Upload Опубликованный материал нарушает ваши авторские права? Сообщите нам.
Вуз: Предмет: Файл:


2.37 Mб

Books and pages and a happy place.

She slid a book from the shelf and sat with it on the floor.

Is she home? she wondered, but she did not care if Ilsa Hermann was slicing potatoes in the kitchen or lining up in the post office. Or standing ghost-like over the top of her, examining what the girl was reading.

The girl simply didnt care anymore.

For a long time, she sat and saw.

She had seen her brother die with one eye open, one still in a dream. She had said goodbye to her mother and imagined her lonely wait for a train back home to oblivion. A woman of wire had laid herself down, her scream traveling the street, till it fell sideways like a rolling coin starved of momentum. A young man was hung by a rope made of Stalingrad snow. She had watched a bomber pilot die in a metal case. She had seen a Jewish man who had twice given her the most beautiful pages of her life marched to a concentration camp. And at the center of all of it, she saw the Fhrer shouting his words and passing them around.

Those images were the world, and it stewed in her as she sat with the lovely books and their manicured titles. It brewed in her as she eyed the pages full to the brims of their bellies with paragraphs and words.

You bastards, she thought.

You lovely bastards.

Dont make me happy. Please, dont fill me up and let me think that something good can come of any of this. Look at my bruises. Look at this graze. Do you see the graze inside me? Do you see it growing before your very eyes, eroding me? I dont want to hope for anything anymore. I dont want to pray that Max is alive and safe. Or Alex Steiner.

Because the world does not deserve them.

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.

Then a chapter.

Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldnt be any of this. Without words, the Fhrer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.

What good were the words?

She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. What good are the words?

The book thief stood and walked carefully to the library door. Its protest was small and halfhearted. The airy hallway was steeped in wooden emptiness.

Frau Hermann?

The question came back at her and tried for another surge to the front door. It made it only halfway, landing weakly on a couple of fat floorboards.

Frau Hermann?

The calls were greeted with nothing but silence, and she was tempted to seek out the kitchen, for Rudy. She refrained. It wouldnt have felt right to steal food from a woman who had left her a dictionary against a windowpane. That, and she had also just destroyed one of her books, page by page, chapter by chapter. Shed done enough damage as it was.

Liesel returned to the library and opened one of the desk drawers. She sat down.


Dear Mrs. Hermann,

As you can see, I have been in your library again and I have ruined one of your books. I was just so angry and afraid and I wanted to kill the words. I have stolen from you and now Ive wrecked your property. Im sorry. To punish myself, I think I will stop coming here. Or is it punishment at all? I love this place and hate it, because it is full of words.

You have been a friend to me even though I hurt you, even though I have been insu ferable (a word I looked up in your dictionary), and I think I will leave you alone now. Im sorry for everything.

Thank you again.

Liesel Meminger

She left the note on the desk and gave the room a last goodbye, doing three laps and running her hands over the titles. As much as she hated them, she couldnt resist. Flakes of torn-up paper were strewn around a book called The Rules of Tommy Ho fmann. In the breeze from the window, a few of its shreds rose and fell.

The light was still orange, but it was not as lustrous as earlier. Her hands felt their final grip of the wooden window frame, and there was the last rush of a plunging stomach, and the pang of pain in her feet when she landed.

By the time she made it down the hill and across the bridge, the orange light had vanished. Clouds

were mopping up.

When she walked down Himmel Street, she could already feel the first drops of rain. I will never see Ilsa Hermann again, she thought, but the book thief was better at reading and ruining books than making assumptions.


The woman has knocked at number thirty-three and waits for a reply.

It was strange for Liesel to see her without the bathrobe. The summer dress was yellow with red trim. There was a pocket with a small flower on it. No swastikas. Black shoes. Never before had she noticed Ilsa Hermanns shins. She had porcelain legs.

Frau Hermann, Im sorryfor what I did the last time in the library.

The woman quieted her. She reached into her bag and pulled out a small black book. Inside was not a story, but lined paper. I thought if youre not going to read any more of my books, you might like to write one instead. Your letter, it was . . . She handed the book to Liesel with both hands. You can certainly write. You write well. The book was heavy, the cover matted like The Shoulder Shrug. And please, Ilsa Hermann advised her, dont punish yourself, like you said you would. Dont be like me, Liesel.

The girl opened the book and touched the paper. Danke schn, Frau Hermann. I can make you some coffee, if you like. Would you come in? Im home alone. My mamas next door, with Frau Holtzapfel.

Shall we use the door or the window?

Liesel suspected it was the broadest smile Ilsa Hermann had allowed herself in years. I think well use the door. Its easier.

