The Book Thief – Markus Zusak


Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors.

A REASSURING ANNOUNCEMENT Please, be calm, despite that previous threat. I am all bluster— I am not violent. I am not malicious. I am a result.

Sometimes I manage to float far above those three moments. I hang suspended, until a septic truth bleeds toward clarity.

When the coughing stopped, there was nothing but the nothingness of life moving on with a shuffle, or a near-silent twitch. A suddenness found its way onto his lips then, which were a corroded brown color and peeling, like old paint. In desperate need of redoing.

His sentences glowed in the light.

When the train pulled into the Bahnhof in Munich, the passengers slid out as if from a torn package. There were people of every stature, but among them, the poor were the most easily recognized. The impoverished always try to keep moving, as if relocating might help. They ignore the reality that a new version of the same old problem will be waiting at the end of the trip—the relative you cringe to kiss. 

The day was gray, the color of Europe.

On the other was the squat shape of Rosa Hubermann, who looked like a small wardrobe with a coat thrown over it.

Everything about her was undernourished. Wirelike shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile.

a refrigerated voice…

The Star of David was painted on their doors. Those houses were almost like lepers. At the very least, they were infected sores on the injured German terrain.

Had the apprentice been reading the complete works of Goethe or any other such luminary, that was what would have sat in front of them.

In the morning’s early hours, quiet voices were loud.

She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.

The young man was a Nazi; his father was not. In the opinion of Hans Junior, his father was part of an old, decrepit Germany— one that allowed everyone else to take it for the proverbial ride while its own people suffered.

That was when a great shiver arrived. 
It waltzed through the window with the draft.

There was the smell of pea soup, something burning, and confrontation.

His thoughts crisscrossed the table as he stared into it. 

Silence was requested by a man on a podium. His uniform was shiny brown. The iron was practically still on it.

Waterfalls of words.

A collection of men walked from a platform and surrounded the heap, igniting it, much to the approval of everyone. Voices climbed over shoulders and the smell of pure German sweat struggled at first, then poured out. It rounded corner after corner, till they were all swimming in it. The words, the sweat. And smiling. Let’s not forget the smiling.

The orange flames waved at the crowd as paper and print dissolved inside them. Burning words were torn from their sentences.

Another lie was growing in his mouth, but he found it impossible to let it out.

This time, his voice was like a fist, freshly banged on the table.

There was more silence than she ever thought possible. It extended like an elastic, dying to break.


She let the sentence die its own death.

His pimples shifted position.

Her hair was tied back and her black dress choked her body.

stealer—proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water.

Cold sweat—that malignant little friend—outstaying its welcome in the armpits and trousers.

Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened.

Also, in the space of just over half a year, the Hubermanns had lost a son and gained a replacement of epically dangerous proportions. 

When Liesel looked back on the events of her life, those nights in the living room were some of the clearest memories she had. She could see the burning light on Max’s eggshell face and even taste the human flavor of his words. The course of his survival was related, piece by piece, as if he were cutting each part out of him and presenting it on a plate.

It was as though he’d opened her palm, given her the words, and closed it up again.

The desecrated pages of Mein Kampf were becoming a series of sketches, page after page, which to him summed up the events that had swapped his former life for another.

Mamer was a barrel of a man, with two small bullet holes to look out of. His teeth were like a soccer crowd, crammed in.

They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more.

Then there was a resurgence—an immense struggle against my weight.

“You’re chewing a hole in my stomach with all this talking.”

Rain like gray pencil shavings.

The words landed on the table and positioned themselves in the middle. All three people looked at them.

Panic generated in that awful way. Throat and mouth. Air became sand.

If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread out on top of it. 
It was the best time of her life. 
But it was bombing carpet. 
Make no mistake. 
Bold and bright, a trilogy of happiness would continue for summer’s duration and into autumn. It would then be brought abruptly to an end, for the brightness had shown suffering the way. 
Hard times were coming. 
Like a parade. 

Her nerves licked her palms.

Night watched. Some people watched it back, trying to find the tin-can planes as they drove across the sky.

She sang a song, but it was so quiet that Liesel could not make it out. The notes were born on her breath, and they died at her lips.

Their bodies were welded together and only their feet changed position or pressure. Stillness was shackled to their faces. They watched each other and waited.

Frau Holtzapfel clamored, but her sentence was just another hapless voice in the warm chaos of the shelter.

They would each greet me like their last true friend, with bones like smoke and their souls trailing behind.

Their gaunt faces were stretched with torture. Hunger ate them as they continued forward, some of them watching the ground to avoid the people on the side of the road.

Whether they watched this parade with pride, temerity, or shame, nobody came forward to interrupt it. Not yet.

His eyes were the color of agony, and weightless as he was, he was too heavy for his legs to carry.

She was torn between the obvious urge to see him—to know that he was still alive—and an absence that could mean any number of things, one of which being freedom.

It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

Certainly, war meant dying, but it always shifted the ground beneath a person’s feet when it was someone who had once lived and breathed in close proximity.

Three languages interwove. The Russian, the bullets, the German.

He killed himself for wanting to live.

Most of them were mute. Statues with beating hearts.

The sun stirs the earth. Around and around, it stirs us, like stew.

The world is an ugly stew, she thought.

Just be patient, she told herself, and with the mounting pages, the strength of her writing fist grew.

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.

He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection.

Her expression stroked the man on his face. It followed one of the lines down his cheek.

I pick them up in the unluckiest, unlikeliest places and I make sure to remember them as I go about my work. The Book Thief is one such story.

I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.


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