The Book Thief Readalong: Week Two

October 11, 2013 2013, australian authors, markus zusak, readalong, the book thief, Wendy 37

Welcome to The Book Thief Readalong, Week Two!

This week we’ve read to page 303, or Part 6.

We went nuts with the commentary this week, so we’re just going to get right into it. SO MUCH TO DISCUSS.

Let us know what you thought of this week’s chapters in the comments below–we loved the discussion with you all from last week!


The Book Thief Readalong: Week Two

Pages 124 – 303 (Part 6) 

Wendy: You guys may already know this from my reading status update or #TBTreadalong tweets, but I feel so much better about the book now. I LOVED Part Four. I basically love everything that has to do with Hans Hubermann and Max and Ilsa Hermann. I still have issues with some of the storytelling style, but I’m relieved that I’m finally starting to enjoy this more. 
K: It is getting easier to read, thank gosh. I find Max a very complex and delicately profound character. Obviously we have reasons for sympathy but what I find so compelling about him is his guilt. His guilt for wanting to survive no matter what — whether that means leaving family behind or entering a home and endangering the people inside. He sees an opportunity and he takes it because even though his guilt runs deep, it’s liveable. I especially loved, in a grim way, the way he describes his disgusting relief when his friend Walt came to hide him. He was holding onto his mother’s hand and his cousin, promising he will not leave them to go be rescued — yet he does. So revealing of our human nature. It isn’t a very pleasant thing to discover about yourself. Oh my heart, my heart, my heart!
Wendy: Survivor’s guilt can be an unbearable burden, and Max suffers so much of it throughout every moment that we are with him. He is my favorite character for sure. As much as I like Rudy, Max is a much more complex and nuanced–and in fact, I think he is the most layered character in the book, along with Hans and to some extent, Ilsa. (Oh hey, the ones I liked best.) Most of the others still feel rather one-note to me, as if they were placed in the story for a specific purpose. Rudy’s clearly going to be martyred, and even Liesel herself feels like, “This is a Symbol of the Resistance.” I like her, but it’s in a somewhat disconnected way; I don’t feel her the way I do the others I mentioned.
Kate: The Max character is what was missing for me in the first quarter of the book, and he is absolutely my favorite. I just want to snuggle him. I wish Death would tell us what happened to Max’s family after he left–we know Death knows (he didn’t tell us, did he? I was very, very sleepy while reading this section, so I may have missed it).

And I don’t feel Liesel, either. I’m wondering if maybe this is just one of those unfortunate things where a male author can’t quite capture what makes female characters great. I feel like I know Max, Rudy, Hans, and Death (and Arthur, maybe) much better than I do Liesel or any of the women.
Wendy: AH. I bet you’re right about his not writing female characters as well–I didn’t even think of that! Clever girl. 

I think it’s interesting that Hans applied for membership to the Nazi Party.
Kate:  Yeah. I’m actually really interested in the way they have just been ignoring him, myself. I mean, they don’t even reject him. That’s some serious passive-aggression. 

Book Thief quote necklace

Kate:  As we start to get into the story, the bolded bits of Death’s narration are starting to bother me. They really break up the flow. In Charade, Audrey Hepburn’s character hates smoking filtered cigarettes (She tears the filters off. It’s really cute.), and she says, “It’s like drinking coffee through a veil.” That’s what Death’s narration feels like to me–like there’s a scrim between me and the story.

Side note: this is where Kate and Wendy go off on a very long tangent about the glories of Charade and Givenchy wardrobes, but we’ll spare you that.
Wendy: I really dislike the bolded text, too. My friend Bonnie switched over to audio a few chapters into the book, and she says those are a lot less intrusive that way.
Kate: Oh, I’m sure that’s the case. I am not particularly a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, but I am so enjoying listening to the audio books.

Rudy’s suggesting that Liesel run away with him to avoid taking the Mayor’s wife her laundry is just so, so charming.
K:  I want to cry I love Rudy so much. I’m so afraid to start Part Six. I do not want thiiiings to happen!

The Book Thief locket

Wendy:  He’s too good to be true. And so obviously, he must die.
K:  Wendy!!!  

Kate:  Obviously.
K:  Kate!!!
Wendy: C’mon, K, you’d better gird your loins now. 

The scene where Liesel goes into the mayor’s wife’s library for the first time is filled with giddy joy. Maybe it’s just me, but this is the first time I really got a sense of what books mean to her. There’s sweetness in her leaving in such a daze, too, and coming back to say thank you.

It felt like magic, like beauty, as bright lines of light shone down from a chandelier.

