The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

1. “Within minutes, mounds of concrete and earth were stacked and piled. The streets were ruptured veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood after the flood. They were glued down, every last one of them. A packet of souls. Was it fate? Misfortune? Is that what glued them down like that? Of course not. Let’s not be stupid. It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds.”

2. “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.”

3. “Buried beneath the folded layer of clothes in that suitcase was a small black book, which, for all we know, a fourteen-year-old grave digger in a nameless town had probably spent the last few hours looking for. “I promise you,” I imagine him saying to his boss, “I have no idea what happened to it. I’ve looked everywhere. Everywhere!” I’m sure he would never have suspected the girl, and yet, there it was—a black book with silver words written against the ceiling of her clothes: THE GRAVE DIGGER’S HANDBOOK A Twelve-Step Guide to Grave-Digging Success Published by the Bayern Cemetery Association The book thief had struck for the first time—the beginning of an illustrious career.”

4. “I should hasten to admit, however, that there was a considerable hiatus between the first stolen book and the second. Another noteworthy point is that the first was stolen from snow and the second from fire. Not to omit that others were also given to her. All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.”

5. “That strange word was always there somewhere, standing in the corner, watching from the dark. It wore suits, uniforms.”

6. “A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.”

7. “On her first night with the Hubermanns, she had hidden her last link to him— The Grave Digger’s Handbook—under her mattress, and occasionally she would pull it out and hold it. Staring at the letters on the cover and touching the print inside, she had no idea what any of it was saying. The point is, it didn’t really matter what that book was about. It was what it meant that was more important. THE BOOK’S MEANING 1. The last time she saw her brother. 2. The last time she saw her mother.”

8. “The Germans loved to burn things. Shops, synagogues, Reichstags, houses, personal items, slain people, and of course, books.”

9. “I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”

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

11. “Mein Kampf. The book penned by the Führer himself. It was the third book of great importance to reach Liesel Meminger; only this time, she did not steal it. The book showed up at 33 Himmel Street perhaps an hour after Liesel had drifted back to sleep from her obligatory nightmare.”

12. “”Are you going to tell Mama?”
Hans Hubermann still watched, tall and distant. “About what?”
She raised the book. “This.” She brandished it in the air, as if waving a gun. Papa was bewildered.
“Why would I?”
She hated questions like that. They forced her to admit an ugly truth, to reveal her own filthy, thieving nature. “Because I stole again.””

13. “Steadily, the room shrank, till the book thief could touch the shelves within a few small steps. She ran the back of her hand along the first shelf, listening to the shuffle of her fingernails gliding across the spinal cord of each book. It sounded like an instrument, or the notes of running feet. She used both hands. She raced them. One shelf against the other. And she laughed. Her voice was sprawled out, high in her throat, and when she eventually stopped and stood in the middle of the room, she spent many minutes looking from the shelves to her fingers and back again. How many books had she touched? How many had she felt?”

14. “His eyes did not do anything that shock normally describes. No snapping, no slapping, no jolt. Those things happen when you wake from a bad dream, not when you wake into one. No, his eyes dragged themselves open, from darkness to dim.”

15. “The authorities’ problem with the book was obvious. The protagonist was a Jew, and he was presented in a positive light. Unforgivable. He was a rich man who was tired of letting life pass him by—what he referred to as the shrugging of the shoulders to the problems and pleasures of a person’s time on earth.”

16. “When Liesel left that day, she said something with great uneasiness. In translation, two giant words were struggled with, carried on her shoulder, and dropped as a bungling pair at Ilsa Hermann’s feet. They fell off sideways as the girl veered with them and could no longer sustain their weight. Together, they sat on the floor, large and loud and clumsy. TWO GIANT WORDS: I’M SORRY”

17. ““When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.” Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry. Yes. I like that a lot.”

18. “He seemed to resonate with a kind of confidence that life was still nothing but a joke—an endless succession of soccer goals, trickery, and a constant repertoire of meaningless chatter.”

19. “Each night, the fire was lit in Mama and Papa’s room, and Max would silently appear. He would sit in the corner, cramped and perplexed, most likely by the kindness of the people, the torment of survival, and overriding all of it, the brilliance of the warmth.”

20. ““I didn’t know, or else I could have given you something.” A blatant lie—he had nothing to give, except maybe Mein Kampf, and there was no way he’d give such propaganda to a young German girl. That would be like the lamb handing a knife to the butcher.”

21. “On many counts, taking a boy like Rudy was robbery—so much life, so much to live for—yet somehow, I’m certain he would have loved to see the frightening rubble and the swelling of the sky on the night he passed away. He’d have cried and turned and smiled if only he could have seen the book thief on her hands and knees, next to his decimated body. He’d have been glad to witness her kissing his dusty, bomb-hit lips.”

