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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak


Part Ten

Important Quotations Explained


Death says that the world is a factory run by humans, and he is a worker whose job is to carry their souls away when they die. He is very tired and will tell the rest of the story in as striaghtforward a manner as possible. He reveals that Liesel died “just yesterday,” at an old age, far from Himmel Street in a suburb of Sydney. She had three children and many grandchildren, as well as lots of friends, but always remembered Hans, Rosa, Rudy, and her brother. Death then flashes back to the events immediately following the bombing. Liesel, having no family and nowhere to go, is taken to the police, clutching Hans’s accordion. After three hours, the mayor and Frau Hermann arrive and take Liesel home with them. At the mayor’s house, Liesel sits in a room talking to her. She refuses to bathe and keeps the ash of the Himmel Street bombings on her skin through the funeral of the victims. Then she walks into the river where Rudy rescued her book and says her final goodbye to him, washing herself in the water where he rescued her book years before.

Months pass, and Liesel returns to Himmel Street to look for her lost books. Only rubble remains though. Rudy’s father, Alex, is given leave from the war and returns to the neighborhood. Liesel tells him about kissing Rudy’s dead body. After the war, Alex reopens his shop, and Liesel starts spending time there with him. They take walks to Dachau but are not allowed to go in. In 1945, Max finds his way back to the shop, and has an emotional reunion with Liesel. Death resumes his narrative and says that The Book Thief is just one of the many stories he picks up in his work. When he came to collect Liesel’s soul, he says, they went for a walk near a soccer field and he showed her the book he rescued from the trash the night of the bombing in Molching. Liesel was overcome that he saved her book for so many years and asked if he read it. He told her he read her book many times. When she asked him if he understood it, he was unable to answer her, and explained that he has difficulty understanding humans in general, how they can be capable of such generosity and at the same time such violence. His final words are delivered both to the book thief and to the reader: Death is haunted by humans.


Several of the themes that have been developed over the course of the book come together in the epilogue, through Liesel in particular. Liesel initially refuses to let go by not bathing and by holding on to Hans’s accordion, and those acts of mourning demonstrate her feelings of responsibility to the dead. By refusing to wash, she preserves that moment in a nearly literal sense and display her unwillingness to get over the deaths of the people she cared about. Eventually, in an act that symbolizes her letting go of the past and moving on, she bathes in the river. The act pays tribute to Rudy, who jumped into the river to save one of her books, and it recalls the Christian notion of washing away sin and spiritual rebirth through baptism. At the end of the novel, the theme of the power of words rises to the fore again as Death reveals to Liesel, who has passed away as an old lady, that he found and kept her book. That he kept her book of all the ones he’s undoubtedly come across suggests there’s something special about it, and it’s clear that it has informed the story he tells the reader. He has developed a connection with Liesel’s words, and the implication is that, in telling us her story, we have as well.

The role chance plays in survival again comes up as Alex Steiner, Rudy’s father, continues to wish he had sent Rudy to the Nazi training school, and as we find Max alive and well. At various times in the novel we’ve seen seemingly inconsequential acts result in characters avoiding death. Hans, for instance, was saved by Erik Vandenburg, who spared him from the battle that killed Hans’s platoon by volunteering him to write letter. Later he was saved when Reinhold Zucker forced him to trade seats in their transport truck. Here, Alex struggles with the knowledge that, had he allowed the Nazis to take Rudy, he might still be alive as he wouldn’t have been on Himmel Street when the bombs destroyed it. The irony of the situation is that Alex was trying to keep Rudy safe by not allowing the Nazis to take him, and in fact that irony underscores the inherent uncertainty of fate we see in the novel. Similarly, even though Hans thought he was dooming Max when he helped the Jewish prisoner, meaning Max had to flee, we find at the end of the novel that Max survived all his ordeals. Death sums the idea up when he says of Alex Steiner, “you save someone. You kill them. How was he supposed to know?” The suggestion is that people can never see what the full consequences of their actions will be.

At the end of the book, Death tells Liesel he is “haunted” by humans, and by that statement he suggests there is something unexplainable about the extreme duality people exhibit, a major theme of the book. Death makes the comment just after explaining that he wished he could tell Liesel about the glories and atrocities, wonders and horrors humans are capable of, and it’s clear that what haunts him most is humanity’s capacity for both extreme good and extreme evil. That duality, another major theme of the novel, manifests itself most notably in the tremendous cruelty we see the Nazis and their sympathizers engage in and the extraordinary kindness of ordinary Germans like Hans Hubermann who risked their own lives to help others. That Death chooses to say he is “haunted” indicates that this duality troubles him and lingers in his mind, and it suggests that Death views humanity as something like an unresolved paradox. That is to say, we don’t make any sense to Death. The statement is full of irony because it’s a feeling people often have regarding death. Death the narrator reverses it back onto us, meaning humans, making us the frightening and mysterious phenomenon.

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