Little Willow [userpic]

Interview: Markus Zusak

June 4th, 2006 (07:47 pm)
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"It's just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery . . . . "

As soon as I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I knew two things:

1) I had a new addition to my list of favorite books.
2) I wanted to re-read the book from cover to cover right then and there.

It takes a mighty fine book to make my list of favorites. The last time I added a book to it was over two years ago.

Needless to say, when I was given the opportunity to interview Markus Zusak, I jumped at the chance. Here now is the interview in full, which was made possible by Flamingnet and Random House. Thank you to everyone involved.

What inspired The Book Thief?

It was a lot like finding a tap that's never been switched on before and turning it on... When I was growing up, my mum and dad told me stories about growing up in Nazi Germany - about a teenage boy who gave a starving Jewish man a piece of bread, of fiery skies and of people who didn't want to fly the Nazi flag. That world came rushing out of the tap. It was all at my feet, but then I had to organize it and turn it all into an imaginative piece of work. Fragments needed to be joined and I searched for the originality that would create not only a story but a style that was compelling for me to write.

What did you plan first: Liesel's story or Death's role as narrator? Do you think that Death is more or less a reliable narrator?

Liesel's story was always first. I used Death on the first draft, then switched to first, then third person. Liesel was the constant. Trusting myself with Death as narrator was more of a struggle. Only when I realised that he should be afraid of humans and haunted by all that we do to each other did I know that I had the right voice for the story.

As far as Death being a reliable narrator, I never doubted that he was telling the truth. I think he was always earnest, about himself and about the story he was telling to see if humans are worth their existence.

Throughout the book, both Death's comments and the section titles give away hints about what is to come. Death even notes this and somewhat apologizes for it, but admits his impatience. Do you think knowing some of the story in advance lends to the experience and the anticipation?

People have commented that despite Death giving things away, the moments they knew about still came to them with the same impact. I deliberately made Death let the plot out of the bag. It lends to the idea of his knowingness, and that he is not human. He does not function exactly how a human would in his story-telling. I wanted him to subvert the rules a little. That's also why he refers to the clouds, the trees and the sky as if they are colleagues (for example, '...the trees who stood over to the left...'

There was also the idea that knowing what would happen in advance might soften the blow, and it's also a challenge to myself. Will people read on even if they what is going to happen? Also, I think some things can have more impact if they are delivered early. Rudy, for example. It was a gut feeling to divulge what would happen to him at the end in Part Five. As a writer (and hopefully for readers), it hit me in the stomach more at that point. A shock before the real shock.

While asking the previous question, I realized that the first-person narrative of Death exempted him - her - it from ever labelling itself with a gender, and that it was me who automatically typed "him." Is Death genderless in this story? If so, was that a conscious choice?

I hope I'm not being sexist, but I ended up going with Death being male, I think. That was how I imagined it. Still, I think it's different for everyone. If people want to refer to Death as she or it instead throughout the story, that's fine with me.

Within THE BOOK THIEF, there are many authors, one of which is a young Jewish man named Max. Who illustrated Max's stories?

Trudy White did the illustrations. She is a superb illustrator here in Australia and I was lucky to become friends with her very early on when my first book came out. I knew when I was writing The Book Thief that her work was perfect for what Max would create.

Many of your books involve fisticuffs. FIGHTING RUBEN WOLFE and its sequel, GETTING THE GIRL, revolve around boxing. I AM THE MESSENGER starts with a bank robbery - and the first of many brushes with violence and heroism. THE BOOK THIEF has the brutality of war and religious persecution, Max's fistfights, and Liesel's schoolyard fights and football (soccer, in the American edition) games. Are you a boxer? An athlete? Were you a schoolyard fistfighter?

I'm actually a pacifist! I had many boxing matches with my brother in the backyard when we were younger, and I guess while other people abhor boxing for its brutality, I also have to admire anyone who climbs into the ring to face up to what could be the ultimate defeat. A defeat in any sport is difficult, but when you measure it against a crushing defeat in boxing, it is nowhere near as devastating.

As far as being an athlete goes, I grew up playing Rugby here in Australia, and I find sport a good release as well as a good source for writing. These days I surf - but only when the waves aren't too big...

What do you want to say about THE BOOK THIEF? What do you hope to say by writing THE BOOK THIEF?

I can really only say this: No matter what anyone says - whether they love the book or hate it - I know it's the best I could do. I don't know if I'll ever be able to write a better book than that. It's everything I've got, that book. All my other books are like a small piece of me, but this book is every piece.

What is The Book Thief attempting to say? I set out to write a personal story and I found myself discovering the power of words, the ugly and beauty in humans, and just simply the idea that we all have the ability to create a story amongst the chaos that surrounds us. I didn't set out to discover those things - it just happened because of the story itself.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I'm working on relaxing! My wife and I are expecting a baby girl in mid-June and we're excited, nervous and everything in between.

In terms of writing, the book I plan to write next is called Bridge of Clay. It's an idea I've had for the last ten years, and I hope that I'm finally ready to write it.

Finally: What are your ten favorite books?

I've been inspired by so many, but if it's okay, I will mention only three, because they're the ones I really can't split as my ultimate favourites:

1. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (Peter Hedges)

2. My Brother Jack (an Australian classic by George Johnston)

3. The Half Brother (Lars Saabye Christensen - a Norwegian writer)

4. Okay, one more - Slaughterhouse-5 (so famous that it feels ridiculous to say that Kurt Vonnegut is the author)

Comments

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 5th, 2006 07:14 pm (UTC)

I was totally enthralled with this book. Couldn't put it down. Zusak's molded the character's in this book so well. I cried at the end and that says a lot for a book to make me cry.

kimsbookblog.blogspot.com

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 5th, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC)

I agree on all counts. I rarely cry at movies, watching TV, or reading books. This book got me teared up towards the end.

