The Book Thief
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 Meminger.
She turned around and spoke to the LSE.
“Please,” she said, “my papa’s accordion. Could you get it for me?”
After a few minutes of confusion, an older member brought the eaten case and Liesel opened it. She removed the injured instrument and laid it next to Papa’s body. “Here, Papa.”
And I can promise you something, because it was a thing I saw many years later—a vision in the book thief herself—that as she knelt next to Hans Hubermann, she watched him stand and play the accordion. He stood and strapped it on in the alps of broken houses and played the accordion with kindness silver eyes and even a cigarette slouched on his lips. He even made a mistake and laughed in lovely hindsight. The bellows breathed and the tall man played for Liesel Meminger one last time as the sky was slowly taken from the stove.
Keep playing, Papa.
He dropped the accordion and his silver eyes continued to rust. There was only a body now, on the ground, and Liesel lifted him up and hugged him. She wept over the shoulder of Hans Hubermann.
Goodbye, Papa, you saved me. You taught me to read. No one can play like you. I’ll never drink champagne. No one can play like you.
Her arms held him. She kissed his shoulder—she couldn’t bear to look at his face anymore—and she placed him down again.
The book thief wept till she was gently taken away.
Later, they remembered the accordion but no one noticed the book.
There was much work to be done, and with a collection of other materials, The Book Thief was stepped on several times and eventually picked up without even a glance and thrown aboard a garbage truck. Just before the truck left, I climbed quickly up and took it in my hand ….
It’s lucky I was there.
Then again, who am I kidding? I’m in most places at least once, and in 1943, I was just about everywhere.
the last color
death and liesel—some
and the handover man
DEATH AND LIESEL
It has been many years since all of that, but there is still plenty of work to do. I can promise you that the world is a factory. The sun stirs it, the humans rule it. And I remain. I carry them away.
As for what’s left of this story, I will not skirt around any of it, because I’m tired, I’m so tired, and I will tell it as straightly as I can.
A LAST FACT
I should tell you that
the book thief died
Liesel Meminger lived to a very old age, far away from Molching and the demise of Himmel Street.
She died in a suburb of Sydney. The house number was forty-five—the same as the Fiedlers’ shelter—and the sky was the best blue of afternoon. Like her papa, her soul was sitting up.
• • •
In her final visions, she saw her three children, her grandchildren, her husband, and the long list of lives that merged with hers. Among them, lit like lanterns, were Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained the color of lemons forever.
But a few other visions were there as well.
Come with me and I’ll tell you a story.
I’ll show you something.
WOOD IN THE AFTERNOON
When Himmel Street was cleared, Liesel Meminger had nowhere to go. She was the girl they referred to as “the one with the accordion,” and she was taken to the police, who were in the throes of deciding what to do with her.
She sat on a very hard chair. The accordion looked at her through the hole in the case.
It took three hours in the police station for the mayor and a fluffy-haired woman to show their faces. “Everyone says there’s a girl,” the lady said, “who survived on Himmel Street.”
A policeman pointed.
Ilsa Hermann offered to carry the case, but Liesel held it firmly in her hand as they walked down the police station steps. A few blocks down Munich Street, there was a clear line separating the bombed from the fortunate.
The mayor drove.
Ilsa sat with her in the back.
The girl let her hold her hand on top of the accordion case, which sat between them.
• • •
It would have been easy to say nothing, but Liesel had the opposite reaction to her devastation. She sat in the exquisite spare room of the mayor’s house and spoke and spoke—to herself—well into the night. She ate very little. The only thing she didn’t do at all was wash.
For four days, she carried around the remains of Himmel Street on the carpets and floorboards of 8 Grande Strasse. She slept a lot and didn’t dream, and on most occasions she was sorry to wake up. Everything disappeared when she was asleep.
On the day of the funerals, she still hadn’t bathed, and Ilsa Hermann asked politely if she’d like to. Previously, she’d only shown her the bath and given her a towel.
People who were at the service of Hans and Rosa Hubermann always talked about the girl who stood there wearing a pretty dress and a layer of Himmel Street dirt. There was also a rumor that later in the day, she walked fully clothed into the Amper River and said something very strange.
Something about a kiss.
Something about a Saumensch.
How many times did she have to say goodbye?
After that, there were weeks and months, and a lot of war. She remembered her books in the moments of worst sorrow, especially the ones that were made for her and the one that saved her life. One morning, in a renewed state of shock, she even walked back down to Himmel Street to find them, but nothing was left. There was no recovery from what had happened. That would take decades; it would take a long life.
