Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Book Thief: Reading Respond III

Part 3: Mein Kampf

The Way home

Out of guilt, Liesel showed The Shoulder Shrug to her papa on their way home. Hans – despite being worried of its supposedly anti-Nazi content – made a light joke about it.That was when he came up with an idea. He made Liesel promised that if he would ever ask her to keep a secret, she would do it, in exchange for not telling Rosa about the stolen book. A few days later, Hans gathered a dozen cigarettes and what precious little money he had to trade for a used copy of Mein Kampf. On his way back, he overheard a group of men talking behind his back about how he would never get into the party. Hans, however, did not seem to care much.

The Mayor’s Library

Liesel became very paranoid with the fact that the mayor’s wife caught her red-handed. She refused to pick the laundry from the mayor’s house until Rosa forced her to. For insurance, she asked Rudy to go with her. Surprisingly, the mayor’s wife said nothing about her crime, which convinced Liesel that maybe she got away with it. She didn’t.

After a few weeks, on one regular laundry pick-up, the mayor’s wife greeted her with a tower of books instead of laundry bag. Predictably, Liesel was tempted into going inside, where she found her personal heaven: a library. Fascinated and overwhelmed, she ran her hand along the shelves and offered the mayor’s wife to put the books back into their place. When it was time to go, it took her three attempts to leave the place. On her way back, she mentally cursed herself for not showing any gratitude to the mayor’s wife and therefore, decided to run back to deliver her late ‘Thank you.’

Enter the Struggler

For the first time, the focus of the story shifted. In Stuttgart, a Jew named Max hid in a dark storage room. He was staving, he lost track of time and he afraid to sleep. A friend briefly entered and gave Max a bag of food and a book secretly containing a fake identity card, map, key, and directions. He promised to be back in a few days before leaving Max in the dark again. While painfully eating the given food, Max imagined having to beg a stranger he was to travel to – Hans Hubermann.

The Attributes of summer

In 1940, there were four attributes that concerned Liesel:

  • Reading The Shoulder Shrug. The book was obviously banned due to having a Jewish protagonist. After her nightmare, she and Hans would make their way through the book.
  • Reading in the mayor’s library. She would read many books at a time, memorizing a few paragraphs from each. Once, she saw a childishly-written name inside the cover of a picture book: Johann Hermann. Johann was the mayor’s son who froze to death in 1918. Feeling that it was inappropriate to ask, Liesel apologized to Ilsa, the mayor’s wife, who apparently still suffered from the loss.
  • Playing Himmel Street soccer and, meanwhile, attempt to apologize to Tommy Muminger, the innocent bystander she unintentionally beat up.
  • Seeking for golden opportunity for stealing. Liesel and Rudy, both starved for decent food, joined a gang led by Arthur Berg. Liesel was recognized for beating up one of the members’ brother, while Rudy was recognized for his Jesse Owens imitation. Later on, the gang performed a robbery where Liesel and Rudy received a dozen apples. Their reward was split in half and eaten in one afternoon. As a result, Liesel got sick afterward. 

The Aryan Shopkeeper

On a particularly happy day, Liesel and Rudy found a coin on the street. Despite their hope, it was enough to buy only a single candy. Unable to divide it in half, they traded it between each other; ten sucks each until the candy was finished.

The Struggler, Continued

The focus was shifted back to Max Vandenburg. After a week and a half worth of waiting, Walter Kugler returned to Max as promised. Walter got a call to the war front, and therefore it was their last meeting. He gave Max a train ticket to Munich, slipping it into the book he previously gave – Mein Kampf. On November 3rd, Max made it to the station and boarded a train with a poor collection of shaving materials and chunk of guilt.


Back to Liesel, her mama just lost another washing client, leaving them only two customers remained. As Liesel and Rudy progressed on with their robbery, their greatest opportunity arrived. They robbed a classmate, who carried food to the priests every Friday by his bicycle. With a trap, they knocked him off his bike and managed to steal several broken eggs, bread and a ham. They then loyally gave the food to Arthur, who cooked and shared them between their members. Six days later, the gang attempted to steal some potato, but this time, the farmer was armed with an ax. During their escape, Rudy was caught on the fence. Liesel ran back for him, as well as Arthur, despite his previous claim of leaving him behind. A few weeks after the incident, Arthur moved to Cologne and gave a bag of chestnuts to Liesel as a parting gift. She and Rudy ate one each, and then sold the rest door to door. As revenge, they used all the money buying mixed candy from Frau Diller, who previously gave them only one piece.

