In the sixty-ninth through seventy-second chapters of The Book Thief, the lives of Liesel Meminger and Hans Hubermann are further disrupted, as the war continues to grab hold even stronger than before. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.
The pace of this book has suddenly sped up, and it makes me anxious because I know something is coming. What that thing is, I havenâ€™t figured out. Thereâ€™s no big mystery to this novel, and instead, I feel like Iâ€™m just waiting for history to collide with the people here. I know Rudy dies. I know that Hans will survive whatever it is that kills Reinhold Zucker. He might even come home? And I am convinced at this point that Iâ€™ll never see Max again. Despite all that, which would seem like a huge chunk of spoilers in any other book and in any other context, I still donâ€™t know how this will all come together. One thing I am sure of: I am watching the pieces being assembled into place.
CH. 69: THE NEXT TEMPTATION
Like clockwork, Rudy and Liesel head to the mayorâ€™s house to do a little thieving, and this time, Liesel is greeted with a couple surprises.
This time, there were cookies.
But they were stale.
They were Kipferl left over from Christmas, and theyâ€™d been sitting on the desk for at least two weeks. Like miniature horseshoes with a layer of icing sugar, the ones on the bottom were bolted to the plate. The rest were piled on top, forming a chewy mound. She could already smell them when her fingers tightened on the window ledge. The room tasted like sugar and dough, and thousands of pages.
All right, Liesel, I think itâ€™s about time for you to stop sneaking in through the window and go in through the front door. Frau Hermann clearly was waiting for you, she has already outright acknowledged that she knows you are coming into the library and stealing her books. Or borrowing them. Or whatever. Just go through the front door.
Theyâ€™d gone on foot that day because the road was too slippery for bikes. The boy was beneath the window, standing watch. When she called out, his face appeared, and she presented him with the plate. He didnâ€™t need much convincing to take it.
His eyes feasted on the cookies and he asked a few questions.
â€œAnything else? Any milk?â€
You Saumensch, Rudy. STOP BEING SO GREEDY. FREE COOKIES, DUDE.
This time, Liesel has the courtesy to at least leave Frau Hermann a thank you note, leaving it on top of the desk in the library. On her way out, she spots the book she decides to take: The Last Human Stranger.
At the window, just as she was about to make her way out, the library door creaked apart.
Her knee was up and her book-stealing hand was poised against the window frame. She she faced the noise, she found the mayorâ€™s wife in a brand-new bathrobe and slippers. On the breast pocket of the robe sat an embroidered swastika. Propaganda even reached the bathrobe.
Oh, hell, Liesel. Please donâ€™t tell me youâ€™re going to avoid Frau Hermann again. You kind of canâ€™t now! Thankfully she doesnâ€™t, though I didnâ€™t expect Liesel to give the mayorâ€™s wife a â€œHeil Hitlerâ€ right off the bat. She is wearing a bathrobe with a swastika on it, so I suppose it makes sense.
Standing there awkwardly in front of the mayorâ€™s wife, Liesel has a sudden realization about the place sheâ€™s in. Truthfully, I never even thought about it myself, and the revelation is a surprise to me because of that.
Or–and as soon as Liesel felt this thought, it filled her with a strange optimism–perhaps it wasnâ€™t the mayorâ€™s library at all; it wa shers. Ilsa Hermannâ€™s.
She didnâ€™t know why it was so important, but she enjoyed the fact that the roomful of books belonged to the woman. It was she who introduced her to the library in the first place and gave her the initial, even literal, window of opportunity. This way was better. It all seemed to fit.
Iâ€™m glad that Liesel takes a moment to speak with Frau Hermann, asking her if the room is indeed hers, which the mayorâ€™s wife confirms. Rudy, unaware that the mayorâ€™s wife is actually in the room, keeps interjecting every so often, too. For Liesel, though, who asks Ilsa Hermann about the book sheâ€™s picked up, she feels a strange pull to stay and talk to this woman. Maybe she has something to share, or maybe she just deserves it at this point.
She saw Rudyâ€™s face in the window, or more to the point, his candlelit hair. â€œI think youâ€™d better go,â€ she said. â€œHeâ€™s waiting for you.â€
And as Rudy and Liesel eat the cookies on the way home, I wondered if the next time weâ€™d see Ilsa Hermann, Liesel would finally enter through the front door. After all of this, I believe that the mayorâ€™s wife has proven that she can be trusted.
CH. 70: THE CARDPLAYER
Switching over to Hans Hubermann, Death describes a brief scene between Hans and the soon-to-be-dead Reinhold Zucker. It gives us a small portrait of the downtown between raids in the war, and it also serves for Death to include a few necessary details to fill in the blanks about Hans avoiding death and Reinhold succumbing to it. Him. Whatever.
