In the eighty-first through eighty-third chapters of The Book Thief, the pieces finally start to fall in place. AND EVERYTHING IS SO DEPRESSING. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.
For those who have read this or are reading along with me, do you feel drained? Iâ€™m at a point with The Book Thief where, emotionally, I feel like thereâ€™s simply nothing left to feel about this book. Itâ€™s a testament to how powerful this ending is, to how easy it was for me to become to attached to these characters and the story, and to how utterly sidelined the final plot twist has made me feel.
Oh god, I am just so sad about all of this. Poor everyone. And now Iâ€™m worried Iâ€™ll never see Max again, that heâ€™ll just fade away into a brutal history. But at least Liesel will always have that last moment.
CH. 81: CONFESSIONS
Itâ€™s not hard to imagine exactly what this chapter is going to be about. Rudy has just pulled Liesel away from following a Jew to the concentration camp and surely none of this makes any sense to him. She immediately walks to the train station to await the appearance of Hans after he gets home from work and Rudy, obviously confused, waits with her silently for twenty minutes before finally going to get Rosa.
On the way back, he told her what had happened, and when Rosa arrived, she asked nothing of the girl. She had already assembled the puzzle and merely stood beside her and eventually convinced her to sit down. They waited together.
When Papa found out, he dropped his bag, he kicked the Bahnhof air.
It had not occurred to me in the slightest that this is such a direct parallel to the after-effects of when Hans had done something similar. Hans realizes this instantly, that what Liesel has done will probably bring the inevitable men in long black coats to come knocking at their door, that Lieselâ€™s actions may have just put them all in danger again. And they donâ€™t even have Max in their basement anymore, and somehow, this all feels a lot more dangerous that that.
None of them ate that night. Papaâ€™s fingerâ€™s desecrated the accordion, murdering song after song, no matter how hard he tried. Everything no longer worked.
I wonder what aspect of this upsets Hans the most: the inevitable terror that is coming? The realization that none of this could have happened had he not given bread to that old Jewish man? The sadness of the entire situation? I suppose it could be an awful mix of the three, fear and guilt intertwining themselves inside that heart of his. Itâ€™s enough to disrupt those fingers that have been able to play under so much anguish and alcohol.
Itâ€™s bad. Really bad.
For three days, the book thief stayed in bed.
Every morning and afternoon, Rudy Steiner knocked on the door and asked if she was still sick. The girl was not sick.
God, itâ€™s so completely heartbreaking. It feels like Lieselâ€™s spirit has been snapped in half. That beacon of hope has suddenly dimmed to a dull glow, and the young woman who has used words to save her life and the lives of those around her has just seen how other words can destroy all of that.
The fourth day, though, she heads over to Rudyâ€™s and says the words she had been wanting to say for a long time.
â€œI should have told you earlier,â€ she said.
The fact that the entire residence at 33 Himmel Street has managed to keep this all a secret for so long is astounding in and of itself, though the context of what happened of course makes it seem entirely plausible. That secret they kept was literally dangerous, able to tear apart their lives and end them as well, which is one of the main reasons that Hans set Max free. (On that note, I just realized that Hans could be so depressed because now he knows that he set Max free and he was still captured. That kind of guilt can ruin a person.)
Itâ€™s very fitting that Liesel takes Rudy down toward Dachau, maybe as a subconscious way of suggesting just how important this confession is, to stress how integral it is for Rudy to keep this all to himself. (Itâ€™s tragically ironic that he will be able to keep that secret to himself because of his soon-to-arrive death.)
â€œI did already.â€
â€œDo it again. You canâ€™t tell your mother, your brother, or Tommy MÃ¼ller. Nobody.â€
Looking at the ground.
Yeah, so how exactly do you tell your best friend about Max Vandenburg and the basement, the drawings on the wall, of The Word Shaker, of that day when Hans made a foolish error and doomed a Jew to Dachau? Liesel does what she can, starting from the beginning and trying to explain it all in order. Rudy is not one to to be shocked or upset, but the full confession carries a weight that not only explains everything about Liesel, but actually frightens him.
â€œThatâ€™s why you went for a closer look,â€ Rudy said, â€œwith the bread that day. To see if he was there.â€
I donâ€™t doubt that, had he survived longer than he did, that he would have kept this secret as long as humanly possible. I donâ€™t necessarily think that Liesel felt she needed to reveal this secret on her own. I get the feeling she is telling Rudy because he deserves to know, that he earned it through the virtue of being a good friend.
