into battle even if you want to thing.)

      • flootzavut says:

        "There's a reason that people who regularly risk their lives (for whatever reason) have to get the occasional psych evaluation : being able to disregard your own safety, even for a good cause, almost requires that someone at least ask the question about whether or not there are factors that might affect your decision."

        Good point.

    • Avit says:

      Individual racist beliefs and behaviors are one thing.

      Institutionalized racism is another, and far more nefarious.

    • I am so glad you mentioned that Glee does this. It's one of the reasons why I've come to despise the show. (Absolutely nothing against those who still like it, this is my own personal view of the show, and nothing else.)

  9. affableevil says:

    The Book Thief, I love you, but sometimes you make my heart hurt.

    In a good way <3

  10. bradycardia says:

    The way I read it, if someone makes a decision that does not appear to be a logical and rational one (and hiding a Jew in Nazi Germany would not seem like the logical thing to do) then people may question their decisionmaking process and ability, and as a consequence, their sanity. Logical and rational decisions are not the same as moral or "right" decisions so saying someone is "insane" does not mean that they cannot make good and moral decisions.
    For the Hubermann's to take Max in is a wonderful thing to do. But they are putting themselves, Liesel and anyone connected to them in danger as a consequence. When people ask, "what were they thinking? Are they thinking straight?", they could be described as questioning someone's sanity. But I think it is a natural reaction, an adjustment when you needs time to understand the person's reasoning.
    So for that reason, I hadn't identified that sentence as being ableist, since I hadn't looked as it as being critical of people with mental health issues. But it is good to have these discussions so that I will be better equipped to identify ableist language when I come across it.

  11. Phoebe says:

    I loved the scene when Liesel met Max. It was a sense of dread and happiness and excitement all mushed together

  12. erin says:

    I feel like one of the reasons I'm confused by these accusations of ableism is that it seems to imply that "crazy" is always a derogatory term. Who says crazy is a bad thing? There are so many ways to use it! "Crazy" can be a putdown, sure, but it can also be endearing, admiring, curious or complimentary. Like thousands of other words we use every day, the meaning comes from the way it's delivered.

    Another thing that baffles me is where people come off thinking that "mental illness" is always synonymous with "insanity." When I think of insanity, I don't think specifically of schizophrenics or people suffering from bipolarity. Those are diseases. The word insanity calls to mind radical, inexplicable or eccentric behavior, and you don't have to have a mental illness to act in such a way. People with mental illnesses can be "normal," and "normal" people can be "insane." There can be overlap, sure, but it's not the same thing. People are comparing ableism to racism, like saying "crazy" is the same as using the n-word. I don't think it is. The n-word is a distinctly insulting name used to target members of a specific group of people. How do you clearly define people with mental disorders?? There's such a broad spectrum! Depression is a mental disorder. Is being depressed "crazy"? Depression doesn't exactly bring to mind images of people acting eccentrically or acting in a typically "insane" manner. The words are just far too versatile to use as a blanket statement for mental illness.

    That's not to say that people with mental disorders don't face bias, because I know they do, or that ableism isn't a problem that we should work to eliminate. I just don't think that the persecution manifests most clearly in casual uses of the word "insanity." But that's just my two scents. o.O

    • flootzavut says:

      I feel the same – there's good crazy and bad crazy. And I honestly find the ableism thing quite strange. There are some words that bother me – for example I loathe the word invalid used of a person, because invalid? Not valid? Yuck. But I find things like "differently abled" very odd. I have disabilities and depression, but differently abled always makes it seem like, "Yes this person cannot hear/see/walk, but hey they can FLY!" – that would be differently able. Does that make sense? And I just can't bring myself to find that figurative usage of crazy as offensive.

      ""Crazy" can be a putdown, sure, but it can also be endearing, admiring, curious or complimentary."


    • Emily Crnk says:

      THIS. This is what I've been feeling but haven't been able to put into words.

    • ShinSeifer says:

      Yeah, this… surely ableism is a real issue, in the sense of a negative bias towards mentally and physically disabled people, but I really don't see why many instances noted on this blog should count as ableism. Many uses of words like "crazy" or "insane" make perfect sense to me in their context, and those words are not specifically loaded, as opposed to, maybe, "retard" or "psychopath".

      In this specific instance, Death does not implies that insane people always make dangerous choices (which is not true), but that people who make dengerous choices may do that because they are not mentally stable (which is true, even if this is crearly non the case with the Huberman).
      I really can't see an issue, sorry.

  13. flootzavut says:

    Speaking as someone with diagnosed depression who frequently feels myself to be of questionable sanity, that phrase didn't bother me in the slightest to be honest. I guess I can see why some people might be, but no, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

  14. flootzavut says:

    Zusak's characterisation of dehumanisation is brilliant and chilling I agree.

  15. monkeybutter says:

    It's okay to go a little OT (and I don't think you really were) because the book relates to your real life! I like reading your comments.

  16. Brieana says:

    My thoughts on the questionable sanity thing is that I don't care for exaggeration at all. It seems like everyone calls everyone crazy or mad or whatever and when you do that it takes away from what the word actually means. I feel like I'm watching language being weakened or twisted and I don't like that.
    Oup, gotta go. But of course, people who do suffer from mental issues shouldn't have to feel worse and so forth.

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