22. ‘Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. 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.”

23. “She didn’t care about the food. Rudy, no matter how hard she tried to resist the idea, was secondary to her plan. It was the book she wanted. The Whistler. She wouldn’t tolerate having it given to her by a lonely, pathetic old woman. Stealing it, on the other hand, seemed a little more acceptable. Stealing it, in a sick kind of sense, was like earning it.”

24. ““You know—your mama.”
“What about her?” Liesel was exercising the blatant right of every person who’s ever belonged to a family. It’s all very well for such a person to whine and moan and criticize other family members, but they won’t let anyone else do it. That’s when you get your back up and show loyalty. “Is there something wrong with her?””

25. “Before they went into their respective homes, Rudy stopped a moment and said, “Goodbye, Saumensch.” He laughed. “Good night, book thief.” It was the first time Liesel had been branded with her title, and she couldn’t hide the fact that she liked it very much. As we’re both aware, she’d stolen books previously, but in late October 1941, it became official. That night, Liesel Meminger truly became the book thief.”

26. “On Munich Street, Rudy noticed Deutscher walking along the footpath with some friends and felt the need to throw a rock at him. You might well ask just what the hell he was thinking. The answer is, probably nothing at all. He’d probably say that he was exercising his God-given right to stupidity.”

27. ““How about a kiss, Saumensch?” He stood waist-deep in the water for a few moments longer before climbing out and handing her the book. His pants clung to him, and he did not stop walking. In truth, I think he was afraid. Rudy Steiner was scared of the book thief’s kiss. He must have longed for it so much. He must have loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them.”

28. “Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a vacation.”

29. “When a person’s last response was Saumensch or Saukerl or Arschloch, you knew you had them beaten.”

30. “Late in March, a place called Lübeck was hailed with bombs. Next in line would be Cologne, and soon enough, many more German cities, including Munich. Yes, the boss was at my shoulder. “Get it done, get it done.” The bombs were coming—and so was I.”

31. “I blow warm air into my hands, to heat them up. But it’s hard to keep them warm when the souls still shiver. God. I always say that name when I think of it. God. Twice, I speak it. I say His name in a futile attempt to understand. “But it’s not your job to understand.” That’s me who answers. God never says anything. You think you’re the only one he never answers? “Your job is to . . .” And I stop listening to me, because to put it bluntly, I tire me. When I start thinking like that, I become so exhausted, and I don’t have the luxury of indulging fatigue. I’m compelled to continue on, because although it’s not true for every person on earth, it’s true for the vast majority—that death waits for no man—and if he does, he doesn’t usually wait very long.”

32. ““I am stupid,” Hans Hubermann told his foster daughter. “And kind. Which makes the biggest idiot in the world. The thing is, I want them to come for me. Anything’s better than this waiting.” Hans Hubermann needed vindication. He needed to know that Max Vandenburg had left his house for good reason.”

33. “Like the rest of the men in the unit, Hans would need to perfect the art of forgetting.”

34. “Three languages interwove. The Russian, the bullets, the German.”

35. “I know you, I thought. There was a train and a coughing boy. There was snow and a distraught girl. You’ve grown, I thought, but I recognize you. She did not back away or try to fight me, but I know that something told the girl I was there. Could she smell my breath? Could she hear my cursed circular heartbeat, revolving like the crime it is in my deathly chest? I don’t know, but she knew me and she looked me in my face and she did not look away.”

36. “Again, I offer you a glimpse of the end. Perhaps it’s to soften the blow for later, or to better prepare myself for the telling. Either way, I must inform you that it was raining on Himmel Street when the world ended for Liesel Meminger.”

37. “She was holding desperately on to the words who had saved her life.”

38. “As he stood, Max looked first at the girl and then stared directly into the sky who was wide and blue and magnificent. There were heavy beams—planks of sun—falling randomly, wonderfully to the road. Clouds arched their backs to look behind as they started again to move on. “It’s such a beautiful day,” he said, and his voice was in many pieces. A great day to die. A great day to die, like this.”

39. “As it turned out, Ilsa Hermann not only gave Liesel Meminger a book that day. She also gave her a reason to spend time in the basement—her favorite place, first with Papa, then Max. She gave her a reason to write her own words, to see that words had also brought her to life.”

40. “And I’m not too great at that sort of comforting thing, especially when my hands are cold and the bed is warm. I carried him softly through the broken street, with one salty eye and a heavy, deathly heart. With him, I tried a little harder. I watched the contents of his soul for a moment and saw a black-painted boy calling the name Jesse Owens as he ran through an imaginary tape. I saw him hip-deep in some icy water, chasing a book, and I saw a boy lying in bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbor. He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.”

Posted in Markus Zusak

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