The third and final discussion of The Book Thief Read Along was hosted by Kathy from Read This Instead (I am so sorry about how late my post has been – it was meant to be written at the end of September!).
So it is no surprise that I have been extremely busy on this Trinity CertTESOL course and it has only been in the last couple of days that I have finally been able to finish reading The Book Thief. Oh my, what a horrifically sad ending. I could not control the whirlwind of emotions I felt whilst reading the final chapters of the novel. Just to warn you, there will be definite spoilers in this post!
1. How did you feel when Max had to leave the Hubermanns? What did you expect would happen to him?
I completely understood why Max had to leave and I could feel Hans’ own self-loathing at what he had done to put Max and his family in potential danger – all because he showed the slightest human mercy. It was incredible to think how giving a man a small piece of bread resulted in such drastic punishment. However, when Max had to leave I was extremely scared for his fate in Germany at such a time. I assumed that would be the last time we would ever see or hear from him again.
2. Why do you think Liesel ran out to Max when they finally did cross paths, even after she had seen what happened to Hans earlier in the book?
I don’t think Liesel could help herself. She had already lost her brother and mother to the Nazis, she didn’t want to let another family member slip past, and Max was like another brother to her. I think she takes a lot of strength from Hans and the fact that she witnessed what happened to him only served to encourage her. She is not afraid of standing up for what she believes when it comes to those she loves and I think she has learnt a lot about this from Hans.
3. What did you think of Death spoiling the ending a couple chapters before it actually happened? Did the warning make it easier to handle?
I think I was still in denial when Death foreshadowed the ending a few chapters before it actually happened. I kept thinking to myself that this could not possibly happen. So when these events did actually happen I was still in shock. It was so sad.
4. Which death impacted you the most?
They all impacted me quite a lot. However, if I had to pick one I think it would definitely have to be Hans Hubermann’s death. Hans’ seems to be the only father-figure Liesel has ever known (I don’t think we are told much about her biological father) and it was heartbreaking to visualise her reaction when she comes to his body last. As Death says:
‘from the moment I witnessed her face again, I could tell that this was who she loved the most. […] Papa – the accordionist – and Himmel Street. One could not exist without the other, because for Liesel, both were home. Yes, that’s what Hans Hubermann was for Liesel Merminger’.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Pg.s 541-2
I got teary-eyed just reading over that section again!
5. How did your view of Ilsa Herman change over the course of the book?
My opinion of Isla Herman did change quite considerably over the course of the book. I was surprised and over-joyed when she took Liesel under her wing after the destruction of Himmel Street. It is also partly Isla Herman’s actions, which saved Liesel from death. If she hadn’t given her the gift of the notebook, Liesel probably wouldn’t have been downstairs in the basement writing her story in the early hours of the night.
6. The power of words is such a big theme throughout the book. Which instances of powerful words stuck out to you? Or, which quotes from the book stuck out to you?
An instance of the power of words, which really struck me, was when Liesel starts reading to the scared occupiers of Himmel Street in the Fiedler’s basement. It had the power to silence adults and children alike – to silence their anxieties and worries during the air-raid. Words have the ability to take on different meanings and uses in this book, which particularly resonated with me. Books aren’t just there to leisurely fill the time. They are there to heal, to soothe, to empower and to save people’s lives. However, books and the power of words can also destroy and damage people’s lives, as is the case in Nazi-occupied Germany. Liesel recognises this and in a fit of anger and powerlessness, rips up one of Isla’s books to shreds. I think Zusak brilliantly depicts the power of words and, as is the case with any sort of power, there are positives and negatives.
7. In this post Markus Zusak says:
In many ways I felt that the book is about Liesel’s different kind of loves – for Hans, for Rosa, for Rudy and Max, and for books and living in general.
Which of those loves resonated with you most?
All of these different kinds of loves resonated with me equally. However, I think if it wasn’t for Hans’ love for Liesel she would not have been able to love the way she does. He doesn’t just teach her to read, he teaches her to love which is the biggest gift of all. Although we don’t know much about Liesel’s life after the Himmel Street disaster, we do witness the end of her life, where she is surrounded by loved ones – her children and her husband. This suggests that despite her enormous losses, she is still able to open her heart and love.
8. Thoughts on Liesel and Death finally meeting?
I thought this was such a beautiful moment. Liesel is finally reunited with the book that quite literally saved her life. I also found it to be another heart-breaking moment. This time I was mourning for Death. When he is incapable of expressing his own trauma at what he had witnessed over the tumultuous world war years.
‘I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words so damning and so brilliant.
None of those things, however, came out of my mouth.
All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. […] I am haunted by humans‘.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Pg. 554
This is such a haunting ending to a beautiful, yet heartbreaking, novel about the strength and kindness of a human race destroyed by one of the most horrific events in history.
9. If this was your first time reading The Book Thief, is it what you expected?
If it was a reread, what did you notice this time around?
This was my first time reading The Book Thief. Previous to reading it I had only ever heard good things about the book and it did not disappoint. It will be one of those books I will read again and again over my lifetime and find different meanings in it and, I bet, each time I read the book I will be just as upset by the ending as I was first time round.
10. Will you see the movie?
After finishing the book I immediately googled the trailer for the new film. I had refrained myself from doing so whilst reading The Book Thief as I didn’t want the cast to influence my imagination of what I thought the characters would look like. For example, Rudy does not look anything like how I imagined him to look in the movie. I will probably go and see the movie when it comes out though I will be extremely apprehensive about it. I don’t think there is any way it could rival the book, but I know I will not be able to stop myself from shedding a tear (or many) towards the end.