Kate: Yes. Could you imagine having access to as few books as Liesel does? Just the thought of it makes me claustrophobic. Seeing so many books in one place must be so overwhelming, comparatively. BTW, Comparing the mayor’s wife’s smile to a bruise is an example of description that, for me, doesn’t work particularly well. I think the writing of it was done beautifully, but it didn’t mean anything to me. It was just pretty words.
Wendy: I am a spoiled brat, so I would rather not imagine that. I actually did like that description, though, because it makes me think of when someone gets punched in the mouth–that hurting, careful way you have to speak. But the descriptions are very hit or miss for me, too. Sometimes they’re quite lovely, but sometimes I feel like they’re fragments of sentences without real depth or meaning. Or maybe they’re just too obscure for me to understand or connect with.
Kate: Yeah, I can’t tell whether I’m wrong about the descriptions not hitting home. Although, I 
guess, if they don’t work for me that’s all that really matters.
K: I totally agree about the descriptions. He likes metaphors and similes a lot..a little too much in my opinion. It tends to get dense in some parts. And obscure is a good word. Sometimes I feel like Zusak is just doing that to be “deep”. But that’s a cruel accusation.
Wendy: No, I don’t think it’s cruel. It does often read as though it’s a deliberately crafted poetic or “profound” moment.
Kate:  I agree.
K:  When I read that library scene, the first thing that came to mind was the scene from the film Beauty and the Beast. I wasn’t a kid who loved reading. I wouldn’t have called myself a reader until about 11 or so when I began Harry Potter — that did it. But I suppose I was destined for books and words because when I watched that scene, as Beast gives Belle his library, I thought — wow, that’s the most beautiful gift I’ve ever seen.
Kate:  I have been reading obsessively since I was five years old, and I loved that scene in Beauty and the Beast…but I never quite bought her love of books because she had only read her favorite one two times.

Wendy:  I literally cannot remember a time before books. Nor would I want to.

Hollowed Book Thief book safe

K:  One of my favourite passages:

After a miscarriaged pause, the mayor’s wife edged forward and picked up the book. She was battered and beaten up, and not from smiling this time. Liesel could see it on her face. Blood leaked from her nose and licked at her lips. Her eyes had blackened. Cuts had opened up and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin. All from the words. From Liesel’s words.

Wendy: That was a moment when I thought the descriptiveness was very appealing as well.

Kate:  Oof, the thing where you dream/imagine your teeth are crumbling out of your mouth. That’s a rough one; I’ve had it a few times. Apparently it pops into your head when you’re feeling particularly helpless. This made me instantly empathize with Max, and it was a cool way to show his mental state.
Wendy:  It was. The brief mention of Ilsa’s son freezing to death was also sobering. (I can’t say sad, because I’m not really, although I know I should be.) I wish I understood more about her, but I suppose it’s realistic that a child would not know everything. 

But see, this is part of my frustration with way this book is structured–if we only know what Liesel knows, I could accept that, but Death should know more, so the limited, selective perspective is frustrating. He sure tells us plenty of other things that she wouldn’t know.
Kate:  I KNOW.  Also, is Liesel the town’s only girl? I feel a little bit like we’re supposed to think she’s special because she is best friends with a boy and does boy things. Why are there no other girls?
K:  Good point! But we do meet Tommy’s little sister Kristina! Or rather, she’s there in a scene.
Wendy: Hmm, where are they? I’m beginning to see a serious lack in the female representations and characterizations in this story thanks to Kate. But the thievery with Arthur Berg was rather invigorating, I must say. I enjoyed the apple and potato stealing. But poor Otto! Rascally kids.
Kate: “Two buckets of future ice” (30%) made me laugh. Poor Otto, indeed.
K:  Is it bad that I thought that was hilarious? The Otto incident — the stealing not the icing and slipping! I mean, obviously, stealing was a mean-spirited thing to do and very mischievous but so funny. And I especially loved how they refused to do it again because what was it…it was immoral the first time but pure bastardry to do it twice. Haha!
Kate: Oh, I liked this, too. I was really poor and used to steal as a child (I outgrew it when I was maybe ten or eleven), and my older siblings and I would pool our treasures much as these children do.
K:  Yikes. You make me feel so damn soft, Kate! A story: In 10th grade, my science class went on a trip to the zoo. My class stole about (as rumoured) $600 worth of merchandise. Anyway, as the stealing was happening, a boy stole rock candy. He gave one to me. I licked it once, guilt washed over me (even though it was not I who stole) and I gave it back to him. Soft.
Kate: HA! I’m kind of soft now, and would NEVER have stolen anything once I was as old as tenth grade (although I would have eaten that candy; my ethical lines seem to be a bit blurrier than yours). I was a real Oliver Twist of a child, though. Your story reminds me, btw, of how gross I thought it was when Liesel and Rudy shared that piece of candy.
K:  Ew, yes. Alternating licks…oh the germs.
Wendy: Kate is hardcore, man. I am somewhere in the middle of you two, though admittedly leaning more on the ruthless side. And K, really–$600 in a zoo gift shop and all you got was a single lick of rock candy? I guess it’s good you didn’t grow up in a Dickens novel.
K:  Wendy, I was outside the shop watching it happen. I didn’t report — that makes me a shadow of a badass…no?
Kate:  I wish that in the scene where we meet Arthur (and in like every subsequent scene with him) there hadn’t been a boy named Andy–names that look that similar on the page blur together for me, so it’s a huge pet peeve.
K:  Same, Kate, with the name thing. What’s worst is sometimes authors will make two characters the same name. Why? There are names to go around!

Book Thief quote necklace

Wendy: And now, finally, for Part Four. I’m so happy Hans was saved by his seat. I like how we learn how Max is connected to Hans.
Kate:  Hooray for Part Four! The war stuff with Hans feels a bit like Slaughterhouse-Five, which I mean as the highest of compliments. Oh! Actually, a lot of the prose feels like a mimic of his style to me.

