Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 77-78

In the seventy-seventh and seventy-eighth chapters of The Book Thief, there is not a human alive that was even remotely prepared for this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.

Well.

PART TEN

the book thief
featuring

what the fuck

CH. 77: THE END OF THE WORLD (PART I)

HOW CAN THERE BE ANOTHER PART AFTER THIS

Again, I offer you a glimpse of the end. Perhaps it’s to soften the blow for later, or to better prepare myself for the telling. Either way, I must inform you that it was raining on Himmel Street when the world ended for Liesel Meminger.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN. Are you suggesting she dies, Death? But….but….you said it was going to be Rudy Steiner! I don’t understand this. What the hell is going on?

* * * A SMALL, SAD HOPE * * *
No one wanted to bomb Himmel Street.
No one would bomb a place named after
heaven, would they? Would they?

What the hell????? WHAT. WHAT. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON. What are you doing, Death?

The bombs came down, and soon, the clouds would bake and the cold raindrops would turn to ash. Hot snowflakes would shower to the ground.

In short, Himmel Street was flattened.

Houses were splashed from one side of the street to the other. A framed photo of a very serious-looking Führer was bashed and beaten on the shattered floor. Yet he smiled, in that serious way of his. He knew something we all didn’t know. But I knew something he didn’t know. All while people slept.

I seriously don’t understand this. Why did Death lead me to believe that Rudy was the one to die at the end of this? What is he talking about in regards to Hitler? What does he know? What does Death know? I am so confused, everyone, I DON’T LIKE THIS FEELING.

Rudy Steiner slept. Mama and Papa slept. Frau Holtzapfel, Frau Diller. Tommy Müller. All sleeping. All dying.

WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!?!!?!? NO, YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS. No, I refuse to believe it. No, you can’t do this, THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO SURVIVE. Oh my god, what. What. What. WHAT THE HELL.

Only one person survived.

YOU DON’T EVEN MEAN THIS METAPHORICALLY, MARKUS ZUSAK. You literally just killed off nearly the entire cast of characters in this book IN ONE PARAGRAPH.

I seriously had to stop at this line. I couldn’t read for nearly five minutes, as I tried to process the unbearable information just shoved in front of me, and I could feel tears forming, though my brain felt numb. They were all dead. You can’t do that, I though. THIS BOOK WAS DEPRESSING ENOUGH.

She survived because she was sitting in a basement reading through the story of her own life, checking for mistakes. Previously, the room had been declared too shallow, but on that night, October 7, it was enough. The shells of wreckage cantered down, and hours later, when the strange, unkempt silence settled itself in Molching, the local LSE could hear something. An echo. Down there, somewhere, a girl was hammering a paint can with a pencil.

The world has ended for Liesel Meminger. It makes sense now. She doesn’t need to die to have her life ended. She just has to lose EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER MATTERED TO HER.

I can’t even. I just cannot. This hurts too much.

* * * PASSED ITEMS, HAND TO HAND * * *
Blocks of cement and roof tiles.
A pieces of wall with a dripping sun
painted on it. An unhappy-looking
accordion, peering through its
eaten case.

Pieces of Liesel’s life, of 33 Himmel Street, of everything she held dear, now relegated to the term of “rubble.” Words can hurt, too.

There was so much joy among the cluttering, calling men, but I could not fully share their enthusiasm.

Earlier, I’d held her papa in one arm and her mama in the other. Each soul was so soft.

It’s real. It actually happened. They are dead. Fucking hell, this is brutal and bleak and somehow worse than everything we’ve gone through, worse than all the plot twists in the books I’ve read and wrote about. No fanfare, no majestic goodbye. Just robbed of life from the falling canisters. That’s it.

Good god.

Farther away, their bodies were laid out, like the rest. Papa’s lovely silver eyes were already starting to rust, and Mama’s cardboard lips were fixed half open, most likely the shape of an incomplete snore. To blaspheme like the Germans–Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

I can’t even cry anymore. I did when Death first unceremoniously announced this new news, but I’m completely numb at this point. This is seriously awful. WHY DID I CHOOSE TO READ THIS BOOK. my heart.

The rescuers pull Liesel from the ruins of 33 Himmel Street, from the basement that held paintings and memories of Max Vandenburg, the lonely Jew, from the nights of books and accordions, from the cold drafts that caused sickness (or perceived to be the cause), from the place where Liesel began to truly write. Liesel ignores the men, who want to know how she knew to be in the basement when there were no air raid sirens, and she calls out a singular cry for her father.

A second time. Her face creased as she reached a higher, more panic-stricken pitch. “Papa, Papa!”

They passed her up as she shouted, wailed, and cried. If she was injured, she did not yet know it, for she struggled free and searched and called and wailed some more.

My god, Liesel. I’m so sorry. I wish you didn’t have to see this and experience this. I wish I could just turn back the pages and none of this would have to happen.

She was still clutching the book.

She was holding desperately on to the words who had saved her life.

What a tragic stroke of metaphorical coincidence. This book has been about the power of words to save a life, and now we see how they’ve literally done that.

I can’t. I just can’t.

CH. 78: THE NINETY-EIGHTH DAY

How do you seriously read past this? How do you go back and try to read about the ninety-seven days before Himmel Street is destroyed? They’re all dead. I CAN’T READ ABOUT THEIR JOY AND HAPPINESS.

For ninety-seven days, which now seems like a few minutes in my head, things at 33 Himmel Street are about as close to “normal” as they could be. There’s happiness and music in the Hubermann household. Hans’s job in Munich is easy, and he even gets to bring home treats some days.

