The Book Thief Chapter 38 Summary
The Gamblers (A Seven-Sided Die)
- Now Death knows it's rude to spoil the ending, but doesn't have any interest in "building mystery" (38.1). Death prefers to let the facts be known in advance, and show us the interesting things – the characters' journeys on the way to that end.
- The first thing Death will explain is why The Whistler is "floating down the Amper River in the time leading up to Christmas, 1941" (38.4).
- Death now introduces the gambling analogy: "It started with gambling. Roll a die by hiding a Jew and this is how you live" (38.7).
- (As you can see if you are following along in your book (like you should be!), each section of this chapter begins with a picture of a roll of the die, beginning at one and ending at seven, in order.)
Section 1. The Haircut: Mid-April, 1941
- Things seem a little more normal around the Hubermann house.
- Rosa and Hans are back to their loud arguing ways, and Liesel is back to watching them.
- They are getting vocal because Max has asked Hans if Rosa might be able to trim his hair.
- She's making a big fuss because she can't find the scissors.
- After a moment, Max comes on the scene, with his own rusty scissors (the ones that Walter Kugler gave him) and asks if Liesel can cut his hair.
- She cuts it as best she can and then burns the little hairs in the fireplace.
- Max thanks her. Death says, "His voice [is] tall and husky, with the sound in it of a hidden smile" (38.28).
- Then he goes back to the basement.
Section 2. The Newspaper: Early May
- As Liesel sits on the floor of the mayor's library reading The Whistler she imagines telling the mayor's wife, "There's a Jew in my basement" (38.32).
- Instead, she tells her she needs to go home.
- Ilsa offers her The Whistler, but Liesel declines.
- It's raining as Liesel runs home, checking each and every garbage can along the way.
- She finds a newspaper!
- It always makes her feel great to find any kind of reading material, especially if she finds one with the crossword puzzle still blank.
- Max loves the crossword puzzles and the newspapers.
- Now that it's warmer, Max stays down in the basement.
- Liesel often sits with him, both of them quietly reading.
- Sometimes Max quizzes her on words, and she paints them on the wall, practicing.
- At night, she thinks of him sleeping with all his shoes and clothes on. He might have to run again at any moment.
Section 3. The Weatherman: Mid-May
- Liesel has a big soccer victory and burst into the basement to tell Max all about it.
- He asks her to tell him what the sky looks like.
- She goes upstairs, goes outside, observes the sky, and reports back.
- She tells Max, "The sky is blue today […] and there is a big long cloud and it's stretched out like a rope. At the end of it, the sun is like a yellow hole…" (38.67).
- Max paints a picture of himself and Liesel, walking on the cloud toward the sun.
Section 4. The Boxer: End of May
- Time passes painfully for Max in the basement.
- Hans comes down a minimum of one time every day, and sometimes Rosa brings him some extra bread.
- But, Liesel, with her daily weather observations, is who makes Max feel the joy of life.
- When he's all by himself, he feels like he's fading away, disappearing to nothing.
- So, he begins working out, doing push-ups and sit-ups.
- Then he imagines he's boxing Hitler.
- He imagines the Nazi referee telling him he better be careful, boxing with Hitler.
- Hitler beats him bloody, and the crowd cheers as he goes down.
- But Max gets back up and manages to punch Hitler six times in the moustache and one more time in the chin.
- Hitler falls to his knees.
- The crowd is silent.
- Hitler takes off his gloves.
- Then he begins talking to the crowd. He says that this fight proves how dangerous the Jews are.
- Hitler invites the crowd into the ring to help him beat up Max.
- They do it. Death says that, "In the basement of 33 Himmel Street, Max Vandenburg could feel the fists of an entire nation" (38.112).
- Now Liesel climbs into the ring, crying, handing Max the crossword puzzle to work.
- And then the darkness of the basement overtakes Max once again.
Section 5. The New Dream: A Few Nights Later
- When Liesel comes down to the basement several days later, Max tells her about his dream of boxing Hitler.
- She wants to know who wins, and he tells her that he does.
Section 6. The Painters: Early June
- Max removes all the pages from Hitler's book, paints over the words, and then hangs the pages all over the basement to dry. Later, he can put them back between the book's covers.
- Liesel, Hans, and even Rosa help with the job.
- As Liesel paints, she imagines Max fighting Hitler in a boxing ring.
- In several months, Max will paint over the cover of Mien Kampf.
- One of the pieces he will complete will be called The Word Shaker. So, The Word Shaker becomes the title of the book, too.
Section 7. The Showdown: June 24
- The die is rolled to seven. It is, "Two days after Germany invaded Russia. Three days before Britain and Russia join forces" (38.143).
- Rolling a seven means getting in trouble for hiding a Jewish person in your basement.
- When Liesel has had some time to reflect, when she writes her story in the basement, she realizes that losing the mayor's wife as a customer has nothing to do with hiding Max.
- At the time of the loss, though, it definitely feels connected.
- About a week before this happens, Liesel snags a newspaper for Max.
- Back in the basement, Max shows her the picture on the front of the paper and asks if this is the mayor whose library she visits.
- She says that it is.
- In the article, the Mayor is quoted as saying that things will get even more difficult in Molching, due to the progress of the war.
- A week later, after Liesel has read an installment of The Whistler in the mayor's library, Ilsa Hermann forces Liesel to take The Whistler with her, and then gives her the bad news in the form of a letter for Rosa. She apologizes.
- Liesel feels betrayed, and doesn't know how to tell Rosa that this last bit of money will be gone.
- Liesel sits on the steps and reads the letter firing Rosa.
- As she walks home, she gets mad.
- She walks back to the mayor's house and bangs on the door.
- Ilsa answers, obviously surprised.
- Liesel beats her up with words.
- She tells her it's ridiculous that she is still grieving for the son she lost over twenty-years ago. She tells her to get over it; other people are suffering, too.
- Now, her brother Werner appears next to her and tells her to stop what she's doing.
- She can't quite manage to stop though.
- She gives back The Whistler.
- Ilsa looks crushed and is about to apologize.
- Liesel wants Ilsa to hit her.
- But she doesn't. Ilsa just goes back in the house.
- After reading the letter again, Liesel crunches it up and throws it at the steps.
- She goes home to Rosa and tells Rosa she got them fired by insulting the mayor's wife.
- She brings Rosa the wooden spoons, ready for the beating.
- Rosa doesn't believe her and doesn't beat her.
- On the way to her room, she hears the jar of spoons crash to the floor of the kitchen.
- In the basement, she asks Max to teach her to do push-ups.
- Reading that night, Hans can tell that something is up with Liesel.
- Later, she tells him that she's afraid she's "going to hell" (37.220).
- She kisses his cheek, and he tells her that she is not going to hell.
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