Arthur was never seen again by his gang members, but he was seen by Death, who came to pick up his sister.  

The Struggler, Concluded

With guilt eating away his heart, Max Vandenburg arrived on the Hubermann’s front steps.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Book Thief: Reading Respond II

Part 2: The Shoulder Shrug

A Girl Made of Darkness

Death foreshadowed the second act of book thievery. The Shoulder Shrug, a blue book with red lettering, would be stolen from a bonfire made by the Nazi. However, this time, it would be the act of thievery that satisfies Liesel’s drive for it, rather than the book itself. 

The Joy of Cigarettes

Liesel started to fit into her new life. A week before Christmas, Liesel and Hans finished The Grave Digger’s Handbook by reading two chapters in one night, instead of one. Liesel did feel bad for making her Papa woke up all night, but did nothing about it. Once finished, she spoke her brother’s name to Hans for the first time, showing how strong the relationship between them had become.

Her reading and writing skills, though still slower than other children, were making an impressive improvement. At school, sometimes Liesel was tempted to steal a book from the class bookshelf, but she did not feel the urge to drive for it. Plus, Sister Maria was too much of a risk to take. Liesel was no longer picked on by her, and admitted of feeling relieve when someone who got the punishment was not her.

Surprisingly, Liesel got two books as her Christmas present even when her family was in difficult time: Faust the Dog and The Lighthouse. It was only after a few days later when she actually asked Hans how he got his hands on the books. Hans said he exchanged sixteen cigarettes them, which was when Rosa started complaining about how he would never choose her over smoking. To make up for her, Hans traded his cigarettes again for a box of eggs, which pleased Rosa enough.

The Town Walker

This chapter began with Rosa losing one of her clients, Ernst Vogel, due to the increasing difficulty in financial situation of the country. This was when Liesel first knew that her foster parents got allowance for adopting her. Rosa, in her own way, told her during her bath that this was not the reason. After that, Rosa made Liesel to deliver the laundry alone in order to gain her other clients’ sympathy.

In mid-January, Liesel got schoolwork to write two letters to a friend and someone outside her class. Instead of writing to Rudy, she asked her Papa if she could write a letter to her biological mother. That night, she drafted six letters and overheard an unusually quiet conversation between her foster parents. Hans could not bring himself to tell Liesel the truth, while Rosa thought it would be best for Liesel to get forget her past, rather than finding out what they did to her mother. Later that night, Liesel laid wondering who were they.

Dead Letters

In a brief flash forward to 1943, it showed Liesel writing in a small book which was mentioned in the prologue. Hans was there, telling her how he almost forged a reply supposedly from her mother, but didn’t have the heart to do it.

Back in 1940, Liesel checked the mailbox everyday for a reply, even when she knew deep inside that if her mother could, she would have somehow found a way to communicate with her, yet chose to continue hoping. So three days after her birthday, she used a small portion of the laundry money to send five letters in one envelope to her mother, despite the fact that Rosa had just lost another client not long ago. Liesel admitted it when Rosa questioned her, and received the wrath of the wooden spoon without complains. As she lay on the floor, a truth hit her that she would never see her mother again. It was only when Hans came back with his accordion that Liesel finally got up from the floor. With more understanding of the cruel world, Death said it would gave her the answer to her mother’s suffering on the day of the Fuhrer’s birthday.

Hitler’s Birthday, 1940

Despite being informed by the adoption agent that they had lost contact with Liesel’s biological mother, Liesel still checked the mailbox every afternoon from March to April. As the Fuhrer’s birthday was getting closer, the Germany was alive and prepaed for the big celebration: parade, music, and bonfire. Members of Nazi party were going from door to door, asking for flags, propagandas and literatures made by their enemies or Jews to be gloriously burn. In the Hubermann’s household, their Nazi flag was nowhere to be found and things seemed desperate enough for Hans to go paint a flag. Luckily, they found it just in time and had Liesel pinning it to the window frame, becoming part of the sea of flags in the neighborhood.

