Passages We Loved From ‘The Book Thief’
“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right”– p. 528
Liesel becomes hopeless and disdainful of the written word, seeing Hitler’s words as the source of her suffering. Ilsa Hermann gives her a blank book and encourages her to write; Liesel writes the story of her life, containing both tragedy and beauty, at a fevered pace. Liesel has come to the realization that words can cause both violence and comfort, and she strives to make them “right” by combating vicious propaganda with writing that emanates from selflessness and love.
“You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.”– Death, p. 307
Far from being a Grim Reaper-like representation, The Book Thief’s Death is a weary and cynical character with the relatively menial duty of carrying away the souls of the recently deceased. Yet Death’s job is made more difficult by the sheer number of people who die by the hands of others in World War II . Death seems to agonize most over the gas chambers, literal killing machines at Nazi death camps. Death thus takes a skeptical view of war and humanity itself, believing humanity to be capable of tremendous and irrational evils.
“Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye.”– Death, p. 350 Carrying souls from the gas chamber in Auschwitz, Death imagines the composition of the sky beyond the rain clouds that cover the death camp. In the face of remarkable tragedy, Death expresses optimism that beyond the horrors taking place on Earth, there exists a vivid and unquestionable hope. The “giant blue eye” is potentially a watchful and just God, whose sight has been obscured while His Chosen People are being massacred by the Nazis.
“I am haunted by humans.” Death, p. 550
The Book Thief is framed by Death’s contemplation of the worth of humanity, and Death’s inability to reconcile the remarkable cruelty and the remarkable compassion of which human beings are simultaneously capable. Liesel’s life story contains elements of both, and by the end of the novel, Death appears to be no more capable of judging humanity than at the novel’s outset. Thus, Death tells Liesel that it is “haunted” by humans, just as humans are haunted by Death. A jaded metaphysical being so used to dying could only be fearful of and, at times, amazed by those who live.
“Did they deserve any better, these people? How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?” Death, p. 375
Death compares the plight of the German civilians cowering in a bomb shelter with the certain death of the Jews trapped in Nazi gas chambers. Death’s musings bring up the notion of collective responsibility for Hitler’s crimes, and Death wonders how culpable these people are for the ongoing Holocaust. While they are all citizens of a nation in the process of killing millions of innocent people, some, like Rosa and Hans, quietly defy the Nazis by hiding a Jew, while others are defenseless children who cannot possibly be held responsible for crimes planned before they were even born.
“There were the erased pages of Mein Kampf, gagging, suffocating under the paint as they turned.”Death’s narration, p. 237
Max whitewashes pages of Hitler’s propaganda book Mein Kampf and draws an entirely new story upon them: a brief retelling of his life, his family’s persecution by the Nazis, and his friendship with Liesel. Just as Hans used the same copy of Mein Kampf to help bring Max to safety, Max boldly transforms Nazi ideology into compassion.
“Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.”Death’s narration, p. 243
As narrator, Death employs the technique of foreshadowing throughout the novel to reveal, among other things, the fates- i.e., survival or death- of individual characters. Just prior to this passage, Death describes how Rudy Steiner dies at the end of the book. Marcus Zusak’s employment of foreshadowing places emphasis on the events and “machinations” in Nazi Germany that lead the characters to their ends.
“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 words. From Liesel’s words.” Death’s narration, p. 253
Liesel explodes at Ilsa Hermann, calling her pathetic and telling her to get over the death of her son. She imagines Ilsa’s face becoming physically battered by Liesel’s cruel invective. Liesel later comes to regret her tirade, as she realizes the power of words to inflict harm on others.
We hope you enjoyed this book as much as we did at TBC Book Club.