They sat in the kitchen.

Coffee mugs and bread with jam. They struggled to speak and Liesel could hear Ilsa Hermann swallow, but somehow, it was not uncomfortable. It was even nice to see the woman gently blow across the coffee to cool it.

If I ever write something and finish it, Liesel said, Ill show you.

That would be nice.

When the mayors wife left, Liesel watched her walk up Himmel Street. She watched her yellow dress and her black shoes and her porcelain legs.

At the mailbox, Rudy asked, Was that who I think it was?


Youre joking.

She gave me a present.

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 basementher 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.

Dont punish yourself, she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing.

In the night, when Mama and Papa were asleep, Liesel crept down to the basement and turned on the kerosene lamp. For the first hour, she only watched the pencil and paper. She made herself remember, and as was her habit, she did not look away.

Schreibe, she instructed herself. Write.

After more than two hours, Liesel Meminger started writing, not knowing how she was ever going to get this right. How could she ever know that someone would pick her story up and carry it with him everywhere?

No one expects these things.

They dont plan them.

She used a small paint can for a seat, a large one as a table, and Liesel stuck the pencil onto the first page. In the middle, she wrote the following.

THE BOOK THIEF a small story


Liesel Meminger


Her hand was sore by page three.

Words are so heavy, she thought, but as the night wore on, she was able to complete eleven pages.


I try to ignore it, but I know this all started with the train and the snow and my coughing brother. I stole my first book that day. It was a manual for digging graves and I stole it on my way to Himmel Street. . . .

She fell asleep down there, on a bed of drop sheets, with the paper curling at the edges, up on the taller paint can. In the morning, Mama stood above her, her chlorinated eyes questioning.

Liesel, she said, what on earth are you doing down here?

Im writing, Mama.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Rosa stomped back up the steps. Be back up in five minutes or you get the bucket treatment. Verstehst?

I understand.

Every night, Liesel made her way down to the basement. She kept the book with her at all times. For hours, she wrote, attempting each night to complete ten pages of her life. There was so much to consider, so many things in danger of being left out. Just be patient, she told herself, and with the mounting pages, the strength of her writing fist grew.

Sometimes she wrote about what was happening in the basement at the time of writing. She had just finished the moment when Papa had slapped her on the church steps and how theyd heil Hitlered together. Looking across, Hans Hubermann was packing the accordion away. Hed just played for half an hour as Liesel wrote.


Papa sat with me tonight. He brought the accordion down and sat close to where Max used to sit. I often look at his fingers and face when he plays. The accordion breathes.

There are lines on his cheeks. They look drawn on, and for some reason, when I see them,

I want to cry. It is not for any sadness or pride. I just like the way they move and change. Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.

After ten nights of writing, Munich was bombed again. Liesel was up to page 102 and was asleep in the basement. She did not hear the cuckoo or the sirens, and she was holding the book in her sleep when Papa came to wake her. Liesel, come. She took The Book Thief and each of her other books, and they fetched Frau Holtzapfel.

PAGE 175

A book floated down the Amper River. A boy jumped in, caught up to it, and held it in his right hand. He grinned. He stood waist-deep in the icy, Decemberish water. How about a kiss, Saumensch ? he said.

By the next raid, on October 2, she was finished. Only a few dozen pages remained blank and the book thief was already starting to read over what shed written. The book was divided into ten parts, all of which were given the title of books or stories and described how each affected her life.

Often, I wonder what page she was up to when I walked down Himmel Street in the dripping-tap rain, five nights later. I wonder what she was reading when the first bomb dropped from the rib cage of a plane.

Personally, I like to imagine her looking briefly at the wall, at Max Vandenburgs tightrope cloud, his dripping sun, and the figures walking toward it. Then she looks at the agonizing attempts of her paintwritten spelling. I see the Fhrer coming down the basement steps with his tied-together boxing gloves hanging casually around his neck. And the book thief reads, rereads, and rereads her last sentence, for many hours.

THE BOOK THIEF LAST LINE I have hated the words and

I have loved them,

and I hope I have made them right.

Outside, the world whistled. The rain was stained.


Almost all the words are fading now. The black book is disintegrating under the weight of my travels. Thats another reason for telling this story. What did we say earlier? Say something enough times and you never forget it. Also, I can tell you what happened after the book thiefs words had stopped, and how I came to know her story in the first place. Like this.