I know this because Liesel doesnâ€™t just tell him the story. She lets him look at The Word Shaker. Shows him the sketch that Max drew of him. That is a sign of love and trust and respect.
At first, Liesel could not talk. Perhaps it was the sudden bumpiness of love she felt for him. Or had she always loved him? Itâ€™s likely. Restricted as she was from speaking, she wanted him to kiss her. She wanted him to drag her hand across and pull her over. It didnâ€™t matter where. Her mouth, her neck, her cheek. Her skin was empty for it, waiting.
Obviously, my life does not have the same context, but I know this feeling well, this longing for affection. SEE: MOST OF MY LIFE. Some moments feel right, and I wish my confidence wasnâ€™t so awful in most of my past, because thatâ€™s the sort of thing that prevents you from making the first move. On top of that, though, this scene is all the worse because we know that Liesel will never get that kiss.
â€œOf course I told him about you,â€ Liesel said.
She was saying goodbye and she didnâ€™t even know it.
God damn it, Zusak. Why do you do this to us?
CH. 82: ILSA HERMANNâ€™S LITTLE BLACK BOOK
In mid-August, she thought she was going to 8 Grande Strasse for the same old remedy.
To cheer herself up.
That was what she thought.
Ugh, Death, you are such a tease.
Iâ€™m now beginning to fully understand why Zusak has told so much of this story out of order. Thereâ€™s an inherent value and poeticism to finding out the intricate decisions, actions, and behaviors that deliver each of us to our respective futures. Itâ€™s not about destiny, because that suggests so much lack of agency. Itâ€™s about the causal nature of things, how different paths can converge at one point, and itâ€™s the details of the journey that give us the necessary insight to understand it all.
One of the very last details to this all, one of those enigmatic puzzle pieces thatâ€™s been perplexing me this whole time, is how Liesel ended up in the basement on the night that the bombs fell on Himmel Street. Too much of The Book Thief is not at all about chance, and I donâ€™t think that Zusak would end up by stating it was a stroke of random luck.
On this particular August date, Liesel heads to the mayorâ€™s house, her heart full of a joy that combines anticipation and comfort. (Oh, how quickly that will be destroyed.) Even though I said earlier that I hoped Liesel would start entering Ilsaâ€™s library through the front door, thereâ€™s something quite comforting about Liesel going right through the window, as if itâ€™s a habit that is meant to be followed. Even though sheâ€™s come for another book, thatâ€™s not necessarily what this moment is for.
For Liesel, she stands in that library and itâ€™s not words running through her mind. Itâ€™s images. Images of the tragedy and anguish sheâ€™s known since she boarded that train with her mother and her dying brother, stretching years across time, and all of these images are linked by one thing:
And at the center of it all, she saw the FÃ¼hrer shouting his words and passing them around.
The damage that words can do. The intricate path from one thing to another. She sees it all. She sees how words rule her life.
You bastards, she thought.
You lovely bastards.
Donâ€™t make me happy. Please, donâ€™t fill me up and let me think that something good can come of any of this. Look at my bruises. Look at this graze. Do you see the graze inside me? Do you see it growing before your very eyes, eroding me? I donâ€™t want to hope for anything anymore. I donâ€™t want to pray that Max is alive and safe. Or Alex Steiner.
Because the world does not deserve them.
Itâ€™s a grievous statement about the desire to stop feeling disappointed. After everything that Liesel has seen, words are just beginning to tire her. How can you place hope in something that so often lets you down and hurts you?
And so Liesel begins to tear up the words. Itâ€™s an obvious physical metaphor for Liesel, but itâ€™s a cathartic release as well. She tears up an entire book in that library, knowing that none of this would have even happened had a nation not bought into the power of one manâ€™s words. As cynical and bleak as this all is, Liesel doesnâ€™t quite leave with the words torn on the floor, and a small shred of guilt pokes at her before she climbs out of that window. After all that Ilsa Hermann has done for her, tearing up the entirety of one of her books has to be one of the more foolish things sheâ€™s done to the woman.
She writes her a letter, and I think this might be the largest segment of Lieselâ€™s writing that weâ€™ve seen yet. The mayorâ€™s wife later acknowledges this, but itâ€™s a great sign of just how good Liesel is with words. Thereâ€™s a finality to her actions as she runs her fingers over the spines of the books in the library one last time, and I like that itâ€™s become a physical thing for her. She acknowledges the beauty and function of the place. Itâ€™s like giving a friend a last hug goodby.
