The Book Thief

by: Markus Zusak

Part Ten

The fates of many of the characters in the novel are revealed in this section, though the fates of two notable characters remain a mystery. The most significant event is, of course, the deaths of Rudy, Hans, Rosa, and many of the residents of Himmell Street, who die in their sleep when the bombs fall. Death has hinted at this tragedy before, even telling the reader outright that Rudy will die, and here we finally see how it occurs. On the other hand, it’s not at all clear what will become of Liesel. She has just lost her best friend, her parents, and her home. Practically nothing of her previous life remains. The other character whose fate is uncertain is Max. We see him with the other Jewish prisoners on their way to Dachau, which certainly doesn’t offer much room for optimism. But Liesel is at least able to confirm that he’s still alive. It’s at once a victory knowing he hasn’t been killed and a defeat knowing that the Nazis did manage to catch him. Perhaps the best the reader can hope for is that his emotional meeting with Liesel has provided him some strength, as he appears to take a great deal of encouragement from seeing her and her mention of his story. Despite the fact that he is weak and suffering and on his way to a labor camp, he manages to tell Liesel it’s a “beautiful day.” The statement shares the same irony as his affirmation early in the novel that MKPF saved his life.

After Michael Holtzapfel’s suicide and her encounter with Max, Liesel has a crisis regarding the pain and suffering she sees in the world and the role words play in it, and it’s only resolved when she begins writing her own book. Liesel’s sadness and frustration lead her to Frau Hermann’s library, where she thinks of all the terrible things she’s experienced as she looks at the books around her. She blames Hitler and his words for all of them, and this idea creates a contradiction in her mind in which she simultaneously blames words for the awful state of things and wants to find comfort in them. She calls them “lovely bastards,” indicating both how much she loves them and how she hates them at that moment. She tears the pages out of a book as a sort of symbolic revenge, and the act recalls the Nazi book burning from earlier in the novel. Liesel’s is different, of course: she doesn’t just want to destroy some words to protect her ideas; she wants to get revenge on all of them. Liesel leaves without having resolved her contradictory feelings, and in fact that resolution doesn’t come until after Frau Hermann gives Liesel a blank book. As she writes her own story, she finds a source of release and empowerment that, as Death says in narration, “brought her to life.” That book is also the reason she’s in the basement during the bombing, and it saves her life in the same sense that Max feels he was saved by MKPF.