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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Part Three

Part Two

Part Four

Summary

Hans sees the book that Liesel stole from the bonfire. He promises not to tell Rosa, and in return Liesel promises to keep a secret for him if he ever asks. Liesel identifies the person with fluffy hair who saw her take the book as the mayor’s wife, Ilsa Hermann, and begins avoiding the mayor’s house on her rounds picking up and delivering washing. When Liesel finally summons the courage to go to the mayor’s house, Frau Hermann invites her into the library, where Liesel marvels at the room filled with books. The narrative switches to the town of Stuttgart, where a Jewish man named Max is hiding in a secret storage room, sitting on his suitcase in the dark, starving. A man brings him carrots, stale bread, and a piece of fat, and tells Max he may have gotten him an identity card. When the man leaves, Max eats a portion of the food and resumes his wait.

On Himmel Street, Liesel and Hans make their way through The Shoulder Shrug, which features a Jewish hero and is therefore unacceptable to the Nazis. Liesel continues going to the mayor’s house, and begins reading in on the floor in the library. She finds a book on the shelf with the name Johann Hermann written inside. Frau Hermann tells her that he was her son, and he died on the battlefield during World War I. Liesel tells Frau Hermann she is sorry for her loss. When she is not reading with Hans or delivering laundry, Liesel plays soccer with Rudy. Because of wartime rationing, Rudy and Liesel rarely have enough to eat and are hungry all the time. They fall in with a gang of kids who steal apples from an orchard on the outskirts of town. The first time they steal apples, Liesel eats six in a row, and later gets sick, though she considers the upset stomach worth it. On another occasion, she and Rudy find a coin in the road and take it to Frau Diller’s candy shop. Frau Diller mocks them for only being able to afford one small piece of candy, which they share, lick for lick, outside the shop.

Max has come out of hiding and is on a train, clutching the book he was given with the identity card taped inside. The book is MKPF. Terrified of being caught, he takes the train from Stuttgart to Munich, sweating and worrying the entire way. He pretends to read MKPF so he will not arouse suspicion on the train. Along with the fake identity card, he has a map, a key, and the remainder of his food. Meanwhile, Liesel and Rudy continue their thieving. One cold day they go so far as to pour water on the road where a delivery boy rides his bicycle, then wait for him to crash. They steal the food he was delivering, which they share with the other kids in the stealing ring. A few weeks later the leader of the stealing ring gives Liesel and Rudy a bag of chestnuts, which they sell door to door. They take their substantial earnings back to Frau Diller’s candy shop, where they buy a whole bag candy. Max arrives in Molching, and following his map, makes his way to the Hubermanns’ house. He takes the key from his pocket and prepares to enter.

Analysis

Among the most significant elements of Part Three is Liesel’s discovery of Frau Hermann’s library. When she enters the library, Liesel’s understanding of the world of books is greatly expanded. Rather than being random items to be stolen when the rare chance presents itself, books can be collected, organized, and perused at their owners’ leisure. Although Liesel is living in a time of increasing hardship and deprivation, it is the library, more than food or other material possessions, that strikes her as an exceptional luxury. In gaining entry to this world of knowledge and imagination, she has the opportunity to expand her own world, and the possibilities for her life. It is also in the library that Liesel learns of the death of the Hermanns’ son and begins to understand Frau Hermann’s odd, anti-social behavior. Part of the expansion of Liesel’s world is the understanding that others have suffered the way she has suffered. Most of the people Liesel meets will have lost a significant person in their lives, and as Liesel matures as a character, she will develop compassion for others, and insight into their actions and behavior.

Another significant part of this section is Max’s introduction, which offers a new perspective on the events taking place in Germany and gives us our first glimpse of the tremendous dangers Jews faced under the Nazis. When the narrative moves from Molching to Stuttgart, it is the first time the story expands from Liesel’s specific experience for an extended period of time. Compared to Max’s desperate situation, Liesel has it easy: she is not living in fear for her life. The glimpse we get of Max is impressionistic and disorienting, reflecting his own situation as he waits confused and terrified in the dark with no sense of how long his distress will last. Throughout the book, the hardships and pain Liesel faces will be balanced with the suffering of the Jews and other persecuted groups during the war. As difficult as life sometimes is for Liesel, for others during this period it was far worse. As the novel states, “anything was better than being a Jew.” As dark as Max’s story is, there is a comic irony in his method of escape, smuggled to him in a copy of MKPF. When Hitler wrote his autobiography, he surely didn’t intend it to be used as a lifeline by a Jewish fugitive. The title translates to “My Struggle,” and Max, of all the characters in the book, struggles the most to survive. Again, we see a dramatic duality in the scene, with Max, a Jew acting as if he is a free German, and using MKPF, the book that launched the persecution of much of Europe’s Jews, as his cover.

Liesel, meanwhile, continues her emotional and moral development. In a notable scene, after Liesel and Rudy set the trap for the delivery boy and steal his food, they feel remorse, and they promise each other they won’t rob him again. In this way, Liesel begins creating a moral code for herself that balances the need for survival against the desire not to hurt others. She realizes that there are different levels of criminality, so to speak, and while she isn’t bothered by stealing, harming someone is repugnant to her. This realization about her conscience sets her apart from some of the other characters we meet in the novel who feel no hesitation about hurting others. It shows us that, while Liesel continues to do things like stealing that are technically wrong, she is nonetheless a kind, conscientious person overall.

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