On that ninety-eighth day, the Jews return to Molching, but this time, they’re marched in the opposite direction, heading to a local town to clean up after some unspecified incident that the army refuses to clean. (Actually, there may not be an event at all. In hindsight, this section also can read as if the city just needed a cleaning anyway.)

Just like Liesel here, my mind instantly jumped to Max Vandenburg. It’s so easy for me, as the reader, to drop myself right into Liesel’s mind, holding out the hope that Max will pass by so that I can know he’s still alive, but also hoping I don’t see him because then that means he was captured.

He was not there. Not on this occasion.

Just give it time, though, for on a warm afternoon in August, Max would most certaily be marched through town with the rest of them. Unlike the others, however, he would not watch the road. He would not look randomly into the Führer’s German grandstand.

* * * A FACT REGARDING * * *
MAX VANDENBURG
He would search the faces on Munich
Street for a book-thieving girl.

WELL, SHIT. He’s alive? That’s a relief. It’s a huge one, actually, especially after the liberal dose of tragedy I just read through. He’s captured and that makes me have a million questions that I need answered, but I’ll just wait until later to see if Zusak answers them. However, I noticed that he doesn’t arrive until August, months after the bombing. So is Liesel even in Molching anymore at this point?

Those Jews come through twice in ten days and Liesel does not see Max. Zusak, on the other hand, isn’t satisfied with just heaping all that tragedy on us without adding a little more, remarking that someone would be found dead before those bombs destroyed Himmel Street:

He was hanging from one of the rafters in a laundry up near Frau Diller’s. Another human pendulum. Another clock, stopped.

The careless owner had left the door open.

* * * JULY 24, 6:03 A.M. * * *
The laundry was warm, the rafters
were firm, and Michael Holtzapfel
jumped from the chair as if it
were a cliff.

SERIOUSLY, PLEASE STOP THIS ZUSAK. Two scoops of tragedy IN A ROW? Oh my god, poor Michael. Poor Frau Holtzapfel!

They had too many ways, they were too resourceful–and when they did it too well, whatever their chosen method, I was in no position to refuse.

Michael Holtzapfel knew what he was doing.

He killed himself for wanting to live.

I seriously don’t know how much more of this I can take. This story has become so bleak and painful, especially when my thoughts wander to some of those moments hundreds of pages away. Everyone is dead. Everyone. I have never read a book that is so heinous in the way it disposes its characters. Liesel and Max are the only two left alive, and I don’t even have hope at this point that either of them will survive either. At the same time, this is a book about a nation embroiled in a global war. To ignore the death that came along with it would be disingenuous.

Death describes the atmosphere in Molching on July 24, 1943 in a very interesting way: through disinterest. He knows from what Liesel wrote that screams filled the neighborhood when they discovered the body:

I did not see Frau Holtzapfel laid out flat on Himmel Street, her arms out wide, her screaming face in total despair. No, I didn’t discover any of that until I came back a few months later and read something called The Book Thief. It was explained to me that in the end, Michael Holtzapfel was worn down not by his damaged hand or any other injury, but by the guilt of living.

Holy shit, the name of this book is the name of Liesel’s book. I just sort of put two and two together and I think this is basically all the confirmation I need for how this novel is going to end. Death said Liesel’s story lasts six months past Hans’s return, and if he picks up The Book Thief a few months after this, does that mean he’s going to come to pick up her soul, too? I remember a scene he mentioned very, very long ago, about how he came upon the book he uses to tell this story. Liesel wasn’t dead then, though, was she? She was running away and drops the book, right? (I’m ok with you discussing this as long as you don’t explain the ending or anything beyond this.)

Liesel’s book provides the context for this that Death never knows, that Michael Holtzapfel had stopped sleeping:

Liesel wrote that sometimes she almost told him about her own brother, like she did with Max, but there seemed a big difference between a long-distance cough and two obliterated legs. How do you console a man who has seen such things? Could you tell him the Führer was proud of him, that the Führer loved him for what he did in Stailngrad? How could you even dare? You can only let him do the talking.

I actually think it was smart for Liesel not to try to compare the two, despite that maybe there was a chance it would actually have comforted Michael. It also seems that Michael was headed to this inevitable end anyway, not content to stand his guilt anymore.

* * * MICHAEL HOLTZAPFEL–THE LAST GOODBYE * * *
Dear Mama,
Can you ever forgive me?
I just couldn’t stand it any longer.
I’m meeting Robert. I don’t care
what the damn Catholics say about it.
There must be a place in heaven for
those who have been where I have been.
You might think I don’t love you
because of what I’ve done, but I do.
Your Michael

I mean, how do you even comment about this sort of thing? I’ve had experience with feeling suicidal and I know, to some extent, what this feels like, but the context for me is different, and that’s where I vastly differentiate from this.

It’s just heartbreaking. It’s as simple as that. This whole book is one giant set-up for the inevitable heartbreak.

The neighborhood turns to one man to be the source of news and comfort, and it’s a proper fit: Hans Hubermann. Frau Holtzapfel lost two sons in six months, and she reacts with the horror and the grief you’d expect from such a tragic occurrence:

She said the name Michael at least two dozen times, but Michael had already answered. According to the book thief, Frau Holtzapfel hugged the book for nearly an hour. She then returned to the blinding sun of Himmel Street and sat herself down. She could no longer walk.

From a distance, people observed. Such a thing was easier from far away.
Hans Hubermann sat with her.

He placed his hand on hers, as she fell back to the hard ground.

He allowed her screams to fill the street.

It’s weird, knowing that Himmel Street will be destroyed not long after this. I feel like we just saw the moment it was actually destroyed, as Frau Holtzapfel’s grief tears it all apart.

I seriously cannot believe what this book has become. To say I was unprepared is not even close. It’s just….jesus christ. What the hell.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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