On this special occasion, Hans Junior and Trudy came home for a family dining. The old tension between Hans and his son picked up from where they left it due to the son being a Nazi while his father was not. Hans Jr. was not impressed that his father was still not accepted into the Nazi party, blaming him for painting over graffiti on a Jewish shop. He then turned to Liesel and said she should be reading Mein Kampf – a book written by the Fuhrer himself. When Hans tried to say otherwise, Hans Jr. called him pathetic and coward before storming off, with his father following behind, begging him to turn back. Hans Jr. didn’t, and death would meet him in a few years to come in a battle in Russia. Hans, being a survivor of WWI, did not think that wanting to live was cowardice. He then changed the topic by remaining Liesel that they had to go to the town square for the celebration.

100 Percent Pure German Sweat

The members of Hitler Youth, including Liesel, marched toward the town hall and the square. After the marching, all of them were dismissed and scattered all over the place. Liesel tried to find Rudy, but failed to do so due to the massive crowd blocking her. Instead, she tried to get a view of the about-to-start bonfire. The mountain of books and other flammable materials stood in the middle of the town square.  She did feel a degree of guilt, wanting to see the destruction of what she loved – in which Death saw it as human’s nature. Before the fire, a man of authority went on a podium and made a speech of putting the end to the infectious part of German: Communists and Jews. By the sound of the familiar word, Liesel finally managed to make a connection between her past family and communism. The man got off the podium, lit the mound and — once again — saluted the Fuhrer. The crowd cheered as the flame rose. Liesel could not bear the sight of it and squeezed out of the mob. Outside, she found Ludwig, the boy she beat up, with a bloody angle. She helped him to the steps at the side of the church and put an end to their tension. There, they listened to the shouting and the roar of the flame.

The Gate of Thievery

Hans came for Liesel on the steps and, out of blue, she asked him if her mother was a communist. Hans lied, but failed to lie again when she asked if the Fuhrer had taken her mother away. With a rush of anger, Liesel declared she hated the Fuhrer. Hans, against his own wish, quickly slapped Liesel and forbidden her to ever say it in public. Liesel was shocked and on verge of crying as her Papa made her heil-Hitlered.

Book of Fire

As they began to walk home, Hans met his friend on the way and stopped to chat. Meanwhile, Liesel wondered around the mound of ash. She found that some materials underneath survived the flame and among them were three books. Quickly, she fought the heat and picked up The Shoulder Shrug from the pile of ash. She mistakenly thought that she was caught by one of the soldiers, but instead, she was caught by a figure in the shadow – the mayor’s wife. Hiding the book in her uniform, she went back to join with her Papa.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Book Thief: Reading Respond

Summary of the prologue:

The narrator introduced himself to be Death, who has been performing the task of collecting human souls since the start of existence. He seems to see it as a natural process (judging by how he stated 'You are going to die [3 Zusak]' so calmly) and has grown rather tired of it. He described that the worst part of his job is to witness the survivors -- those who are left behind by the dead-- and so he seeks comfort and distraction from observing the colour of the sky. He then briefed about the story of the Book thief, who he described as 'an expert of being left behind [5 Zusak].' 

Death then foreshadowed (or rather, flashbacked) the three encounters between him and the Book thief.

The first encounter was during winter at a train track. Death observed how the snow painted the world white, which means somebody had died.  The body, a little boy, somehow ended up on the ground, with two guards arguing what to do with it. They then decided to take the corpse, along with the mother and the girl who was accompanying it, back on the train until the next stop. Death said he made a mistake to let curiosity took over him and became interested of the girl. The girl cried, possibly meaning that the dead boy was someone closed to her.

The second encounter was after a military plane crash. The sky was tainted black by the smoke. It had been years sin Death last saw the Book thief, but he still recognized her, running after a boy with a toolbox to the pilot, who was about 24 years old. The boy, seeing that the pilot was still alive, just barely, tentatively placed a teddy bear on his chest. The pilot smiled, and shortly after, Death took him away.

