Study Guide

The Book Thief Chapter 16

By Markus Zusak

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Chapter 16

Dead Letters

  • First, we jump briefly ahead to September of 1943. In the Hubermann basement. Liesel is writing in a black book.
  • Hans is with her, and he has his accordion.
  • He confesses to Liesel that he almost answered her mother's letters himself.
  • Now, back to 1940.
  • January and February pass, and Liesel doesn't hear back from her mother.
  • Hans is in obvious pain during Liesel's daily trips to the empty mailbox.
  • To make matters worse, another washing customer is lost.
  • Rosa is in a fury. Liesel is in the basement writing another letter to her mother. She's written five, but only sent the first one. She can hear Rosa wailing.
  • When Liesel turns eleven in the middle of February, Mama and Papa can't afford to buy her anything, and Papa doesn't have any tobacco to trade.
  • Mama is mad at him for not holding back one of the Christmas books so they could give it to her now.
  • He apologizes profusely.
  • Liesel doesn't get upset or anything.
  • But, she decides to take some of the money she'll collect for Rosa and use it to mail the five letters to her mother.
  • Three days after her birthday, she puts her plan into action.
  • When Rosa questions her about the money, Liesel first blames a customer and then confesses to taking the money.
  • Without waiting for the explanation, Rosa begins beating her severely with the wooden spoon.
  • After the beating, Liesel tells Rosa what she did with the money.
  • Then, Liesel realizes the truth of the matter, "she would never see her [mother] again" (16.20).
  • This is like getting another beating.
  • Rosa says, "I'm sorry, Liesel" (16.22).
  • As Liesel knows, Rosa is sorry about Liesel's mother, not about beating Liesel.
  • Liesel, covered with red marks, lies on the floor. When Hans comes and plays the accordion an hour later, she begins "to recover" (16.27).
  • Later on, Liesel will write about it and she won't be mad at Rosa, or at her mother. She will understand that they are "only victims of circumstance" (16.28).
  • On Hitler's birthday, Liesel will learn why her mother hasn't answered.
  • Liesel will be "ready" (16.36) to give Hitler a "Happy birthday," book thief-style.

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