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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Part Six

Part Five

Part Seven

Summary

On Christmas Eve, Liesel builds a snowman in the basement for Max. Shortly afterwards, Max gets very sick and falls into a coma. Death comes to Himmel Street and visits Max but doesn’t take his soul. Liesel begins bringing him presents from the outside world, such as a pinecone, a feather, and a candy wrapper. One day, watching a cloud rise over the hills, papa suggests Liesel give Max the cloud as one of his presents. She memorizes what the cloud looks like, then writes the description on a piece of paper that she leaves by his bedside. She decides to read the rest of The Whistler to Max, telling herself that he will wake up once she’s finished the book, and reads the final chapters in one afternoon. Max still doesn’t wake up. Liesel and Rudy ride bikes to the mayor’s house, where the window is open. Liesel climbs through the window and steals another book, The Dream Carrier, which she selects because of the title’s relation to both her and Max’s recurring dreams. She and Max escape without being detected. Death suggests that perhaps the mayor’s wife, Frau Hermann, keeps the window open in hopes that Liesel will come back and steal another book.

Liesel begins reading the new book to Max, who remains unconscious. Rosa and Hans discuss what they will do if Max dies, and how they will dispose of the corpse without arousing suspicion from the neighbors. All members of the Hubermann household are aware of the fact that, with Max sick, there is extra food for the rest of them, though no one mentions this benefit. Liesel dreams, as usual, of her dead brother, but this time he turns into Max in the dream. Finally, in the middle of March, Max wakes up. Rosa comes to Liesel’s school, and pretending to be angry with her for using her hairbrush, takes her into the hall and tells her the news. Liesel is ecstatic. Death checks in from Cologne, where bombs have killed 500 people. Children collect the empty fuel tanks from the bombers. Death, working overtime, is exhausted, but knows the worst is yet to come.

In Molching, Nazi soldiers arrive and begin checking basements to see if they are deep enough to serve as bomb shelters. Liesel and Rudy are playing soccer when they come, and Liesel realizes she must warn Rosa, Hans, and Max, since Max lives in their basement. She intentionally gets injured in the game and cries for Hans. He takes her home and there is just time to warn Max but not enough time to hide him. A soldier arrives and checks the basement, but doesn’t see Max, who has hidden. Summer arrives. Death describes the sky as “the color of Jews.” He takes the souls of a group of French Jews in a German prison in Poland. Above the Jew-colored clouds, he says, the sun is “blond” and the sky is a “giant blue eye.”

Analysis

This section shows the intensifying effects of the war both on ordinary Germans and on Europe’s Jews. Death interrupts the narrative twice to describe two scenes of mass death: the bombing of Cologne and the Nazi death camps in Poland. Of the second scene, he describes the sky being “the color of Jews,” which refers to the smoke rising from the massive crematoria the Nazis used to dispose of the Jewish bodies. Above this smoke, the sky resembles the Aryan ideal of human perfection. It is the color of blue eyes, and the sun is the yellow of blond hair. This description extends Hitler’s vision of a master race beyond mankind to all of nature. It’s an exaggeration of Hitler’s reach, of course, but what it symbolizes is how dominant and pervasive Nazi control was in Germany. Then, describing the victims of the death camp, Death says, “They were French, they were Jews, and they were you,” suggesting the destruction was similarly universal and pervasive. The point Death makes is that the mass murder of the Jews wasn’t just a tragedy for Jews, but for all people everywhere. It was a crime against humanity as a whole.

While Death is working overtime to keep up with the demands of the war, Liesel is is still mainly concerned with her domestic situation since the war remains at a distance from Molching. She spends her time finding small ways to bring daily joy to otherwise grim circumstances. Despite the war, the Hubermanns have “the greatest Christmas ever,” thanks to Liesel’s snowman and a spontaneous indoor snowball fight. But when Max gets sick, the situation is doubly dire. Not only is Liesel concerned about the health of her new friend, but the Hubermanns must also worry about the jeopardy they will be put in if he dies. No matter how good a friend Max is to Liesel, or how considerate and quiet a lodger he tries to be, the reality is that the Hubermanns are hiding him at great personal cost, and his presence in their basement creates a huge potential liability for all of them. As spring arrives, Rosa and Hans are feeling the burden of their sacrifice. The stress is taking its toll, and though no one in the family complains about how little they all have to eat, it’s evident from the fact that everyone guiltily acknowledges that Max’s death would mean they would all have a little more food.

As Max’s coma wears on, Liesel discovers that, in addition to material goods, words can also be a gift. At Hans’s suggestion, Liesel describes a cloud in writing for Max, and she sees that by showing him things he cannot see or experience, she can bring the outside world to him through language. She plays the same role for him that the novels she reads, which show her places and people beyond her experience in Molching, play for her. The realization shows her continuing evolution as a writer, and her development of her own voice. Liesel also gives Max the gift of words by reading to him, though she can’t be sure he hears her. Reading out loud is a form of reassuring herself, as well as trying to communicate with the sleeping Max. In both cases, she strengthens her bond with him through words.

When Max wakes up, the reprieve from worry is brief, because soon the Nazis arrive to check people’s basements and again the Hubermanns are reminded of how tenuous their situation is. The great risk the Hubermanns are taking in hiding Max is never far from their minds, and again the duality of their life is indicated by the Hubermanns’ ability to make polite conversation with the Nazi soldier in their kitchen while a Jew hides in their basement. After the Nazi leaves, Liesel tells Rudy that “everything’s good.” In fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth, either at home or in the world, but the imminent danger has passed, so for the time being Liesel believes this to be true. Here is another example of dramatic irony, since the reader knows things are about to get much worse, but Liesel, who has no way of knowing the future, is relatively content.

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