Wendy:  I haven’t been enamored of a lot of the asides and back stories that we’ve been told (or at least how we’re told), but I think the way they’re done in this section with Hans and Max is excellent, particularly with covering a lot of years. I love how you see how the groundwork laid for how much Max and Liesel have in common.
Kate:  YES. As soon as I started reading about Max’s schoolyard fight, something clicked into place for me, and I felt that I might understand a bit of why people have nagged me to read this book for so long.
Wendy:  Exactly, now I get what some of the fuss is about. I love this:

“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.”

K:  I love that quote. So full of childish arrogance.
Wendy:  I love the relationship between Hans and Liesel. I really liked the scene when he tells her she must keep Max a secret.
Kate: Yes. Lovely.
K:  I really liked how Hans asked Leisel after her stealing the book from the fire that in the future, he’ll need a favour from her — a secret.
Kate:  I also love how Liesel can’t get the whole sentence out when she tries to ask Max whether or not Mein Kampf is a good book. LIttle bits like this make me feel like I understand her.
K:  Yes! I thought it was adorable. And it just goes to show what a nerd Leisel is when it comes to books ;) The uncontrollable hunger.
Wendy:  And his answer. (Paraphrasing: it saved my life, so it is a very good book indeed. I’m probably butchering it.)
Kate: I know!
Wendy: : I adore “The Standover Man.” Absolutely adore it. The story and illustrations are so charming. And I love that he painted over Mein Kampf to create it.
Kate: Oh, that shit charmed my freaking pants off. I loved it really a lot. I would love a copy of that book. They should publish it separately.
Wendy:  My pants are officially off, too. I want this as a picture book so much. It creates a feeling of such tenderness and beauty.
K:  It was okay.
Kate:  K! Your heart, she is too hard!

Wendy: She’s just doing that loin-girdling thing I was advising, Kate. 

Kate: Now that I’ve seen the book Max wrote, I want to see everything–his drawing of the sky as she describes it, the misspelled words–and it feels weird that this isn’t included. Oh well.

Wendy: SCREW YOU, beginning of Chapter Five.

Ugh. I hate that we are told about people’s deaths ahead of time. It makes me feel powerless and angry. And manipulated. You can’t even call it foreshadowing, it’s just straight out spoiling the story.
K:  I know. WTF Death? I guess in a way he’s preparing us. Which is ironic as death comes in unexpected times.
Kate: I want to throw my Kindle across the room. This is really, really, really upsetting. “I don’t have much interest in building mystery,” indeed. Also–side note–don’t kiss corpses, guys. So gross.
Wendy: I love this:

When he was alone, his most distinct feeling was of disappearance. All of his clothes were gray–whether they’d started out that way or not–from his pants to his woolen sweater to the jacket that dripped from him now like water. He often checked to see if his skin was flaking, for it was as if he were dissolving.
Kate:  Oh, yes.
Wendy:  Also, this: 

As she was about to ask for the washrag, the mayor’s wife gave her a final look of bathrobed sorrow. (48%)

I’m finding more bits and pieces of writing that I really enjoy in this second part we’re tackling, though so much of it is obscured by other bits of writing or storytelling style that I still dislike. I feel as though the author has deliberately placed a great deal of symbolism into the book, too: communism, resistance, hope, guilt, despair–what else? Some of it is more effective, and more affecting, than others.
We are also seeing that K was right about Mama after all! Between her taking Max in and her refusal to believe Liesel is the cause of the loss of business, we’re starting to understand her a little better.
K: Oh me? Right about something?

Kate:  She’s a bully, though, and I can never quite forgive grownups who bully those who are smaller or weaker than they are. I think you can certainly explain and understand what might have happened in the past to cause that sort of behavior, but it’s too much of a flaw for me to be able to look past it unless the person is penitent.
K:  I don’t know if it’s quite bullying. I mean she’s mean and abusive — verbally and physically — but I think we can see Leisel is used to it and so isn’t quite fazed by it. Neither is Hans. Hans and Leisel even joke and wink about Rosa. I think it’s just how Rosa is, how she expresses herself, her anger, her worries and disappointments and even her affection. She’s just a loud woman with a very filthy vocabulary. My friends and I talk like we’re in a bitch fest (can I say that word?) on a regular basis but there is never any weight or force behind our words. Bystanders are sometimes taken aback and think we’re rude to each other but not at all. (PS: I am the opposite of a B. It’s just our language.)
Wendy:  I know what you mean. I don’t love some of the things she’s done either, but I’ve come to see that there is a good heart beneath the brusqueness. Also, I’m trying to remember that it was a different time and place, too; it’s like when your parents’ generation clings to views that make you cringe. Of course, she’s not hitting me with the spoon either, and I’d find it much more difficult if Liesel were actually reacting to that the way a lot of kids (and I) would, with pain and fear.
Kate:  Yeah, I get all that, and I may be projecting a bit here, but I just don’t like seeing a child treated that way. My friends and I (and David and I, good lord) say awful things to each other jokingly, too, but this is a child who watched her brother die and wakes herself up, screaming, from nightmares every night. If you beat a child who has all that going on and call her horrible names, you are a monster. I’m sorry, but you are. Rosa.