* * * SOME FACTS ABOUT * * *
He was twenty-four. When he won a round
of cards, he gloated–he would hold the
thin cylinders of tobacco to his nose and
breathe them in. â€œThe smell of victory,â€
he would say. Oh, and one more thing.
He would die with his mouth open.
Just when I think Iâ€™m ok with these asides and that Iâ€™m prepared for something Death has spoiled, he includes these little details, and I canâ€™t seem to put my finger on why itâ€™s so unsettling to me. Maybe even after all of this, the way Death is so matter-of-fact about people losing their lives is still a strange thing for me.
Here, though, we learn that Reinholdâ€™s anger at Hansâ€™s victories is what sets up his end.Hans never took all that he won when he played cards, sometimes returning a cigarette to each of his companions in the war. (HOW CUTE. SERIOUSLY.) But Reinhold is much too full of pride to accept something like this. He storms off, saying, â€œI donâ€™t need your charity, old man.â€
OK, NEGATIVE NANCY. Jesus, dude.
Had he not lost his cigarettes to Hans Hubermann, he wouldnâ€™t have despised him. If he hadnâ€™t despised him, he might not have taken his place a few weeks later on a fairly innocuous road.
One seat, two men, a short argument, and me.
It kills me sometimes, how people die.
Death, you are so witty. So, this is how Hans escapes Death a second time? Heâ€™s in the right place at the right time, it seems. Twice.
CH. 71: THE SNOWS OF STALINGRAD
It seems Zusak continues to increase the appearances of the war on Himmel Street, both as a way to advance the plot to its inevitable end and as a reminder to us all that this war is very real and we cannot hope that it wonâ€™t reach 33 Himmel Street. In a few ways, it already has: Rudy is gone. Max had to escape. Hans was forced to leave. But here, in chapter seventy-one, is the first example of the effects of war ending up right there on Himmel Street.
Heading to Frau Holtzapfelâ€™s for another reading session, Liesel is shocked when someone else answers the door.
Her first thought was that the man must have been one of her sons, but he did not look like either of the brothers in the framed photos by the door. He seemed far too old, although it was difficult to tell. His face was dotted with whiskers and his eyes looked painful and loud. A bandaged hand fell out of his coat sleeve and cherries of blood were seeping through the wrapping.
â€œPerhaps you should come back later.â€
My thoughts always go towards what I think is the worst, and, given the title of this chapter, I couldnâ€™t help but think SOMEONE KILLED FRAU HOLTZAPFEL, which now, in hindsight, MAKES NO SENSE. And yet? What happens here is seriously so much worse.
Over three hours later, the same man comes to get Liesel, to tell her that now is a good time for her to read to Frau Holtzapfel.
Outside, in the fuzzy gray light, Liesel couldnâ€™t help asking the man what had happened to his hand. He blew some air from his nostrils–a single syllable–before his reply. â€œStalingrad.â€
â€œSorry?â€ He had looked into the wind when he spoke. â€œI couldnâ€™t hear you.â€
He answered again, only louder, and now, he answered the question fully. â€œStalingrad happened to my hand. I was shot in the ribs and I had three of my fingers blown off. Does that answer your question?â€ He placed his uninjured hand in his pocket and shivered with contempt for the German wind.
GOOD GOD. But Iâ€™m still left wondering: Who is this man and why is he visiting Frau Holtzapfel?
â€œYou think itâ€™s cold here?â€
Liesel touched the wall at her side. She couldnâ€™t lie â€œYes, of course.â€
The man laughed. â€œThis isnâ€™t cold.â€
Now, again, I donâ€™t always think using Wikipedia as a source is a good thing, but itâ€™s also not at all a bad thing to summarize concepts or events, so Iâ€™m going to ask you to take some time reading about the Battle of Stalingrad that this man is referring to, which will put his joke into a terrifying, depressing context. Heâ€™s not lying: That battle was cold.
Thereâ€™s a strange scene here where Liesel helps the man light a cigarette, and I feel like it only exists for her to earn the manâ€™s trust. Well, at least enough for him to properly introduce himself as Michael Holtzapfel, Frau Holtzapfelâ€™s son. Itâ€™s not stated here, but itâ€™s hard not to think back to Lieselâ€™s first introduction to him, being unable to recognize because the war had aged him so much.
Before thereâ€™s any chance to take in this moment, Rosa Hubermann comes up behind them and â€œLiesel could feel the shock at her back.â€ I wouldnâ€™t say Rosa makes small talk, but she is so surprised that she doesnâ€™t say much of anything of substance. And thatâ€™s when Michael decides to drop the news at their feet.