There were two ceremonies for the Steiner family. The first was immediately upon their burial. The second was as soon as Alex Steiner made it home, when he was given leave after the bombing.
Since the news had found him, Alex had been whittled away.
“Crucified Christ,” he’d said, “if only I’d let Rudy go to that school.”
You save someone.
You kill them.
How was he supposed to know?
The only thing he truly did know was that he’d have done anything to have been on Himmel Street that night so that Rudy survived rather than himself.
That was something he told Liesel on the steps of 8 Grande Strasse, when he rushed up there after hearing of her survival.
That day, on the steps, Alex Steiner was sawn apart.
Liesel told him that she had kissed Rudy’s lips. It embarrassed her, but she thought he might have liked to know. There were wooden teardrops and an oaky smile. In Liesel’s vision, the sky I saw was gray and glossy. A silver afternoon.
When the war was over and Hitler had delivered himself to my arms, Alex Steiner resumed work in his tailor shop. There was no money in it, but he busied himself there for a few hours each day, and Liesel often accompanied him. They spent many days together, often walking to Dachau after its liberation, only to be denied by the Americans.
Finally, in October 1945, a man with swampy eyes, feathers of hair, and a clean-shaven face walked into the shop. He approached the counter. “Is there someone here by the name of Liesel Meminger?”
“Yes, she’s in the back,” said Alex. He was hopeful, but he wanted to be sure. “May I ask who is calling on her?”
Liesel came out.
They hugged and cried and fell to the floor.
THE HANDOVER MAN
Yes, I have seen a great many things in this world. I attend the greatest disasters and work for the greatest villains.
But then there are other moments.
There’s a multitude of stories (a mere handful, as I have previ
ously suggested) that I allow to distract me as I work, just as the colors do. 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.
When I traveled to Sydney and took Liesel away, I was finally able to do something I’d been waiting on for a long time. I put her down and we walked along Anzac Avenue, near the soccer field, and I pulled a dusty black book from my pocket.
The old woman was astonished. She took it in her hand and said, “Is this really it?”
With great trepidation, she opened The Book Thief and turned the pages. “I can’t believe …” Even though the text had faded, she was able to read her words. The fingers of her soul touched the story that was written so long ago in her Himmel Street basement.
She sat down on the curb, and I joined her.
“Did you read it?” she asked, but she did not look at me. Her eyes were fixed to the words.
I nodded. “Many times.”
“Could you understand it?”
And at that point, there was a great pause.
A few cars drove by, each way. Their drivers were Hitlers and Hubermanns, and Maxes, killers, Dillers, and Steiners ….
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 and stories so damning and 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 said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.
A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR
I am haunted by humans.
I would like to start by thanking Anna McFarlane (who is as warm as she is knowledgeable) and Erin Clarke (for her foresight, kindness, and always having the right advice at the right time). Special thanks must also go to Bri Tunnicliffe for putting up with me and trying to believe my delivery dates for rewrites.
I am indebted to Trudy White for her grace and talent. It’s an honor to have her artwork in these pages.
A big thank-you to Melissa Nelson, for making a difficult job look easy. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.
This book also wouldn’t be possible without the following people: Cate Paterson, Nikki Christer, Jo Jarrah, Anyez Lindop, Jane Novak, Fiona Inglis, and Catherine Drayton. Thank you for putting your valuable time into this story, and into me. I appreciate it more than I can say.
Thanks also to the Sydney Jewish Museum, the Australian War Memorial, Doris Seider at the Jewish Museum of Munich, Andreus Heusler at the Munich City Archive, and Rebecca Biehler (for information on the seasonal habits of apple trees).
I am grateful to Dominika Zusak, Kinga Kovacs, and Andrew Janson for all the pep talks and endurance.
Lastly, special thanks must go to Lisa and Helmut Zusak—for the stories we find hard to believe, for laughter, and for showing me another side.
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Text copyright © 2005 by Markus Zusak
Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Trudy White
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Australia in 2005 by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Pty Ltd., Sydney.
KNOPF, BORZOI BOOKS, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The book thief / by Markus Zusak.—1st American ed.
SUMMARY: Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel—a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.
1. Germany—History—1933–1945—Juvenile fiction. [1. Germany—
History—1933–1945—Fiction. 2. Books and reading—Fiction.
3. Storytelling—Fiction. 4. Death—Fiction. 5. Jews—Germany—
History—1933–1945—Fiction. 6. World War, 1939–1945—Jews—
Rescue—Fiction.] I. Title.