Wendy:  It’s fascinating that Rudy was chosen for Hitler Youth.

The Book Thief necklace

Kate:  I know.
Wendy:  Oh, my. Max’s later drawings of Hitler–and the ones of the happy couple standing on a pile of bodies under the Nazi sun. (50 %)
K:  Are they a couple? I thought it was Max and Liesel…
Wendy: Maybe? But would Max and Liesel be saying “Oh, lovely day” on top of a pile of bodies? I read it as a pair of German people.
Kate:  I read it as just two German people, too, but Max does draw him and Liesel together a lot, so who knows. Oh, and I guess we only get the see the drawings that Liesel took and put in the book Death read to tell us this story (Yes, I rolled my eyes while writing that, because he is FREAKING DEATH), so that’s why none of the other ones have been shown to us.
K:  You two could be absolutely right. My thinking was just that Max was making a mockery of the Nazis. The picture before that depicts Hitler as a conductor with music playing and an audience. I know that’s a true description but I don’t think anyone, especially a Jew, would ever write or paint something that in any way acknowledged Hitler’s power or success without there being some underlying effort for rebellion or insult, what have you. I think it came out of rage and grief. Leisel afterwards put the book down and said, “You scared me, Max.” Partly because everything in it was true but I think Max was satirizing rather than trying to paint an accurate portrait. Ugh, did that make sense at all?
Wendy: I may need to re-read that section to re-evaluate. 

K: It also dawned on me that Death sounds kind of unsympathetic. The way he tells the story — with his lazy attempts at foreshadowing (though as Wendy mentions, not really foreshadowing), it makes it seem like a spectacle. Now ladies and gentlemen, pay attention, this is the good part…etc. It’s a bit theatrical, as if he were sitting somewhere (on a la-z-boy most likely) watching the events unfold on his television screen. He makes announcements, he gives titles to events, he gives us summaries. As if Death is detached and looking through spectator’s eyes. 

Wendy: It is theatrical. Which is why I don’t really care for it. I can’t feel the emotions because he is constantly in the way and interpreting things for me.
But this–what a way to end this week’s readalong:

In truth, I think he was afraid. Rudy Steiner was afraid of the book thief’s kiss. He must’ve longed for it so much. He must’ve loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them.

Eff you, Death.
Kate:  Seriously. 

K:  WAH!

What Do You Think?

Hide your pitchforks, people–we’re officially on board with enjoying The Book Thief much more than we were in the beginning. Are you loving Max as much as we are? 

Hope you’ve enjoyed the handmade Book Thief items I found on Etsy as well. There’s not much out there, though, so you crafty people should get on that.


Reminder: Next week, on Friday, October 18, we will be reading to page 403, or Part 8. See you then!

37 Responses to “The Book Thief Readalong: Week Two”

  1. Vivien

    Yes, I completely agree, this next section flows much more smoothly. Which I’m terribly grateful for. I do think some of the metaphors and descriptions are a tad heavy handed. Some of them are great, but it almost feels like it’s too much. There are a lot and it comes off as trying really hard to make this a literary novel instead of an emotional one. Again, I’m torn. I appreciate it but think it could have been toned down.

    As for Liesel, I wanted SO much to be able to feel her pain. But I didn’t and this felt so incredibly odd. With this topic, I almost want it to be overly emotional. This subject is so horrific that it truly warrants an ugly cry. And it just never happened for me.

    I loved the library scene. This was also my first connection to Liesel. As for Death softening the blow with his ‘foreshadowing’, I just wish it hadn’t been done. I almost WANT that punch to the gut when someone dies. I don’t want to know about it many many pages in advance. I think it takes away from the impact that this can have which is probably why I continue to lack a connection. Even though I know people are going to die, with the knowledge in advance, it’s easier for me to not form a connection. Why would I, knowing they’re going to die? I really wish this hadn’t been used.

    After hearing about the font/text in this book, I do have to say that I didn’t have any of these issues listening to the audiobook.

    After all the talk about the illustrations, I must get my hands on a hardcopy to view them. I absolutely adore pictures in books and unfortunately, that is the downside of listening to the audiobook.

    • Kate Bond

      Oh, I’m glad it’s not just us.

      I think it’s hard to come at this book knowing how much so many people love it. The expectation is really a lot, you know?

  2. Melanie

    Ooh yes Max is one of the best characters! I’m so relieved to see that you ladies are liking this much more >.<

  3. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Wow this comment thread is amazing! And kind of intimidating…

    Anyway, I’m not reading along (sorry) but am definitely enjoying following along as you read it, especially as you discover Max. Much love to that character!

    • Kate Bond

      I LOVE how passionately some people feel about this book, but I’m also a little bit grumpy about not sharing that experience, you know? I want to love it as much as everyone else does! It’s not fair!

  4. Keertana

    I love when K refuses to believe that Rudy might die! That was me all throughout The Book Thief. Anyway, I’m glad to see that this book is looking up for you ladies since last week, so I can’t wait to see how your opinions continue to change. Great discussion!(:

    • K.

