Summary Part Nine: The Last Human Stranger
Summary of “The Next Temptation” and “The Cardplayer”
Ilsa Hermann leaves cookies for the book thief this time, and Liesel hands them to Rudy out of the window, while she takes the book The Last Human Stranger. Ilsa stands in the library now and chats with Liesel. Liesel finally understands this is Ilsa's library, and that pleases her.
The next scene switches to Hans and his men at Essen as they play cards. Reinhold Zucker is angry at Hans when he loses to him, and this anger will make sure he switches seats in the truck with Hans and get blown up instead of Hans. Death enjoys the ironies of how men die.
Commentary on “The Next Temptation” and “The Cardplayer”
Death shows that everyone will die, but there often seems to be irony in how it happens. Hans is generous and somehow survives two wars, only to die in his bed when Molching is bombed. Reinhold Zucker is petty-minded and contributes to his own early death. The growing friendship of Liesel and Ilsa will be a help in the future as well as in the present, and Liesel is learning to revise her opinions of others. Ilsa wears a swastika on her bathrobe, but she secretly supports Liesel's subversive book stealing. The titles of the books Liesel steals are fictitious but symbolically relevant to what she experiences. “The Last Human Stranger” might refer to the fact that Ilsa is no longer a stranger, some distant authority figure, but a friend. She stops seeing herself and Ilsa as victims.
Summary of “The Snows of Stalingrad” and “The Ageless Brother”
When Liesel goes to Frau Holtzapfel's house in January of 1943, one of her sons, Michael, is back from the war. His hand is bandaged and bleeding. He explains it happened at Stalingrad. His mother has just had a shock to learn her other son, also in Stalingrad, is dead. Michael watched his brother Robert die after his legs were blown off. Michael tells Rosa that her son, Hans, Jr. is also in Stalingrad, a fact she did not know. Liesel returns the cookie plate to Ilsa.
Commentary on “The Snows of Stalingrad” and “The Ageless Brother”
These scenes concern the death of brothers, and the probable death of Rosa's son as well, for he is in Stalingrad. Stalingrad was the worst battle of the war (August 23, 1942–February 2, 1943), and its turning point, since the Germans lost and never had another victory after that. Hitler would not allow his men to retreat, causing 200,000 of them to die needlessly.
Liesel tends to see a ghostly vision of her six-year-old brother Werner whenever she makes a decision. He becomes her good angel. He approves that she returns the cookie plate to Ilsa, a sign of relationship instead of theft.
Summary of “The Accident” and “The Bitter Taste of Questions”
At Essen, Zucker rudely changes place with Hans in the truck. The driver of the truck loses control on the road, and it rolls. Zucker dies of a broken neck, and Hans gets a broken leg, which means he is out of the war and has to go home. Rosa and Liesel are happy to see him alive, but Rudy has questions in his eyes. Why can't his papa come home?
Commentary on “The Accident” and “The Bitter Taste of Questions”
The incident raises the question of whether the universe is run by fate, by accident, or purpose? Death does not know himself why he picks up this soul and not that one. Certainly war mixes everything up, for many, especially the young, seem to die before their time.
Summary of “One Toolbox, One Bleeder, One Bear” and “Homecoming”
Liesel sees one day that Rudy is very angry and has a toolbox with him, containing thieving tools. His father's absence and the war is making Rudy want to take action. He tells Liesel she is not a thief because Ilsa lets her in and gives her cookies. The army is the thief that takes fathers. He shows his toolbox to her with tools and one teddy bear. As they walk, she watches his resolve to steal melt away. He had been on the way to the rich Nazi part of town.
During an air raid, Frau Holtzapfel is so depressed she will not move out of her house to the shelter. Her son feels guilty because he leaves her to the cellar: “Why do I want to live? I shouldn't want to, but I do” (p. 487). During the bombing of Munich on March 9 and 10, a lone enemy plane crashes by the Amper River in Molching. All the people go down to see a pilot dying sitting in the cockpit of the smoking plane. Death comes for the pilot and knows that Liesel is aware of him. Rudy places his teddy bear next to the pilot. Hans comes home from the war, and Liesel is very happy for the next three months.
Commentary on “One Toolbox, One Bleeder, One Bear” and “Homecoming”
Even Death is impressed with Rudy's humanity. Rudy who is angry one minute at Hitler and the war, can give comfort to an enemy pilot as he dies. Death says that he cannot understand how humans can be both ugly and beautiful at the same time.