â€œMy brotherâ€™s dead,â€ said Michael Holtzapfel, and he could not have delivered the punch any better with his one usable fist. For Rosa staggered. Certainly, war meant dying, but it always shifted the ground beneath a personâ€™s feet when it was someone who had once lived and breathed in close proximity. Rosa had watched both of the Holtzapfel boys grow up.
Iâ€™d say that death in general does that, and I had no real concept of it until a close friend who ran cross country and track with me died the year after he graduated, while I was a senior. I like that phrase Zusak uses: â€œ…it always shifted the ground beneath a personâ€™s feetâ€¦â€ Thatâ€™s what it felt like. Exactly what it felt like. There was a loss of stability that you felt in your legs when the news hits.
Rosa, understandably, is shocked into near-silence by this news, and she and Michael agree itâ€™s best to just take Liesel to Frau Holtzapfel to read. On the way there, Michael has a moment of guilt, possibly at slamming his brotherâ€™s death into Rosaâ€™s chest, and he attempts to make her feel better:
â€œRosa?â€ There was a moment of waiting while Mama rewidened the door. â€œI heard your son was there. In Russia. I ran into someone else from Molching and they told me. But Iâ€™m sure you knew that already.â€
Rosa tried to prevent his exit. She rushed out and held his sleeve. â€œNo. He left here one day and never came back. We tried to find him, but then so much happened, there was â€¦â€
Michael Holtzapfel was determined to escape. The last thing he wanted to hear was yet another sob story. Pulling himself away, he said, â€œAs far as I know, heâ€™s alive.â€
THIS IS SO CRUSHING TO ME. Michaelâ€™s guilt inspires him to try to raise Rosaâ€™s hope, and it essentially backfires. This is so horrible for everyone involved.
Frau Holtzapfel sat with wet streams of wire on her face.
Her son was dead.
But that was only the half of it.
OH GOD. YOUâ€™RE GOING TO TELL ME, ARENâ€™T YOU. Iâ€™m already heartbroken by the lot of this, and now I need details?
* * * A SMALL WAR STORY * * *
His legs were blown off at the
shins and he died with his
brother watching in a cold,
Death takes us to that day, January 5, 1943, another reminder of the sheer brutality of Stalingrad.
Out among the city and snow, there were dead Russians and Germans everywhere. Those who remained were firing into the blank pages in front of them. Three languages interwove. The Russian, the bullets, the German.
That is a gorgeous paragraph. Not the content, the way it is written. And Zusak continues in this disconnected diction, choosing a rare poetry in describing the mayhem here in the snow. Iâ€™m not going to include the actual physical descriptions of Robertâ€™s death, or the man, Pieter, who crawls to him with an â€œitchyâ€ stomach, because theyâ€™re a bit much for me. But Death was there, picking up so many souls, and even he is a bit surprised that he was so close to grabbing Robert Holtzapfel, but he doesnâ€™t.
As Michael told his mother, it was three very long days later that I finally came for the soldier who left his feet behind in Stalingrad. I showed up very much invited at the temporary hospital and flinched at the smell.
A man with a bandaged hand was telling the mute, shock-faced soldier that he would survive. â€œYouâ€™ll soon be going home,â€ he assured him.
Yes, home, I thought. For good.
How unbearably sad this all is. I am dreading the moment when this happens to one of the people Iâ€™ve grown to enjoy in Molching, and I imagine that Rudy is going to be that first one.
In Frau Holtzapfelâ€™s kitchen, Liesel read. The pages waded by unheared, and for me, when the Russian scenery fades in my eyes, the snow refuses to stop falling from that ceiling. The kettle is covered, as is the table. The humans, too, are wearing patches of snow on their heads and shoulders.
The brother shivers.
The woman weeps.
And the girl goes on reading, for thatâ€™s why sheâ€™s there, and it feels good to be good for something in the aftermath of the snows of Stalingrad.
Zusak, what are you doing to my heart? I donâ€™t know how much more of this I can take.
CH. 72: THE AGELESS BROTHER
Despite that this chapter feels like a huge, redemptive moment for Liesel, I canâ€™t help but feel morose about all of this. We are rapidly progressing to the end of this novel, and Iâ€™m kind of afraid to find out whatâ€™s there.
Lieselâ€™s brother, Warner, represents a specific moment in time for her, obviously, but I think that he might also be a metaphor for her youth. Death opens up this chapter by reminding us that Liesel is approaching her fourteenth birthday, and I do not think this mention is just circumstance. She is a young woman, and she needs to leave things behind.