      Haha, Keertana. I don’t think I’m really refusing Rudy’s inevitable death seeing as Death himself has admitted it. More like I don’t want these two ladies to keep talking about it! The anticipation if painful enough.

  5. Lisa

    I enjoyed this section so much more than the last. This is partly because I found Death less intrusive as a whole. The parts where he did insert himself were bad, but there were large parts of this section where I forgot he was narrating. That never happened in the first section. That said, I was really angry when he spoiled Rudy’s death. Yes, it was pretty obvious from the beginning that Rudy would die, but I didn’t want it confirmed until it actually happened. It’s one thing to know something because you’re brilliant, and another to know because the author spoils it for you. And not only did he spoil that Rudy would die, but he gave us some details about how he was going to die, and spoiled the course of his relationship with Liesel.

    Max is what really made this section for me. I love the complexity of his character. He’s contradictory in a way that is so very real and human. I like that he did choose to survive even if it meant leaving his family because those sorts of actions are rarely depicted in “good” characters in literature. We usually get stories about the ones who sacrifice themselves for the cause or for family. Maybe I’m being a bit cynical here but I think a large proportion of people would choose to save themselves, and that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. The will to survive is very human.

    I really enjoyed Hans’ backstory. I kept wondering about him during the first section so it was nice to get something about his history. It was a great story, and I loved how it tied in with Max’s story. I really like Hans as a character. He’s one of my favorites along with Max and Rudy. The more I learn about him the more I like him. I struggle a bit with his relationship with Liesel, though. I like their relationship in a detached objective way, but I’m really not feeling the deep father/daughter bond, though I suspect that it’s because I’m struggling to connect with Liesel. Kate, I think you may have a point about Zusak not being about to convincingly write female characters. Also, good catch on the lack of female characters in the entire story.

    In my notes after finishing this section I also wrote that I finally knew why I was supposed to like Rosa. I certainly liked her much better than I did in the last section, however, like Kate, I’m still struggling to get past her abusiveness. I think this is because of my work with abused and neglected children. Her abuse isn’t just physical, it’s emotional, and I think it’s kind of sad that Liesel laughs it off. I hate seeing abuse just be accepted and even passed off as some charming character trait.

    I’m still not completely sold on the writing. I thought it was better in this section because the metaphors and similes seemed to be toned down a bit, but when they did appear they were very hit or miss. I agree so much with Wendy’s comment: “It does often read as though it’s a deliberately crafted poetic or “profound” moment.” I’m with Kate on the comparison of Ilsa’s smile to a bruise. It didn’t work for me either.

    I really liked Ilsa, but I find it interesting that she’s sort of painted a negative light. Neither Death nor Liesel is very sympathetic to her. Liesel, in fact, puts her down for being unable to get over the death of her son. The feminist in me is now seeing (thanks to Kate’s observations) a trend of exalting female characters that are tough and a bit masculine, like Liesel and even abusive Rosa, and putting down the one female character who is delicate and more traditionally feminine. Ilsa is scorned for her weakness, when she could have been presented more as a sympathetic character. I sympathized with her but this is in spite of Liesel’s attitude. As for the library scene, I also thought of Beauty and the Beast.

    OT: Charade is a fantastic movie. Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant together in the same movie. Sigh.

    Also, I echo your parting words.

    • Kate Bond

      Lisa! Hi!

      I have a pesky habit of noticing when female characters are written poorly. It is my gift, it is my curse.

      Max is great, as is Hans.

      I’m bummed that the smile/bruise thing didn’t work for you, but I am pretty excited that I’m not alone in my feelings about it.

      The portrayal of Ilsa is kind of confusing for me. I find her to be so lovely, but the author seems to agree with Liesel when she says those horrible things, and… I don’t know. I’m at a bit of a loss.

      The large number of descriptions and metaphors that seem to be trying for more than they accomplish makes a bit more sense if these are Liesel’s words, as that’s the type of writing one can expect from a very intelligent, bookish child. Maybe I’ll enjoy this more if I read, moving forward, with that in mind.

      Charade is such a wonderful movie. It really, really is. It’s my Grammy’s favorite, so I’ve been watching it since I was just a tiny person, and I get to enjoy the nostalgia of watching it with Grammy while laughing at all the hilarious dialogue.

    • K.

      LIsa, you’re absolutely right when you say that Death was less intrusive in these parts. That’s why I felt like I could finally sit back a bit and enjoy the story. And spoiling Rudy’s fate as well as his relationship with Liesel was really deflating.

      Max being “contradictory in a way that is so very real and human” is a really great choice of words to describe him. It shows the good, the bad, the black and white and grey areas of being human.

      I’m with you about loving Hans but not quite loving Hans and Liesel. Though I did become quite emotional when Hans led Liesel to the side to talk about the importance keeping Max a secret. When Hans lists all the things that will happen to her, him, Rosa and Max and Liesel begins to cry — I thought that was an exception to the not so great young female portrayal that Zusak has thus far been doing. It was very moving.

    • Wendy Darling

      You are SO right about Ilsa–Liesel does judge her, and the author doesn’t choose to spend too much time with her. At best, she seems to be the object of pity, whereas there was a missed opportunity there to enrich this character significantly more.