Picture yourself walking down Himmel Street in the dark. Your hair is getting wet and the air pressure is on the verge of drastic change. The first bomb hits Tommy Mllers apartment block. His face twitches innocently in his sleep and I kneel at his bed. Next, his sister. Kristinas feet are sticking out from under the blanket. They match the hopscotch footprints on the street. Her little toes. Their mother sleeps a few feet away. Four cigarettes sit disfigured in her ashtray, and the roofless ceiling is hot plate red. Himmel Street is burning.

The sirens began to howl.

Too late now, I whispered, for that little exercise, because everyone had been fooled, and fooled again. First up, the Allies had feigned a raid on Munich in order to strike at Stuttgart. But next, ten planes had remained. Oh, there were warnings, all right. In Molching, they came with the bombs.


Munich, Ellenberg, Johannson, Himmel. The main street + three more,

in the poorer part of town.

In the space of a few minutes, all of them were gone.

A church was chopped down.

Earth was destroyed where Max Vandenburg had stayed on his feet.

At 31 Himmel Street, Frau Holtzapfel appeared to be waiting for me in the kitchen. A broken cup was in front of her and in a last moment of awakeness, her face seemed to ask just what in the hell had taken me so long.

By contrast, Frau Diller was fast asleep. Her bulletproof glasses were shattered next to the bed. Her shop was obliterated, the counter landing across the road, and her framed photo of Hitler was taken from the wall and thrown to the floor. The man was positively mugged and beaten to a glass-shattering pulp. I stepped on him on my way out.

The Fiedlers were well organized, all in bed, all covered. Pfiffikus was hidden up to his nose.

At the Steiners, I ran my fingers through Barbaras lovely combed hair, I took the serious look from Kurts serious sleeping face, and one by one, I kissed the smaller ones good night.

Then Rudy.

Oh, crucified Christ, Rudy . . .

He lay in bed with one of his sisters. She must have kicked him or muscled her way into the majority of the bed space because he was on the very edge with his arm around her. The boy slept. His candlelit hair ignited the bed, and I picked both him and Bettina up with their souls still in the blanket. If nothing else, they died fast and they were warm. The boy from the plane, I thought. The one with the teddy bear. Where was Rudys comfort? Where was someone to alleviate this robbery of his life? Who was there to soothe him as lifes rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet?

No one.

There was only me.

And Im 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 blackpainted 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. Its his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.

Lastly, the Hubermanns.



He was tall in the bed and I could see the silver through his eyelids. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always dothe best ones. The ones who rise up and say, I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come. Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places. This one was sent out by the breath of an accordion, the odd taste of champagne in summer, and the art of promisekeeping. He lay in my arms and rested. There was an itchy lung for a last cigarette and an immense, magnetic pull toward the basement, for the girl who was his daughter and was writing a book down there that he hoped to read one day.


His soul whispered it as I carried him. But there was no Liesel in that house. Not for me, anyway.

For me, there was only a Rosa, and yes, I truly think I picked her up midsnore, for her mouth was open

and her papery pink lips were still in the act of moving. If shed seen me, Im sure she would have called me a Saukerl, though I would not have taken it badly. After reading The Book Thief, I discovered that she called everyone that. Saukerl. Saumensch. Especially the people she loved. Her elastic hair was out. It rubbed against the pillow and her wardrobe body had risen with the beating of her heart. Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving. Remember that she was the woman with the instrument strapped to her body in the long, moon-slit night. She was a Jew feeder without a question in the world on a mans first night in Molching. And she was an arm reacher, deep into a mattress, to deliver a sketchbook to a teenage girl.


I moved from street to street and came back for a single man named Schultz at the bottom of Himmel.

He couldnt hold out inside the collapsed house, and I was carrying his soul up Himmel Street when I noticed the LSE shouting and laughing.

There was a small valley in the mountain range of rubble.

The hot sky was red and turning. Pepper streaks were starting to swirl and I became curious. Yes, yes, I know what I told you at the beginning. Usually my curiosity leads to the dreaded witnessing of some kind of human outcry, but on this occasion, I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.

When they pulled her out, its true that she started to wail and scream for Hans Hubermann. The men of the LSE attempted to keep her in their powdery arms, but the book thief managed to break away. Desperate humans often seem able to do this.

She did not know where she was running, for Himmel Street no longer existed. Everything was new and apocalyptic. Why was the sky red? How could it be snowing? And why did the snowflakes burn her arms?

Liesel slowed to a staggering walk and concentrated up ahead.

Wheres Frau Dillers? she thought. Wheres

She wandered a short while longer until the man who found her took her arm and kept talking. Youre just in shock, my girl. Its just shock; youre going to be fine.

Whats happened? Liesel asked. Is this still Himmel Street?

Yes. The man had disappointed eyes. What had he seen these past few years? This is Himmel. You got