The third encounter was after a massive bombing raid, which the government had failed to warn the citizens earlier. A town was ruined.  The Book thief was a survivor. She held a book that she previously wrote in a basement, which was then bombed. The book was dropped as she fell to her knees and wailed. Death wished to comfort her but it 'is not allowed [13 Zusak].' He later on picked up the book from a garbage truck and read it again and again through the years. He said that the Book thief's life was consisted of three main colours: red, white and black, as in the Nazi flag.

Summary of part one: 

Arrival on Himmel Street

The scene went back to their first encounter in January 1939. Liesel Meminger, the Book thief, and her brother, Werner, were traveling to Munich by train with their mother. Somewhere along the journey, the brother had a series of violent coughing. Liesel, slept with one eye opened and dream of Adolf Hitler smiling at her, awoke at the exact moment her brother died.  She refused to accept it and started to shake the boy, an act which Death had seen too often, and then went to wake her mother the same way. Death remained watching, despite his constant need of distraction for a moment like this. He watched as the two train guards argued over the body, deciding that they should be dropped off at the next town, where the mother would stepped out carrying her son’s body in her arms.

Two days later, Werner was buried by two gravediggers. Death, again ignoring his better judgment, took a detour to the cemetery, where he watched traumatized Liesel started digging the grave as she still couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that her brother was gone. Her mother had to drag her along to catch another train. Before leaving, Liesel picked up a black book in the snow -- the one a gravedigger dropped earlier – despite being unable to read.

They then got on a train to Bahnhof, where the adoption agents had to drag Liesel away from her mother and drove her to Himmel Street in a small town of Molching. There she met her adoptive parents: Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Liesel outright refused to corporate -- ignoring the yelling from Rosa -- until Hans managed to talk her out of it.

Growing Up a Saumensch

Death started by foreshadowing a lot of events in the future (/past). He then proceeded to described Liesel’s appearance; very thin, pale, blond hair and brown eyes. Her father was a Communist and she lived in poverty before the adoption, causing her to be rather malnourished. She had very little education beforehand, therefore did not understand what Communist means. Though she did vaguely understand that her mother left her for her own good, still, she felt abandoned.

Rosa Hubermann, who had a harsh way of showing her affection, cursed as she tried to get Liesel to bath. Hans then stepped in and distracted Liesel from the bath by teaching her how to roll cigarettes. At this point, Liesel started to show interested in Hans, while Death pointed out that Hans ‘cheated’ death in WWI and would later avoid him again in WWII. After a few months, Liesel was told to called her parents Mama and Papa by Rosa, who made no effort in replacing Liesel’s birth mother and instead called herself ‘Mama Number Two.’  

The Woman with the Iron Fist

For the first few months, Liesel woke up screaming every night as she dream of her brother. Hans would be there for her, slowly closing the distance between them. He would comfort her and stayed in her room until morning, sometimes playing his accordion for her and to deliberately annoy his wife. Despite growing fond of him, Liesel still hadn’t told him about the book she picked – The grave Digger’s Handbook – that now hid under her mattress. She felt that it was the last link between her and her old family.

Death said that the Hubermann did have children of their own: Hans Junior who would later serve in the war, and Trudy who would later be making bullets.

Because of her uneducated past, Liesel was put into a much younger class of students who just learning the alphabets. She would later had a ‘midnight class’ to improve her skills. In February, Liesel turned ten and had to enroll Hitler Youth.

Many evening, Hans Hubermann would leave with his accordion to play for money. Meanwhile, Rosa would iron clothes for living and complained. Sometimes, she would take Liesel to help her hold laundry bag as she collected clothes from her clients in the wealthier part of the town, and scolded about them to Liesel as they walked. At night, Frau Holtzapfel would spat on the Hubermann’s door due to a long-forgotten disagreement between her and Rosa, and Liesel would be forced to clean it.

The Kiss (A Childhood Decision Maker)

Death described some neighbors living on the Himmel Street: Rudy Steiner, one of six who would become Liesel’s best friend, Frau Diller, a strong Nazi-believer shop owner, Tommy Muller, a kid with the habit to twitch caused by an ear infection and several nerve damages, and Pfiffikus, an old man who would swear and curse at children who whistle.

