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The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief Chapter 55 Summary
The Sound of Sirens Hans buys a radio with money saved from the summer. This way, they'll hear about any air raids in advance. Yet, there's no warning on this night in September. Hans wakes Liesel. The family goes down to the basement to Max. Hans tells Max it's awful he can't go with them to the Fielders' house. The Fielders' basement is deep enough to function as a bomb shelter. Max had made them promise to go there when they discussed it weeks ago. The people of Himmel Street carry the things they care most about and hurry toward shelter. Papa (who has even left behind his accordion) sees Frau Holtzapfel carrying a big suitcase, and he helps her. (You might remember Frau Holtzapfel from earlier in the novel. She and Rosa are in a long-time feud. She spits on the Hubermann door, every time she passes it.) A total of 22 people take shelter in the Fielders' basement. In addition to the Hubermanns and Frau Holtzapfel, we have the Steiners, Pfiffikus, a young man, and the Jenson family. Rosa and Frau Holtzapfel are kept apart. Frau Holtzapfel is very afraid. Rosa is one of the most frightened people in the shelter, only a little less frightened than Frau Holtzapfel. She holds Liesel, singing quietly to her. Rudy, his parents, his brother, and his four sisters are near them. Pfiffikus isn't whistling. We are given the third word from Liesel's dictionary: " Angst – Fear" (55.38). At one point, Alex Steiner reaches out to hold the hand of his oldest son, Kurt. This sets off a chain reaction. Everybody is holding somebody else's hands, and they are all in a rough circle. Death says: The Germans in the basement were pitiable, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They had not been sent there for a shower. (55.44) (As we note in the summary of Chapter 53, "shower" was often a euphemism for "gas chamber" in concentration camps.) Liesel is holding hands with Rudy and Rosa, but thinking of Max. Not long after this, they hear three sirens, signaling the end of the air raid. The people of Himmel Street leave the Simpson's basement and head for their homes. When Rosa, Liesel, and Hans get home they immediately head for the basement. They can't find Max. He speaks, and Liesel sees that they have been looking at him, all along – "His jaded [worn, weary] face [is] camouflaged among the painting materials and fabric" (55.65). Max has a confession to make. He couldn't stop himself from creeping upstairs and peeking out the window—it's been almost two years since he's looked outside. Nobody is mad at him about it. Hans wants to know what Max saw. Max says, "There were stars. […] They burned my eyes" (55.73). Rosa lets Liesel read A Song in the Dark to Max, all night, while he works on his book. This chapter ends with a quote from Max's book: From a Himmel Street Window, […] the stars set fire to my eyes (55.78).
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