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bombed, my girl. Es tut mir leid, Schatzi. Im sorry, darling.

The girls mouth wandered on, even if her body was now still. She had forgotten her previous wails for Hans Hubermann. That was years agoa bombing will do that. She said, We have to get my papa, my mama. We have to get Max out of the basement. If hes not there, hes in the hallway, looking out the window. He does that sometimes when theres a raidhe doesnt get to look much at the sky, you see. I have to tell him how the weather looks now. Hell never believe me. . . .

Her body buckled at that moment and the LSE man caught her and sat her down. Well move her in a minute, he told his sergeant. The book thief looked at what was heavy and hurting in her hand.

The book.

The words.

Her fingers were bleeding, just like they had on her arrival here.

The LSE man lifted her and started to lead her away. A wooden spoon was on fire. A man walked past with a broken accordion case and Liesel could see the instrument inside. She could see its white teeth and the black notes in between. They smiled at her and triggered an alertness to her reality. We were bombed, she thought, and now she turned to the man at her side and said, Thats my papas accordion.

Again. Thats my papas accordion.

Dont worry, young girl, youre safe; just come a little farther.

But Liesel did not come.

She looked to where the man was taking the accordion and followed him. With the red sky still showering its beautiful ash, she stopped the tall LSE worker and said, Ill take that if you likeits my papas. Softly, she took it from the mans hand and began carrying it off. It was right about then that she saw the first body.

The accordion case fell from her grip. The sound of an explosion.

Frau Holtzapfel was scissored on the ground.



She turns on her heel and looks as far as she can down this ruined canal

that was once Himmel Street. She sees two men carrying a body and she follows them.

When she saw the rest of them, Liesel coughed. She listened momentarily as a man told the others that they had found one of the bodies in pieces, in one of the maple trees.

There were shocked pajamas and torn faces. It was the boys hair she saw first.


She did more than mouth the word now. Rudy?

He lay with yellow hair and closed eyes, and the book thief ran toward him and fell down. She dropped the black book. Rudy, she sobbed, wake up. . . . She grabbed him by his shirt and gave him just the slightest disbelieving shake. Wake up, Rudy, and now, as the sky went on heating and showering ash, Liesel was holding Rudy Steiners shirt by the front. Rudy, please. The tears grappled with her face. Rudy, please, wake up, Goddamn it, wake up, I love you. Come on, Rudy, come on, Jesse Owens, dont you know I love you, wake up, wake up, wake up. . . .

But nothing cared.

The rubble just climbed higher. Concrete hills with caps of red. A beautiful, tear-stomped girl, shaking the dead.

Come on, Jesse Owens

But the boy did not wake.

In disbelief, Liesel buried her head into Rudys chest. She held his limp body, trying to keep him from lolling back, until she needed to return him to the butchered ground. She did it gently.

Slow. Slow.

God, Rudy . . .

She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchists suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers. Her hands were trembling, her lips were fleshy, and she leaned in once more, this time losing control and misjudging it. Their teeth collided on the demolished world of Himmel Street.

She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding.

THE NEXT DISCOVERY The bodies of Mama and Papa, both lying tangled in the gravel

bedsheet of Himmel Street

Liesel did not run or walk or move at all. Her eyes had scoured the humans and stopped hazily when she noticed the tall man and the short, wardrobe woman. Thats my mama. Thats my papa. The words were stapled to her.

Theyre not moving, she said quietly. Theyre not moving.

Perhaps if she stood still long enough, it would be they who moved, but they remained motionless for as long as Liesel did. I realized at that moment that she was not wearing any shoes. What an odd thing to notice right then. Perhaps I was trying to avoid her face, for the book thief was truly an irretrievable mess.

She took a step and didnt want to take any more, but she did. Slowly, Liesel walked to her mama and papa and sat down between them. She held Mamas hand and began speaking to her. Remember when I came here, Mama? I clung to the gate and cried. Do you remember what you said to everyone on the street that day? Her voice wavered now. You said, What are you assholes looking at? She took Mamas hand and touched her wrist. Mama, I know that you . . . I liked when you came to school and told me Max had woken up. Did you know I saw you with Papas accordion? She tightened her grip on the hardening hand. I came and watched and you were beautiful. Goddamn it, you were so beautiful, Mama.

MANY MOMENTS OF AVOIDANCE Papa. She would not, and could not, look at Papa.

Not yet. Not now.

Papa was a man with silver eyes, not dead ones.

Papa was an accordion!

But his bellows were all empty.

Nothing went in and nothing came out.

She began to rock back and forth. A shrill, quiet, smearing note was caught somewhere in her mouth until she was finally able to turn.

To Papa.

At that point, I couldnt help it. I walked around to see her better, and from the moment I witnessed her face again, I could tell that this was who she loved the most. Her expression stroked the man on his face. It followed one of the lines down his cheek. He had sat in the washroom with her and taught her how to roll a cigarette. He gave bread to a dead man on Munich Street and told the girl to keep reading in the bomb shelter. Perhaps if he didnt, she might not have ended up writing in the basement.

Papathe accordionistand Himmel Street.

One could not exist without the other, because for Liesel, both were home. Yes, thats what Hans Hubermann was for Liesel Meminger.

She turned around and spoke to the LSE.

Please, she said, my papas 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 Papas body. Here, Papa.

And I can promise you something, because it was a thing I saw many years latera vision in the book thief herselfthat 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.

Papa stopped.

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. Ill never drink champagne. No one can play like you.

Her arms held him. She kissed his shouldershe couldnt bear to look at his face anymoreand 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. . . .

Its lucky I was there.

Then again, who am I kidding? Im in most places at least once, and in 1943, I was just about everywhere.


the last color

featuring: death and lieselsome

wooden tearsmax and the handover man


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 whats left of this story, I will not skirt around any of it, because Im tired, Im so tired, and I will tell it as straightly as I can.


I should tell you that the book thief died only yesterday.

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-fivethe same as the Fiedlers shelterand 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 Ill tell you a story.

Ill show you something.


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 theres 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 mayors house and spoke and spoketo herselfwell into the night. She ate very little. The only thing she didnt 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 didnt 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 hadnt bathed, and Ilsa Hermann asked politely if shed like to. Previously, shed 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, hed said, if only Id 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 hed 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 Rudys lips. It embarrassed her, but she thought he might have liked to know. There were wooden teardrops and an oaky smile. In Liesels 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, shes 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.