As she crossed the river, a rumor of sunshine stood behind the clouds.
At 8 Grande Strasse, she walked up the steps, left the plate by the front door, and knocked, and by the time the door was opened, the girl was around the corner. Liesel did not look back, but knew that if she did, sheâ€™d have found her brother at the bottom of the steps again, his knee completely healed. She could hear his voice.
â€œThatâ€™s better, Liesel.â€
I think the detail that his knee is healed does it for me. Itâ€™s time for Liesel to move on.
It was with great sadness that she realized that her brother would be six forever, but when she held that thought, she also made an effort to smile.
ALL OF THE SAD. My god, this book. But I do want to say that I really, really like this line, both because of the permanence she assigns her memory of Warner and how she can use that to smile again.
She smiled and smiled, and when it all came out, she walked home and her brother never climbed into her sleep again. In many ways, she would miss him, but she could never miss his deadly eyes on the floor of the train or the sound of a cough that killed.
I know this is all pretty depressing, but Iâ€™m so happy that Liesel can find something good out of all this.
* * * THE LAST HUMAN STRANGER, PAGE 38 * * *
There were people everywhere on the city
street, but the stranger could not have
been more alone if it were empty.
As many times as I have spoken about loneliness here and on Mark Watches, this might actually be the one thing Iâ€™ve found that speaks to me so directly and perfectly that it almost creeps me out. Feeling lonely has nothing to do with who is physically around me. Iâ€™m alone because of how I feel inside, and I love that this is here, in this book, at this point of the story. At the end of chapter seventy-two, just after this quote, Liesel awakes to find Rosa quietly sitting with the accordion around her neck, reciting prayers.
â€œMake them come back alive,â€ she repeated. â€œPlease, Lord, please. All of them.â€ Even the wrinkles around her eyes were joining hands.
The accordion must have ached her, but she remained.
Another portrait of loneliness in the house on 33 Himmel Street.
I'm starting to feel like nothing will be happy again. To borrow Zusak's own metaphor, he's been setting up all these pieces and stories like dominoes. And now it seems like one flick will just knock everyone over. Except I think that flick already happened and now we're just watching the pieces fall. There's a horrible inevitability to all of this that makes it worse somehow. We know it's going to be awful and Death is dragging that out, maintaining the tension.
In Death's little aside about Zucker, I was initially thinking what an awful person. I hate people who lack grace when they win something. And then in the next sentence we learn that he dies and it just completely altered my image of him. Something about not being able to hate the dead, I suppose.
Man, this book.
And the girl goes on reading, for that’s why she’s there, and it feels good to be good for something in the aftermath of the snows of Stalingrad.
This is so beautiful. Horrible, but beautiful. That might be my favorite part of this book, the gorgeous way it's written despite the horrors it describes. It makes me think of something I believe-that there's always more good in human nature than bad, even when sometimes it's hard to find any beauty in something evil or cruel or terrible. Zusak makes that a little easier for me, in the context of these situations, and it's a rare gift.
I have to second the thanks.
I don't know if I ever would have picked up this book if you hadn't chosen it for MarkReads, but it has been a hugely valuable experience for me to read it and I am really grateful. I have also really come to love this community, and so thanks for creating it and sharing so much.
This is ridiculous. When we were kids, my sister and I used to laugh at our mother whenever she'd cry during a show or movie. Now I cry from reading these reviews.
I really like the exchange between Liesel and Ilsa with Rudy hiding–with his hair totally visible–outside, completely oblivious. It's humorous and poignant.
At the beginning, I didn't think this was a "You are not prepared" sort of book. But re-reading along at this pace, I'm realizine…you are seriously so not prepared.
You've covered so much here, it's depressing to know it's nearly the end 🙁
You're right, things are moving faster, and I like the quick pace better than the slow start to the book. It's always hardest to comment when you're at the beginning or end of books because I know what's going to happen, so I'll just say that I like these chapters with the short glimpses of Liesel's normal life and a longer bit about how it's touched by the war.
I especially liked the "patches of snow" that have come to rest on Michael and Frau Holtzapfel. Their loss will always be with them, but right now it's particularly palpable. Stalingrad has followed the dead and wounded home to Germany.
Yes, I love the visual of the snows of Stalingrad falling in the Holtzapfel kitchen. One of the most beautiful and sad visuals of the book.
Stalingrad. Horrible, but brilliantly fought on the Russian part. If I remember correctly, they didn't meet the Germans head on, but kept retreating landinward, burning down their own cities and all of the food so that the Germans couldn't get any shelter or food. And because the Germans weren't equipped AT ALL for the Russian winter, I think most of them died not of actual combat, but of the cold.