      I’m glad to see you are enjoying this section more, Lisa! I was extremely worried the first week, hah. I’m glad we have gotten more of Han’s story, too–I don’t know why the first three parts felt so emotionless and cold. Reading about Max and Hans were definitely turning points in enjoying this book for me. Like you, I’m not entirely sold on the writing as a whole, either.

      Charade is one of my favorite films of all time. Kate and I kept quoting things at each other in our readalong document–such style, such crazy plotting, such humor. I love it, and I love them together.

  6. kate

    I’m starting to feel like I’m death’s only fan, which is kind of weird when I look at it written down that way. While I’m pacing myself with this book I’m simultaneously reading Insomnia by Stephen King, and that device of saying that someone is going to die soon is something that he employs pretty regularly. I feel like it relieves some of the pressure of will-they-won’t-they-die and prepares the reader. Last week a few of you were commenting on how much you like Rudy, and speculating that he’s probably going to die. Death has just gone ahead and confirmed what both you and he already knew was going to happen. I feel like it gives you a chance to enjoy the character while he’s there, since you know his time is limited.
    I also liked that Death was rather bemused by teenage Max’s assertion that he’s going to punch Death in the face. It seems to reveal an streak of humor, and I like an anthropomorphic version of Death who can laugh at himself.

    • Kate Bond

      I hear what you’re saying. I talked about this in my reply to Kim above, but I’ll say a bit more here: I totally understand why the author has chosen to use this device. I really, really do. And if I felt any attachment at all to the characters, then Death’s spoilers wouldn’t bother me. The problem for me is that the style in which the book is written has really distanced me emotionally, so I kind of need the surprises to keep me hooked since I don’t really care to spend any more time with any of the characters (except perhaps Max).

      And my point about Rudy last week was that he is very clearly being set up as a character who will die horribly, so having Death tell me he’s going to die didn’t really do for me what it did for you.

      Ha, as Wendy said last week, this is the problem with doing a readalong of a book we’d not read before–I would never have read this far on my own steam, you know, so I wouldn’t be sharing my negative thoughts with you guys. It’s just not my thing. I have very specific expectations of literary books (I read a lot of them), and of books with this particular subject matter, and TBT is falling short for me. I know a lot of very smart people with very good taste who really loved this book, so I’m certainly not saying that I am right and everyone else in the world is wrong. BELIEVE ME, I am not saying that. I just am not personally invested in this story or these characters.

      And I agree that a dry sense of humor is absolutely essential in Death as a character. All of my favorite depictions of him have a lovely, dry sense of humor–gallows humor, as it were.

    • K.

      Kate (the first one), I understand what you mean about “savouring the moments we have” because we know a character is going to die. Unfortunately, what it also does is put me on anxiety mode, clutching the book and dreading every word, passage and chapter wondering if this is it. It’s a little exhausting. Saying that, I guess it’s quite clever (though cruel) because Zusak is achieving evoking a very strong reaction from me.

      Yes, reading Rudy, it’s quite obvious he will be someone we’re attached to and then taken from us in a brutal fashion. Either Wendy or Kate mentioned how he will most probably be martyred. That’s a very strong possibility. Or, given is stupidity streak, he might just make a senseless mistake — then we readers will feel betrayed and infuriated by the complete unfairness of it.

    • Wendy Darling

      I actually do like some of the humor from Death’s perspective–the wryness is appealing, though I hate the humor that comes from irony in this case.

      I can appreciate the “enjoying the character while he’s there” thing, too, in a way–after Death confirmed Rudy was going to die, I did read it a little differently (Not much, since I suspected from the beginning, but a little.); it also made me wish that in real life, we did sometimes know that Death was coming so we could more fully appreciate what we have. So I guess you could view that as a somewhat successful device. But I guess that depends on what you want out of a book–a philosophical exercise, or a deeply emotional experience. For me, this style doesn’t offer that latter. But I know I (or we, as it seems) are in the minority on that! It works for a lot of others, and I’m glad you are enjoying it, Kate.

  7. Kim

    Aaaaannnnd comment part 2:

    @Wendy: Yeah, I understand being irritated about being spoiled. But…honestly, I think it makes it easier for when the time comes. And later on, Death specifically says “I’m doing this to soften the blow for you” because the blow is…quite hard.
    Also, I think it’s purposeful that you feel powerless and angry. That’s what death does.

    And I would add that one of the major themes is also salvation, in both literal and metaphorical ways. Hans saves Liesel, Hans saves Max, Liesel and Max save each other, Rudy saves Liesel…there’s lots of saving for Liesel!

    I have mixed feelings on Rosa. I admire her for the good things we see (taking in Max, not beating Liesel about losing the mayor’s business) but that’s weird to say…”I admire her for not beating a child.” You don’t get cookies for not doing terrible things! At the same time, I think it’s important to show people realistically and not gloss over unfavorable or terrible characteristics. I don’t know, I can’t really forgive her but Liesel loves her so…:\

    I think that the couple atop of the bodies are just two random Germans. I think that Max is simultaneously mocking Hitler while criticizing the German people for just “following the tune”, letting themselves be so easily conducted.