Being a new kid in town, Liesel was placed as a goalie – the worst position – for street soccer game. She was able to block out the kick from Rudy, despite him being overconfident, and got a snowball in her face as a result. Death saw this as a healthy sign of blooming friendship, and something more.

Rudy toured Liesel around the neighborhood. He walked with her to school, to the broken road of Stars of David. He took a liking in her, purely because other boys did not. At school, he constantly seek out for her, to the point of annoyance. One day, they raced for a hundred meters on the bet that if Liesel won, she got off being goalie, while if Rudy won, he got to kiss her. The race ended up being a draw, due to both of them slipped and fell twenty meters short. Rudy then ended with saying that one day Liesel would ‘be dying to kiss’ him [55 Zusak].

The Jesse Owens Incident

This part is a flashback to 1936, when Jesse Owens, a black American runner, won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics, embarrassing Hitler and the racist Nazis. Rudy, obsessed with the athletic, coated himself with charcoal and ran 100 meters in public, imagining him being Jesse Owens. Rudy’s father, Alex, was not at all pleased and got uncharacteristically furious at his son. Though not a racist, Alex was committed in the Nazi party for the sake of his family and lectured Rudy not to paint himself black in order to avoid the Nazi. Rudy, being too young, did not understand, until it was altogether too late.

The Other Side of Sandpaper

During a parade in late May 1939, it was revealed that there are differences in people’s belief in the Nazi, from wholeheartedly to dutifully supportive and to silently dissentient. Hans Hubermann fell into the last category.

That night, besides the usual nightmare, Liesel wet her bed, causing the bed sheet to be stripped and the hidden book to be found. Hans was puzzled by the book about grave-digging, but helped her to read it as she requested anyway. Hans was a slow reader himself and Liesel could read very little to none, so he started with teaching her the basic of alphabets. Even though Liesel also learn this in class, she believed that her Papa’s teaching was to be credited. Using the back of a sandpaper and pencil sketches, their first midnight class began. On an occasion, when Hans drew a sketch of Liesel without her eyes, he commented that she didn’t need them. (Personally, I believe that this was because she didn’t have German-blue eyes).

The Smell of Friendship

The midnight class then took place after Liesel’s nightmare. It then expanded to daytime, when Hans would accompany Liesel to deliver the laundry and they rest on a bridge over Amper River – thirty meters away from a concentration camp. There Hans would play his accordion while Liesel learn how to spell. When the weather was bad, they would take their lesson to basement, where paint was used for spelling practice.

The Heavyweight Champion of the School-Yard

During summer 1939, the WWII officially began; German invaded Poland, England and France declared on German. Hans showed a clear dislike to the situation. Meanwhile, Liesel was moved up to Rudy’s class, because she annoyed the teacher in her original class. In November, a reading test took place where children had to go in front of the class and read a selected page. Liesel --extremely nervous -- was not called out, and Rudy pointed this fact out. Despite being refused by Sister Maria, Liesel went to the front anyway and turned to random page of the book. She couldn’t read it, so she instead recited a chapter from The Grave Digger’s Handbook.  Sister Maria then punished her as the class laughed.

Later, Liesel was taunted by a classmate named Ludwig Schmeikl. She gave him a violent beating and punched Tommy the bystander a few times because he was grinning. She then declared that she was not stupid before getting a harsher punishment than usual when Sister Maria found out. On the way home from school, Liesel thought about her brother and the humiliation, Rudy comforted her. Death said that Liesel would get much better with words.
From what I understand, German was facing extreme poverty before the war, which is why so many people supported Hitler. Those who didn’t had to keep their opinion secret or faced a harsh consequence. Not having Jew customers caused several businesses to go down and the poor part of German was desperate for money. Some entered the Nazi party for better life condition despite not being a supporter while some adopt a child for the government’s grant. Every child was giving the education that basically brainwashed them into the idea of German’s superiority. Jews were forced to wear the Star of David and the holocaust was at its first step. Blonde hair and blue eyes were favoured and racism was spreading all over the country.