The day was gray, the colour of Europe.pg. 30:
Curtains of rain were drawn around the car.
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.pg. 44 - 45:
Each night, Liesel would step outside, wipe the door, and watch the sky. Usually it was like spillage—cold and heavy, slippery and gray—but once in a while some stars had the nerve to rise and float, if only for a few minutes. On those nights, she would stay a little longer and wait.pg. 58
For the voice from the kitchen.
Or till the stars were dragged down again, into the waters of the German sky.
Mr. Steiner was a remarkably polite man under normal circumstances. Discovering one of his children smeared charcoal black on a summer evening was not what he considered normal circumstances. “The boy is crazy,” he muttered, although he conceded that with six kids, something like this was bound to happen. At least one of them had to be a bad egg.pg. 60
Point five: Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out.
People on the street stood and watched, some with straight-armed salutes, others with hands that burned from applause. Some kept faces that were contorted by pride and rally like Frau Diller, and then there were the scatterings of odd men out, like Alex Steiner, who stood like a human-shaped block of wood, clapping slow and dutiful. And beautiful. Submission.pg. 173
As he looked uncomfortably at the human shape before him, the young man’s voice was scraped out and handed across the dark like it was all that remained of him.pg. 174
*** A SMALL BUT NOTEWORTHY NOTE ***
I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men.
They are not.
They’re running at me.
Still no one stepped forward, but a voice stooped out and ambled toward the sergeant. It sat at his feet, waiting for a good kicking. It said, “Hubermann, sir.” The voice belonged to Erik Vandenburg. He obviously thought that today wasn’t the appropriate time for his friend to die.pg.179
“This is Max,” the woman said, but the boy was too young and shy to say anything. he was skinny, with soft hair, and his thick, murky eyes watched as the stranger played one more song in the heavy room. From face to face, he looked on as the man played and the woman wept. The different notes handled her eyes. Such sadness.pg. 185
“You never told me,” he said to a dead Erik Vandenburg and the Stuttgart skyline. “You never told me you had a son.”
The darkness stroked him.pg. 189
His fingers smelled of suitcase, metal, Mein Kampf, and survival.
“When death captures me,” the boy vowed, “he will feel my fist on his face.”pg. 193
Personally, I quite like that. Such stupid gallantry.
I like that a lot.
They left, without looking back.pg. 208
It tortured him.
If only he’d turned for one last look at his family as he left the apartment. Perhaps then the guilt would not have been so heavy. No final goodbye.
No final grip of the eyes.
Nothing but goneness.
Thank you.pg. 216
For Max Vandenburg, those were the two most pitiful words he could possibly say, rivaled only by I’m sorry. There was a constant urge to speak both expressions, spurred on by the affliction of guilt.
How many times in those first few hours of awakeness did he feel like walking out of that basement and leaving the house altogether? It must have been hundreds.
Each time, though, it was only a twinge.
Which made it even worse.
He wanted to walk out—Lord, how he wanted to (or at least he wanted to want to)—but he knew he wouldn’t. It was much the same as the way he left his family in Stuttgart, under a veil of fabricated loyalty.
Living was living.
The price was guilt and shame.
For the first few weeks in front of the fire, Max remained wordless. Now that he was having a proper bath once a week, Liesel noticed that his hair was no longer a nest of twigs, but rather a collection of feathers, flopping about on his head. Still shy of the stranger, she whispered it to her papa.pg.220
“His hair is like feathers.”
“What?” The fire had distorted the words.
“I said,” she whispered again, leaning closer, “his hair is like feathers…”
Hans Hubermann looked across and nodded his agreement. I’m sure he was wishing to have eyes like the girl. They didn’t realize that Max had heard everything.
***THE SWAPPING OF NIGHTMARES***
The girl: “Tell me. What do you see when you dream like that?”
The Jew: “…I see myself turning around, and waving goodbye.”
The girl: “I also have nightmares.”
The Jew: “What do you see?”
The girl: “A train, and my dead brother.”
The Jew: Your brother?”
The girl: “He died when I moved here, on the way.”
The girl and the Jew, together: “Ja—yes .”
She walked down the basement steps. She saw an imaginary framed photo seep into the wall—a quiet-smiled secret.pg. 241
A book floated down the Amper River.pg. 242
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.
The surrounding air was a lovely, gorgeous, nauseating cold, not to mention the concrete ache of the water, thickening from his toes to his hips.
How about a kiss?
How about a kiss?
Yes, I know it.pg. 251
In the darkness of my dark-beating heart, I know. He’d have loved it, all right.
Even death has a heart.
He was twenty-four, but he could still fantasize.pg. 303
“How about a kiss, Saumensch?”pg. 307
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.
It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name a just a few. Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a vacation.pg. 309
They keep triggering inside me. They harass my memory. I see them tall in their heaps, all mounted on top of each other. There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-coloured clouds, beating like black hearts.pg. 313
There is death.
Making his way through all of it.
On the surface: unflappable, unwavering.
Below: unnerved, untied, and undone.
***CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM MAX VANDENBURG***
“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.”
pg. 321In the course of the night, Max was visited seven times.***MAX VANDENBURG’S VISITOR SCORE SHEET***Hans Hubermann: 2Rosa Hubermann: 2Liesel Meminger: 3
The feather was lovely and trapped, in the door hinges of the church on Munich Street.pg. 326
Rain like gray pencil shavings.pg. 398
Somewhere near Munich, a German Jew was making his way through the darkness. An arrangement had been made to meet Hans Hubermann in four days (that is, if he hadn’t been taken away). It was at a place far down the Amper, where a broken bridge leaned among the river and trees.
He would make it there, but he would not stay longer than a few minutes.
The only thing to be found there when Papa arrived four days later was a note under a rock, at the base of a tree. It was addressed to nobody and contained only one sentence.
***THE LAST WORDS ON MAX VANDENBURG***You’ve done enough.