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.
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.
|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.
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!