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The Book Thief

Markus Zusak

Part Nine

Part Eight

Part Ten

Summary

The next time Liesel and Rudy return to the mayor’s house to steal a book, Frau Hermann has left cookies. Liesel leaves a thank you note, and just as she is climbing out the window she sees Frau Hermann. It occurs to Liesel that the library must belong to Frau Hermann, not the mayor. As Liesel and Rudy enjoy their snack and debate what to do with the empty plate, the story moves to Hans, who plays cards with the other members of the air-raid squad in Essen. One member of the squad, Reinhold Zucker, dislikes Hans and accuses him of cheating. Death interjects that it is this disliking of Hans that will cost Reinhold Zucker his life. Back in Molching, Liesel goes to read to Frau Holtzapfel but is greeted at the door by her son, who is wrapped with bloody bandages. Michael Holtzapfel is back from Stalingrad, where he was shot in the ribs and lost three fingers. He tells Rosa that his brother is dead, and also that he heard that Rosa and Hans’s son, Hans Jr., was also in Russia. Death explains how Michael’s brother, Robert, died. After having his legs blown off in combat, he died in the hospital in Stalingrad with Michael at his side. Liesel reads to the grief-stricken Frau Holtzapfel.

Liesel returns the plate to the mayor’s wife but doesn’t go into the house. She watches Rosa pray for Hans, and she prays as well for everyone missing in the war. Death describes an afternoon in Essen when Hans and the men are on their way back to camp. Reinhold Zucker insists Hans trade places with him in the truck. Hans complies, and soon after the truck gets a punctured tire and goes off the road. Hans suffers a broken leg, but Zucker breaks his neck and dies. Once the men get back to camp, the doctor examines Hans and tells him he’ll be sent back to Munich to work in an office. The doctor tells Hans he is a lucky man. Hans writes Liesel and Rosa and tells them of his good fortune. When Liesel shares the good news with Rudy that Hans is returning home, Rudy is happy for her but also wonders about his own father. Further enraged at the injustices of war, he sets out to rob the mayor’s house but finds he can’t go through with it.

A few weeks later there is another air raid, but this time Frau Holtzapfel refuses to go to the shelter. Liesel threatens to stop reading to her, but Frau Holtzapfel won’t leave her kitchen table. Her son, Michael, goes into the shelter, and is overcome with guilt for leaving his mother. Finally Frau Holtzapfel enters the shelter, and Michael begs for her forgiveness. After the bombing ends, the residents leave the shelter and see a plane burning in the forest. An enemy pilot is barely alive in the wreckage. As Liesel and Rudy approach the body, Death, who has arrived for the pilot’s soul, recognizes Liesel from the train where her brother died. Rudy gives the dying pilot a teddy bear, and the pilot thanks him, in English. Death takes the pilot’s soul. Hans is discharged from the hospital and returns to Himmel Street, where he tells Liesel and Rosa of his time at war and sits up with Liesel while she sleeps.

Analysis

The central idea of this section is the randomness of fate. The arbitrariness of Hans’s survival is among the most notable examples. Hans is only injured in the truck crash essentially because Reinhold Zucker isn’t good at cards. Since Hans often beat him, he disliked Hans, so one day he forced Hans to switch seats with him simply out of spite. It seems like simple chance that they happened to switch seats that day, and that idea of randomness being at fault is further bolstered by the doctor’s words when he tells Hans he is a lucky man. In fact, Hans couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome: because of his injury, he will be able to return home. Had he not been injured at all he would have had to continue his service with the air-raid squad. This sequence of events emphasizes the chaos inherent in war. Hans experiences it firsthand not only in this incident but each day as he cleans up the corpses left by the bombings. Many of them include children who had no part in the war at all but happened to be in the wrong place when the bombs fell.

Michael Holtzapfel encounters the apparent randomness of fate as well, though he feels himself to be more a victim of it than a beneficiary. Michael can be considered lucky to a degree in that he has returned home with relatively minor injuries while his brother died horribly. But because there’s no particular reason his brother died and he didn’t except chance, he feels extremely guilty for having survived. His guilt is compounded by the fact that he wants to keep living, which he seems to feel is inappropriate given what happened to his brother. It’s this desire that causes him to seek shelter during the air raid and leave behind his mother, who is putting everyone trying to help her in danger. His overwhelming feelings of guilt rise to the surface after his mother finally comes to the shelter. Michael begs for her forgiveness, not only for abandoning her, but for wanting to go on living after everything that’s occurred.

Rudy, meanwhile, is struggling with the randomness that keeps his father at war while allowing Hans to return home in one piece. Rather than blaming luck or fate, however, Rudy places the blame on Hitler. Rudy concludes that Hitler stole his father, and he decides that the mayor and all the other “rich Nazis” are the true criminals for supporting Hitler and the war. He turns to stealing again as a form of empowerment, and convinced it will feel good to steal something back, he heads out on a crime spree. As with his previous attempts to avenge his father’s fate, his latest plan, to rob the mayor’s house, is abandoned before he can do any real damage. Rudy’s rage and despair throughout the book is largely impotent, hindered both by Liesel’s interventions and Rudy’s own essentially peaceful nature. He knows running away or robbing houses won’t actually do anything to change the unfair circumstances of war. It’s also worth noting that Rudy clearly doesn’t hate Germany’s enemies in the war, which shows that he holds Hitler and the Nazis alone responsible for his father’s absence. When he finds the fighter pilot in the wreckage, he doesn’t view him as a threat of any kind, just a broken, dying man. His response is purely compassion as he gives the man the teddy bear he had with him.

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