    @K: I find it super interesting that you think Death sounds unsympathetic. Honestly, part of the reason he keeps spoiling who dies (he’s gonna bring it several more times) is not only preparing you but also him. Now this is unfair since I have the advantage of having read the book before but the impression I’ve always had is that Death is rather devastated about this whole affair. Maybe you’ll feel that way too after the end :\

    Here are some auxiliary pieces to accompany this week’s reading:

    A really nice blog post Zusak did on the movie set (in case you haven’t seen) No spoilers:

    This fan art is both appropriate to this week and really heartbreaking!

    Oh goddddd…it kills me! Kills me!

    I also wrote a fair amount on why this book means so much to me and why I connect with it. Would that be okay to include in next week’s comment maybe?

    • Wendy Darling

      See…the thing is, I don’t want the death to be easier. I don’t want it to be muffled, I don’t want it to be cushioned. I’m the type of person who, if someone I loved died, I would want to know exactly how it happened, no matter how crushing it was–it’s the only way I know of to share that moment with them. There is just no way on earth to ever make me feel an event deeply by telling me about it ahead of time.

      As I read this further, I’m seeing more fairy tale-like elements to this style of storytelling, and the narration just doesn’t do it for me. Fully accept that it’s a matter of personal taste, though, because clearly it is working wonders for legions of readers!

      Lots of themes going on in this book–and yes, salvation is an important one, too.

      Agreed on Rosa. She’s at least an interesting character to me because of her shortcomings, whereas many of the characters are presented in a way where even their flaws are presented as virtues. Liesel, specifically, more than anyone.

      That was how I interpreted the drawing of the couple on top of the bodies, too.

      And thank you for those links! I need to read those when I get a sec. And YES absolutely, please include a link to your post. If it’s spoilery, maybe include it on the last week’s discussion?

    • Kim

      re: the spoiler-y line: Haha wellll yesssss but…it’s just…it’s an important line! Oh well. I guess you’ll see when we get there! I just don’t want your experience ruined in any way :(

      And I totally, totally understand not wanting the emotional impact to be easier. Totally. What you’re saying is so legitimate and, normally, I agree completely.

      But when it comes to this ending, I felt like it didn’t even matter. Even though I knew what was coming I didn’t *really* know until I actually read it, if that makes any sense. I’d never (and still haven’t) cried more over a book. I just really hope this spoiling won’t affect your experience too much :\

      The second half of this book has a lot of just really beautiful and heartbreaking moments (that aren’t even the ending!) and I am so looking forward to your thoughts on them!

      There’s nothing super spoiler-y in the reflection I wrote but I think it honestly belongs at the end anyway so I’ll save it til then! That’s going to be an intense day for sure.

      And thank you for being so kind and welcoming to me in this comment section :) It’s been so much fun to participate!

    • Kate Bond

      Man, your comments are excellent.

      I think the emotional impact of Death’s spoilers is entirely reliant on how the reader is responding to the book at the point when the spoilers are administered. For me, since I do not have that sense of breathless dread about what will happen to the characters that seems to be intended here–and which many/most readers apparently do feel at this point–the spoilers kind of just frustrate me. I am not terribly attached to any characters (mostly because I’m hearing about all but Liesel third-hand), so I am not super invested in what happens to them. So the surprise is kind of all the book has going for it from my perspective as a reader. Does that make sense? I think plenty of authors/books use this device well (Justin Cronin’s series that starts with The Passage has me on the edge of my seat, and it bounces back-and-forth across a 100-year timeline, sometimes spending entire chapters following characters we saw die early in book one); this particular book does not resonate with me, so the device doesn’t, either.

    • K.

      Agree with Kate. Your comments are great!

      re: Death softening the blow…that was a really good point you had about spoiling it ahead of time which gives you the helpless, powerless feeling of not being able to do anything about it. Because, really, even if Death didn’t tells us anything before it happened, this is a book about war, so of course people are going to die.

      About Death being devastated about these events…the thing is, he just doesn’t SOUND like he’s devastated. When I read his words and listen to them in my head, he sounds like he’s fascinated — which is kind of twisted. I accept that he has some attachment to Liesel because he keeps staying with her, which he says he almost never does.

    • Wendy Darling

      See…I have already finished the book (last week!) and I still think it’s okay to have that line on that necklace, because people who haven’t read it have no idea what it means. I think it’s a lovely quote and necklace, regardless.

      I’m really glad you love this book so much, Kim, and I thank you sincerely for talking with us about it. Hearing what you have to say certainly helps me to see your point of view, even if some of the things that work for you don’t necessarily work for me, hah. I appreciate the discussion regardless.

  8. Kim

    Awww yis! It’s time for more Book Thief discussion!

    Ahhhhh that “I am haunted by humans” necklace is a spoiler, you guys! Noooo don’t be spoiled!

    @K: Yes, Max is definitely a “complex and delicately profound” character. Great way to put it! The reason he is portrayed this way and the feelings that you get for him just go to show the strength of the bond between Max and Liesel and how much she deeply cared for him.

    @Wendy: It’s hard for me to remember what I thought of my connection to Liesel at this point in the book since my connection to her has always felt on the level of Anne Shirley and Francie Nolan (I know, what an endorsement) so it’s interesting to see your perspective. I think the first moment of true connection came when she sees the books in the library. A touching scene for any book lover!