I will never see Ilsa Hermann again, she thought, but the book thief was better at reading and ruining books than making assumptions.
Oh, Death, WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT????
To my complete surprise, just three days later, the mayorâ€™s wife is knocking on the door at 33 Himmel Street. (I love the constant cycle of people knocking on that door. Each one seems to bring joy to those people at that house, and this is no exception.)
Liesel immediately does two things: notice that sheâ€™s never seen Frau Hermann in anything but a bathrobe, and apologize profusely to the woman for ruining one of her books.
The woman quieted her. She reached into the bag and pulled out a small black book. Inside was not a story, but lined paper. â€œI thought if youâ€™re not going to read any more of my books, you might like to write one instead. Your letter, it was â€¦.â€ She handed the book to Liesel with both hands. â€œYou can certainly write. You write well.â€
Oh god, ALL OF THE CONFLICTING EMOTIONS I FEEL AT THIS VERY MOMENT. How do you feel about someone giving Liesel a gift so meaningful when you now know ITâ€™S THE ONLY REASON SHE IS THE SOLE SURVIVOR OF THE BOMBING ON HIMMEL STREET? This is what I meant: these details, providing us with the twisting journey from that train with a dead brother to that street with a dead everyone, is far more interesting to me than what the end actually is.
For the moment, though, Iâ€™ll let my smile spread and Iâ€™ll enjoy this for what it is. Liesel invites the mayorâ€™s wife into her house and she gives the best response ever possible:
â€œShall we use the door or the window?â€
I think itâ€™s the comforting sensation of this all that inspires Liesel so fully, so much so that spending the night in the basement writing just seems natural to her. You donâ€™t necessarily control how that inspiration happens, and I can attest to that as well. Despite how haunting the thought is, knowing where it will end this all, I canâ€™t deny how beautiful it is that Liesel takes residence in the basement that Max made his own, using the paint cans to begin her writing. That basement was where Max was inspired as well, where he created things that changed the lives of everyone in 33 Himmel Street, and the poetic parallel is not lost on me.
Neither is the fact that Liesel calls her book The Book Thief.
CH. 83: THE RIB-CAGE PLANES
I do not like the name of this chapter. I do not.
Iâ€™m glad that weâ€™re only getting pieces of Lieselâ€™s The Book Thief because, in a way, I feel like Death has already shared so much of it with us, not just in terms of describing the plot, but even using the words Liesel did.
That first night, Liesel completes eleven pages of her book. Sheâ€™s discovered by Rosa the next morning, who promises the bucket treatment if she doesnâ€™t get upstairs in five minutes. But this is just the start of a routine for Liesel, and surely one that comforts her and relieves her. She heads down to that basement every night, making it a goal of hers to write ten pages for each session. Beyond that, Death gives us some insight to how she decides to write her book:
Sometimes she wrote about what was happening in the basement at the time of writing. She had just finished the moment when Papa had slapped her on the church steps and how theyâ€™d â€œheil Hitleredâ€ together. Looking across, Hans Hubermann wa spacking the accordion away. Heâ€™s just played for half an hour as Liesel wrote.
And perhaps this is why Death is tangential in his narration. He responds to the moment, both in during the story telling to us, or to parts of Lieselâ€™s story that heâ€™s on. He adapts. He provides the context.
God, that is such a fascinating thing.
I get a much better sense of the timeline than before, when the months seemed to confuse exactly what order this all is supposed to be in, when Death reveals how Liesel has comprised this book:
By the next raid, on October 2, she was finished. Only a few dozen pages remained blank and the book thief was already starting to read over what sheâ€™d written. The book was divided into ten parts, all of which were given the title of books or stories and described how each affected her life.
Good god, THATâ€™S WHY THIS BOOK IS SEPARATED THIS WAY. Itâ€™s so meta and I LOVE IT DEARLY.
Often, I wonder what page she was up to when I walked down Himmel Street in the dripping-tap rain, five nights later. I wonder what she was reading when the first bomb dropped from the rib cage of a plane.
So that makes the bombing of Himmel Street happen on October 7th, 1943. (Thatâ€™s exactly one year before my mother was born. Why is that so odd to me?) And it also means that The Book Thief goes unfinished. Death picks up a book that isnâ€™t done. What does that mean for this book? What other information is he going to give us?
* * * THE BOOK THIEF–LAST LINE * * *
I have hated the words and I
Have loved them, and I hope
I have made them right.
Could there be any better of a place for an unfinished book to end?