Summary Part Five: The Whistler
Summary of “The Floating Book (Part I) and “The Gamblers (A Seven-Sided Die)”
Death shows a scene of Rudy jumping into the Amper River in December to save Liesel's book that is floating downstream. When he brings it to her he asks her for a kiss for a reward. Death comments that Rudy did not deserve to die the way he did, looking forward to his death in two more years. He had so much life in him. He foresees that Liesel will finally kiss him on the lips when he is dead.
Death apologizes for giving away the plot ahead of time. He claims he does not like mysteries. It is how things get there that interest him. He is going to go through the steps of how the book was floating downstream. First, Liesel gave Max a haircut. Then, she was tempted to announce to the mayor's wife, “We have a Jew in the basement.” She does not say it, but the secret weighs heavily on her. Frau Hermann offers to give Liesel some books to take home, but Liesel only takes what she needs. Liesel takes old newspapers to Max so he can do the crossword puzzle. They paint words on the basement wall so Liesel can learn them.
Max begins doing push-ups and imagining a boxing match with Hitler. In his imaginary fight, he feels the hatred of the whole country against him. He prepares pages for a new book he is going to write for Liesel.
When the mayor and his wife cancel their washing job with Rosa, Liesel feels it is punishment for hiding a Jew. The mayor's wife insists that Liesel take a book, The Whistler, that she has been reading. Liesel is mad at the mayor's wealth while they starve. She yells at the mayor's wife for trying to buy her off with a book and throws it at her.
Commentary on “The Floating Book (Part I) and “The Gamblers (A Seven-Sided Die)”
The author starts with an incident: this time the book floating in the river, and then takes several chapters to build up to it to reveal its significance to the characters. He focuses on the pressures on Max and Liesel. Max has to rally himself from depression with his imaginary boxing with Hitler. Liesel finds it hard to keep a secret and feels they are being punished for hiding a Jew. The pressure breaks when the mayor cancels the laundry job. Liesel cannot contain her anger. She now learns the negative power of words when she yells at the mayor's wife. She imagines the ghost of her brother begging her to stop, and she imagines blood pouring out of wounds on the mayor's wife where the words cut her. Time is heavy for all of them as the war grinds on.
Summary of “Rudy's Youth” and “The Losers”
Rudy and the half-deaf boy, Tommy Müller, have a hard time at the Youth Hitler Group because of Franz Deutscher, the bully leader in the group. Tommy ruins the marching because he cannot hear the orders, and when Rudy tries to defend him, Franz makes them both do push-ups in the mud. In the summer, a gang forms for stealing fruit again but with a new leader, Viktor Chemmel, a bully who wants power. Viktor is not poor like the other kids. He has an itch to lead.
Commentary on “Rudy's Youth” and “The Losers”
There is an implied comparison between child bullies like Franz and Viktor and Hitler and the Nazis. Viktor like Hitler has charisma. The others wait to be told what to do, even though they are capable. The other boys hold back and let Viktor lead: “your typical teenage bullshit artist” (p. 243).
Summary of “Sketches” and “The Whistler and the Shoes”
Max makes drawings of his feelings, such as one of the Führer as a conductor with his arm up, conducting the people like sheep, and another of Max and Liesel enjoying the day on top of a mountain of dead bodies.
Rudy has been bullied all summer and now needs a victory of some kind. They decide to steal something. They go back to the mayor's house, and the library window is open. Rudy wants her to steal food, but Liesel goes back for The Whistler. Rudy gives Liesel her name, the book thief.
Commentary on “Sketches” and “The Whistler and the Shoes”
Max's drawings are political dynamite, especially the mountain of dead bodies with a sun shining a swastika down on them. Rudy and Liesel are competitive, but close, and if Rudy had lived, they might have fallen in love as Rudy's attempts to kiss her foretell. Now they are buddies who would do anything for each other. Liesel's two male friends, Max and Rudy, are rebels like she is. There is constant tension surrounding them and expectations they will be caught doing something wrong.
Summary of “Three Acts of Stupidity by Rudy Steiner”
Rudy gets caught by the grocer for stealing a potato. The grocer threatens to call the police, but a teacher at the school sticks up for him, saying Rudy is poor with eight brothers and sisters. Rudy keeps piling up failures, such as sassing Franz Deutscher in the Hitler Youth Group. Franz beats him up and cuts off part of his hair. Now Rudy skips the Hitler Youth Group meetings altogether. Rudy is finally allowed to join a different division where they build model airplanes.
Commentary on “Three Acts of Stupidity by Rudy Steiner”
Rudy is a great, honest, courageous kid who does not want to be told what to do. He stands for the honest Germans who had difficulty pretending Hitler was a hero. Rudy is fearless even as he baits Franz. He seems to be allergic to bullies.
Summary of “The Floating Book (Part II)”
Rudy finally gets his victory. As he and Liesel walk home after school they see Deutscher. They avoid him only to run into Viktor Chemmel. Viktor snatches The Whistler from Liesel's hand and throws it into the river. Rudy jumps in and retrieves the book for Liesel. Rudy wants to ask her for a kiss but does not.
Commentary on “The Floating Book (Part II)”
Rudy is always Liesel's champion and does not hesitate to jump into an icy river for her to get a book that means everything to her. Rudy knows this act puts him in a good position for a kiss, but at the last minute, he is afraid to ask. It is a very sweet scene for even as a young boy, Rudy knows the value of love and the sacredness of a kiss. His careless and outrageous ways are tamed by Liesel.