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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Part Seven

Part Six

Part Eight

Summary

As the town of Molching comes to terms with the likelihood of being bombed, Hans finds his painting services in demand, as his neighbors need their blinds painted black for blackouts during bombings. Unfortunately, few of the town’s residents can afford to pay him, so they often barter for his services with food or cigarettes. Liesel accompanies Hans on his jobs, and when he is not painting he plays the accordion for them. One day they do work for some customers who pay them with Champagne, and Liesel vows never to drink Champagne again because it cannot possibly ever taste as good again. Rudy, meanwhile, trains for the upcoming Hitler Youth Carnival. He promises to win four gold medals, just like his idol Jesse Owens did during the 1936 Olympics. Rudy wins the first three races easily, but is disqualified from the fourth because of repeated false starts. After the carnival, Rudy confesses that he did it on purpose.

Liesel steals another book, A Song in the Dark, from the Hermann library. As the summer draws to a close, Rudy notices that a book has been propped in the window of the mayor’s house. Liesel steals it and discovers it is a dictionary. In it she finds a letter from Frau Hermann telling her that she is welcome to continue stealing books, but Frau Hermann hopes Liesel will someday come in through the front door instead of the window. At the end of the summer, Molching experiences its first air raid, and Liesel, Hans, and Rosa go to the neighbors’ house to take shelter in the basement. They have no choice but to leave Max behind.

In the shelter, many of Liesel’s neighbors are terrified. Liesel herself is terrified of what will happen to Max if their house is bombed. The raid warning ends, and Liesel, Rosa, and Hans return to their house, where Max confesses he took the opportunity to look out the windows, having not seen the outside world for nearly two years. During the next raid, Liesel calms herself by reading The Whistler out loud. Soon all the residents in the shelter are listening, and even after the all-clear siren sounds, the neighbors remain until Liesel finishes the chapter. A few days later one of their neighbors, Frau Holtzapfel, comes to the house and asks if Liesel will come over and read to her in the afternoons, in return for coffee. Although Rosa and Frau Holtzapfel are enemies, Rosa agrees, and Liesel begins reading several days a week.

A convoy of German trucks carrying Jews to the concentration camps at Dachau stops outside Molching, and the soldiers march the Jewish prisoners through the town. The residents come out of their houses to watch, and Liesel finds Hans in the crowd. An old man, struggling to keep up, falls repeatedly in the street. Hans takes a piece of bread from his paint can and offers it to the man. The man falls to his knees and embraces Hans’s feet in thanks, but before he can eat the bread a soldier arrives and begins whipping the man, then Hans. As the procession moves on, witnesses call Hans a Jew lover and knock over his paint cart. Hans realizes his actions have drawn suspicion and Max is no longer safe in the basement. The next night, Max leaves Himmel Street. He’s arranged to meet Hans in four days, but when Hans arrives at the appointed spot, he only finds a note, telling him he’s already done enough. Hans, filled with guilt for causing Max to leave, is also reviled by Frau Diller and other townspeople, who spit at him and call him a Jew lover. When the Gestapo do come, however, it is not to take Hans away, but Rudy.

Analysis

War arrives definitively in Molching in this section. Liesel, who has been relatively content over the summer, now realizes that her happiness may be fleeting and tries to savor each last happy moment. For example, as she drinks Champagne for the first time, she has an awareness of how happy she is, and how that happiness contributes to the flavor of the drink. Spending time with Hans, painting houses with him, and listening to him play the accordion are among her favorite activities. As the political situation grows more precarious, Liesel is growing older, and both circumstances make her acutely aware of the passage of time. It is with an adult’s consciousness that she realizes life will not always be like this.

Rudy experiences perhaps his greatest triumph, though his response to this victory is surprising. During the Hitler Youth Carnival, Rudy deliberately disqualifies himself from the final race and then basically discards the medals he already won, suggesting they don’t matter to him. It’s not the reaction one would expect given Rudy’s goal of matching his idol Jesse Owens’s record of four gold medals. Liesel is confused by Rudy’s behavior, and indeed he never explains himself, but the text does suggest some possible reasons. Rudy is clearly happy with his performance. He doesn’t seem to have any regrets or feel that he didn’t accomplish what he wanted. He may know that he could have won the final race, and thus he didn’t need to actually do it to gain that satisfaction. In addition, one of his goals was to prove himself to Franz Deutscher, his former Hitler Youth leader, and even without winning all four races he’s already done that.

Frau Hermann’s motivations are also somewhat difficult for Liesel to understand when Liesel realizes that Frau Hermann has allowed her thieving all along, but in this instance the explanation isn’t difficult to discern. Frau Hermann is obviously lonely, and though she never chats much with Liesel, it seems to make her happy that Liesel comes over and enjoys her library. The dictionary and the note inside are clearly meant to entice Liesel to return. Frau Hermann seems to want Liesel there because she’s still grieving over the loss of her son, and Liesel in some small way fills the hole created by his absence. Liesel seems surprised that Frau Hermann isn’t upset with her for stealing, but from Frau Hermann’s perspective the comfort Liesel apparently offers is worth the loss of a book now and again. Having Liesel sneaking in and stealing isn’t exactly the arrangement she wants, however, so she lets Liesel know that she can come by anytime she likes.

As Liesel uses literature to soothe the residents of Himmel Street during the air raids, we see both the power of words in the novel and how Liesel continues to mature. The power of words here is that they allow the people in the shelter to momentarily forget the bombs falling outside, and through Liesel’s reading they offer a great source of comfort. What’s also notable about the scene is that it shows just how much Liesel has grown over the course of the novel: Liesel, who once struggled to read in front of her class in school, now finds herself reading before a large gathering. It shows her evolving from a child who needs to be taken care of to a young woman who is taking care of those around her. The readings lead to Frau Holtzapfel asking Liesel to come read to her personally, and as a result Liesel finds herself now earning money for her family. The helplessness she has felt at times, notably when Frau Hermann informed her she was going to stop using Rosa for her washing, has been replaced with a sense of empowerment, the source of which is Liesel’s growing mastery over words and language.

As the Germans start bringing Jews through town on the way to Dachau, we see the characters of many of Molching’s residents revealed in the way they react, and the scene shows both the kindness and cruelty of people. The condition of the Jewish prisoners who are paraded through Molching shows the awful cruelty of the Nazi soldiers. The prisoners are exhausted, starving, and many are near death, yet the Nazis show no sympathy whatsoever. On the other side we have Hans. While the rest of the residents passively observe the suffering of the prisoners, Hans feels compelled to do something, and although it’s a small act, just handing the prisoner a piece of bread, it signifies an immeasurable act of kindness. That’s because Hans knows he can be punished for intervening in any way, and so the small gesture is still a great sacrifice, as is proved by the fact that Hans is brutally whipped. Hans later regrets offering the bread because it casts suspicion on him, meaning Max will have to flee in case the Nazis decide to search his house, but the fact that he did something indicates that Hans is a tremendously compassionate and courageous individual. The other people in the town, meanwhile, either stand by or shout abuse at Hans, and so compared to him they appear to be at best cowards and at worst bigots. The scene makes clear how cruel the Nazis were, as well as how kind and brave the people were who did what they could to help the Jews.

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