    @Kate: Death does not tell us what happened to Max’s family but we are to assume the worst. Poor Max :’( I hope you get a better feel for Liesel as the book goes on. Death gives us snippets of her actual book later on so you’ll get some 1st person POV that hopefully will help! And yeah, I think Zusak definitely has a bit of a failing when it comes to writing female characters (thus the male dominated book) but I did feel connected to Ilsa, thankfully. I just feel so bad for her.

    @K: Loving Rudy makes this a difficult book to finish. Hang in there, though!! I am here for you!

    @Wendy: Hans applied for membership to the Nazi Party because he had to. His business was suffering drastically as a result of not belonging (this is pretty much why the Hubermann’s are so bad off).

    @Wendy: The scene in the mayor’s wife’s library was my first heart clenching moment for the series. Frau Hermann’s son dying in WWI really got to me. I took a class on WWI in college and it profoundly touched me. War leaves behind more victims than just the dead.

    Ilsa Hermann’s smile being described as a bruise actually resonated with me because I think of it as trying to convey that even when she does something that normally conveys happiness, she is hurting. Smiling hurts her. She is too swallowed in grief.

    But this is also a scene of inimitable joy for Liesel so there was also kind of a happy heart clench in there too!

    @Hmm I never thought of Liesel being “special” since she only does boy things. I mean, Rudy isn’t just Liesel’s best friend…he’s pretty much her only friend (besides Max). I always thought that was supposed to express the dreariness and direness of living in this situation. The poverty of an unfulfilled childhood.Though realistically, it probably has a lot to do also with Zusak having no idea what friendships are like between little girls now that I think about it.

    @K: It’s not bad that you thought the Otto incident was hilarious! I think you are supposed to simultaneously cringe and smile. It’s supposed to cement the bond of Rudy and Liesel into your heart.

    @Wendy: I am sooo happy we get an actual connection between Hans and Max and really understand why Hans does this. I think it prevents the story from falling into a more cliche “WWII, gentile hides a Jewish person, how surprising!” story. Which is a criticism I’ve seen leveled at the movie consistently from those who haven’t read the book.

    @Wendy: I’m not sure if the “When death captures me” quote is supposed to make you instantly love Max or not but that’s what it did for me!

    The Standover Man is easily one of the best parts. “Tenderness and beauty” is a great way to describe it. In fact, I think that’s how I feel about the entire story as a whole but I would add “horror and destruction” to make it complete.

    Alas, I have written too much and my comment must be broken in two!

    • Wendy Darling

      You can NEVER write too much, Kim!

      And come now, I saw that necklace before I read the book, and I don’t think it’s spoils anything specific. I mean, you know Death is coming for us all, right? Hah.

      Ilsa Hermann’s smile being described as a bruise actually resonated with me because I think of it as trying to convey that even when she does something that normally conveys happiness, she is hurting. Smiling hurts her. She is too swallowed in grief.

      I LOVE this. That’s a beautiful interpretation of the text, and I like the bruise even more now.

      The library scene is pretty important–I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t feeling her love for books until that point, and even though I knew what was coming and I knew what to expect, the emotion it conveyed still worked for me. It may have been the first time I felt any emotion that she did, actually.

      I understood re: Hans applying for membership. It’s sad what you have to do in order to survive during wartime, though certainly things like that are the least of them.

      realistically, it probably has a lot to do also with Zusak having no idea what friendships are like between little girls.

      I would suspect this is true. Kate hit it right on the head with her observation about the female characters, I think.

      POOR MAX.

    • K.

      Great responses, Kim. Sounds like you should be teaching a course on this book alone. Like Wendy, I loved your note on the bruise. I sort of felt the same about Isla — how she’s doing something to show a happy emotion but it isn’t entirely happy because underneath is pain.

    • Kate Bond

      I am going to persist in being a grump about the bruise/smile description, I’m afraid. I am who I am, unfortunately.

      Girls (and women) written by men tend to bum me out. The book would have been just as good if Liesel had been a little boy, you know? There’s nothing wrong with not being able to climb inside the perspective of a person of the opposite sex, but trying and doing it badly is no good–just as a book written by a white person from the perspective of a black person during wartime would probably be problematic–and too many male authors do it VERY well for me to excuse it here.

  9. Patricia Hoffman

    I hate the introductions to the individual parts, as well. It’s the reason I’ve decided I dislike chapter titles. If you’re going to tell me what’s going to happen in that chapter, it diminishes my delight in the revelation….does that make sense?

    • Wendy Darling

      It makes TOTAL sense.I’m glad it’s not just us! I often dislike chapter titles, too–for some reason I don’t mind them in middle grade books, but a lot of times I don’t really enjoy them in YA or adult books.

    • K.

      I agree. It sort of defeats the purpose if you’re spoiling the ending. A good ‘ol Chapter 1 does the trick.

    • Kate Bond

      They remind me of the titles of episodes of the TV show Friends–you know, like, “The One with the Monkey” and “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break” –so, obviously, they do not manage to convey to me the sense of breathless dread the author seems to be going for. Ah, well.