Gentle, generous, kind and patient, The Book Thief‘s Hans Huberman might just be the ultimate top pop. Always there when Liesel needs him and boasting true strength of character, Hans is always found doing the right thing. Read an extract from Markus Zuzak’s best selling novel on the father figure with a fondness for the accordion.
Those first few months were definitely the hardest.
Every night, Liesel would nightmare.
Her brother’s face.
Staring at the floor of the train.
She would wake up swimming in her bed, screaming, and drowning in the flood of sheets. On the other side of the room, the bed that was meant for her brother floated boat-like in the darkness. Slowly, with the arrival of consciousness, it sank, seemingly into the floor. This vision didn’t help matters, and it would usually be quite a while before the screaming stopped.
Possibly the only good to come out of those nightmares was that it brought Hans Hubermann, her new papa, into the room, to soothe her, to love her.
He came in every night and sat with her. The first couple of times he simply stayed—a stranger to kill the aloneness. A few nights after that, he whispered, ‘Shh, I’m here, it’s all right.’ After three weeks, he held her. Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness. The girl knew from the outset that he’d always appear mid-scream, and he would not leave.
~ A Definition Not Found in the Dictionary ~
Not-leaving: An act of trust and love, often deciphered by children.
Hans Hubermann would sit sleepy-eyed on the bed as Liesel cried into his sleeves and breathed him in. Every morning, just after two o’clock, she fell asleep again to the smell of him: a mixture of dead cigarettes, decades of paint, and human skin. When morning came in earnest, he was a couple of metres away from her, crumpled, almost halved, in the chair. He never used the other bed. Liesel would climb out and cautiously kiss his cheek and he would wake up and smile.
Some days, Papa told her to get back into bed and wait a minute, and he would return with his accordion and play for her. Liesel would sit up and hum, her cold toes clenched with excitement. No-one had ever given her music before. She would grin herself stupid, watching the lines drawing themselves down his face, and the soft metal of his eyes—until the swearing arrived from the kitchen.
‘STOP THAT NOISE, SAUKERL!’
Papa would play a little longer.
He would wink at the girl and, clumsily, she’d wink back.
A few times, purely to incense Mama even further, he also brought the instrument to the kitchen and played through breakfast.
Papa’s bread and jam would be half-eaten on his plate, curled into the shape of bite marks, and the music would look Liesel into the face. I know it sounds strange, but that’s how it felt to her. Papa’s right hand strolled the tooth-coloured keys. His left hit the buttons. (She especially loved to see him hit the silver, sparkled one—the C major.) The accordion’s scratched yet shiny black exterior came back and forth as his arms squeezed the dusty bellows, making it suck in the air and throw it back out. In the kitchen on those mornings, Papa made the accordion live. I guess it makes sense, when you really think about it.
How do you tell if something’s alive?
You check for breathing.
This Father’s Day make your number one dad feel like he’s top of your chart by taking our pop quiz and discover which literary papa is most like your old man – and most importantly, what book will really be a hit with him! Just visit the Penguin UK Books Facebook page to take the quiz.