It's so strange that this book makes me sad for German soldiers, when they are supposed to be the bad guys. Zusak, what are you doing to my brain.
this book is both the worst and the very best book ever. i can hardly read your reviews because all the sad is here
Haha, I'm sort of jealous. I can never hide my feelings/emotions/nerves/whatever. I am beet red, chest to forehead, in the drop of hat. It's totally inconvenient!
Don't you hate that? And you can FEEL it creeping up your neck and on your cheeks … which just makes it WORSE!!
Yes! Because once you're aware of it, it just makes you even more emotional/nervous/self-conscious/whatever, and it becomes a vicious cycle!
There were people everywhere on the city
street, but the stranger could not have
been more alone if it were empty.
I'm am actually currently in a lonely phase like this and i've been thinking sometimes about how life would be as a crazy cat lady (but I am allergic to cats so it would have to be those ugly hypoallergenic hairless cats and children would be scared of them and my house would be the most feared place on the block and…this is where my thoughts go when I dont stop them). So my life is connecting and I'm not even reading it. To me that is the most impressive, that I can get emotionally invested through a review of a book I have never read.
actually I think it's a myth that sphynx (hairless) cats are the most hypoallergenic. they still produce the allergen, since it's found in saliva, not the hair itself. (They need frequent baths though, so they do get the allergens cleaned off of them regularly.) however, it's a fact that un-neutered males produce the most allergens, so if you do want to get a cat, I'd go with a female or neutered male.
crazy cat lady over here. 😛 I was mildly allergic, but when I got my first cat, I just took OTC meds for a few months and eventually acclimated to the allergen. LET ME TELL YOU THINGS ABOUT CATS YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT.
I remembered Death saying that Frau Holtzapfel's sons would "make a cameo" before everything was over, but something (maybe the way Death said it? I don't know) made me predict that the Holtzapfel sons would be the ones to discover (or perhaps just come close to discovering) Max.
I'm pretty sure that initially I just assumed that the only way they could possibly make a cameo was if they were wounded and had to come home, so I thought the natural progression was for them to get jobs with the NSDAP in Molching, leading them to inspect the Hubermanns' basement. Which is strange, because I'm pretty sure that even though I thought they'd be Nazis who came to the basement, I never once thought that the Nazi who actually did come to the basement could be Frau Holtzapfel's son.
Death always shifing the ground beneath a person’s feet is so bang on. A friend of mine died a year ago, and I physically staggered when I found out. A couple of months ago I found out that it had been suicide, and even though I thought I'd 'already done my grieving' (inasmuch as it is a finite process; it isn't) and it maybe shouldn't have changed anything (and certainly not the fact of her death), it was an equally physical response. However prepared we are, we are never, ever prepared.
I'm so glad you're loving this book so much. It is one of the most powerful books I've ever read, and it still haunts me.
With that being said, your reviews are reminding me of ALL THE FEELINGS I felt while reading this book.
You're right, something is coming.
And oh my god, Mark, you are NOT AT ALL PREPARED.
I've always really wanted to read some of the books that Liesel reads. The Last Human Stranger especially. Zusak makes them sound so good and drops little paragraphs and sentences here and there and I am like DAMN these sound good why are they not real and physical 🙁
I love Kipferl, and I loved that Liesel could at last speak to Ilsa Herman.
Something kills Death? English is a fascinating language.
I have a faint memory of some relative (one of my mother's uncles?) dying at Stalingrad. But it seems that my mother talking all the time didn’t impress me as much as my father talking once or twice. So there is no real story here.
Most soldiers in any war are just people doing their jobs.
"I feel like I’m just waiting for history to collide with the people here."
Perfect description of reading this book.
Re: Stalingrad – now Volgograd. I've been there, and wandering around the museum etc is a sobering experience. It wasn't long after Den' Pobedy (Ð”ÐµÐ½ÑŒ ÐŸÐ¾Ð±ÐµÐ´Ñ‹) which is the Russian equivalent of VE day and Remembrance Day rolled into one. It was weird – much more of a celebration in Russia. We even saw someone parading a portrait of Stalin holding a small child, both smiling inanely. Dead dictator version of a politician kissing babies. Very surreal. At the time the whole Chechen conflict was going on apace, and seeing the soldiers marching the streets, some of them looking about 12, and realising they were likely to die in Chechnya was appalling.
Weird fact: in the museum in Volgograd there is a delicate china teapot which bears the inscription, in Russian, of "Death to the German Occupiers". We didn't know quite whether to laugh or what… Truth is even stranger than fiction.