I will visit your website later today.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 5th, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)

Hello! I just found your journal and I think it is fabulous!! Could you say a little more exactly about what the Book Thief is?? Also, could you post a list of your "favourite books" [that you mentioned today].

Thanks. By the way, an entry a long while back about Amazing Grace was really good. That book is amazing. Do you have any recommendations that are like it?

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 5th, 2006 09:37 pm (UTC)

You are welcome. Thank you for the kind words.

Please check this entry later tonight. I will add the book summary. I will also post my list of favorite books. Visit this journal again in six hours or so.

For more books like Amazing Grace, check my booklist post entitled But I Don't Want to Be Famous!

So glad that you liked it. Oh, maybe I'll make a booklist consisting solely of books with the word Grace in the title. There are some great titles out there. :)

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 6th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)
believe

I have added the book summary. An obligation took my time tonight otherwise, so raincheck those booklists until tomorrow.

Posted by: Sarah Darer Littman (saraclaradara)
Posted at: June 5th, 2006 09:26 pm (UTC)
I LOVED that book!

It's definitely on my top 10 favorite books list.

Brilliant. And Markus Zusak is dreamy as well as being a fantastic writer. *sighs*

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 5th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
Re: I LOVED that book!

Did you need me to catch you as you swoon? ;-) It's fantastic. I am the Messenger was great. It was thought-provoking, as was The Book Thief, but in a wholly different way.

Posted by: L.K. Madigan (lkmadigan)
Posted at: June 6th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
books

Terrific job, slayground! (I came over from literaticat.

I posted an entry on my blog a few weeks ago about The Book Thief. It's one of the most powerful books I've ever read.

When Zusak says, "I don't know if I'll ever be able to write a better book than that. It's everything I've got, that book. All my other books are like a small piece of me, but this book is every piece," I feel so proud of him. There's no doubt in my mind that his book will live in literary history.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 6th, 2006 02:31 am (UTC)

His answers and reactions were so honest and humble.

I also love that he brings up his family before his next book. The man has his priorities in order.

Thanks! Nice to meet you!

Posted by: Lisa Yee (lisayee)
Posted at: June 6th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)

I LOVED The Book Thief!

Great interview. Great author. Markus is amazing. And not too hard on the eyes, either.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 6th, 2006 04:36 am (UTC)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a fabulous piece of historical fiction that needs to be praised from the rooftops, shared in homes and book groups, and taught in classrooms.

(I have to put that in my review. Thanks.)

Another little bit I love: The cover is RIGHT. Always a huge plus in my book. No pun intended.

Posted by: queen_of_ocd (queen_of_ocd)
Posted at: June 7th, 2006 01:07 am (UTC)

The Book Thief's ending made me cry for 45 minutes, so it had to be added to my favorites list.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 7th, 2006 01:17 am (UTC)

Wow.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 12th, 2007 12:27 pm (UTC)
Contact Markus Zusak


is there any way to send him a letter?

does anyone know about that? And it feels so stupid to ask.

Don't think that I'm one of those Fanmail Kids. I don't like the thought of being 'fan'atic about something, anything.

I'm a German girl, living in Australia at the moment and when I first read the Title 'The Book Thief' I was hypnotised -when I first read the backside and what it was supposed to be about I was nearly putting it back into the shelf: Nazi Germany. Bitte nicht schon wieder. Not another one -can't they finally come up with something new. But I was willing to give this title a second chance and read the first page. -Actualy the first words were enough and the decision was long made.

Why am I writing all this? Maybe to get your sympathy -the sympathy of those who know (if) how to contact the author -and don't get me wrong and think that I know why I want to do that. I don't

a book thief -

mosquitonest@hotmail.com

---------------
don't save anything for a special oportunity. being alive is one.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: March 13th, 2007 01:13 am (UTC)
Re: Contact Markus Zusak

http://www.MarkusZusak.com has a Q&A in which the following email address is listed:

writetozusak@hotmail.com

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 22nd, 2007 01:54 pm (UTC)
markus zusak

I'm braziliam. I am in Brazil, state Mato Grosso city Sinop. I'm reading book The thief book and I'm love the write, he is very handsome and fantastic write. I would like knew one day. This is my dream.

Edinalva Socreppa - Brazilian girl
Edisocreppa@bol.com.br

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 22nd, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
Re: markus zusak

Nice to meet you.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 29th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
i love this book.

i'm afraid to read something else because nothing, NOTHING, can compare to the emotional impact, or the characters, or the story, or the memories i've taken from this. after you've read the book thief...how can you read anything else?

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: April 29th, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)
Re: i love this book.

It's a beautiful story, bound only by the covers, unbound in the imagination.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 6th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
The Book Thief

This book changed my life. This author is amazing, and I love all of his works. All the details and figurative language. It's truly 'a gem on every page.' Thanks for posting this interview. It helped me learn more about the man who changed my life.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 6th, 2008 02:15 am (UTC)
Re: The Book Thief

It is a powerful story, I agree.

Posted by: cobyvlierbes (cobyvlierbes)
Posted at: June 13th, 2008 09:30 am (UTC)

I loved the Book Thief! In fact, I love it so much that I am now writing my dissertation on it.
However, I would like to quote your interview, but would like to know your real name so that I can make reference to it instead of adding slayground to the quote. Would you mind to let me know?

Thanks in advance,

Petra

Amsterdam

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 13th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)

Best wishes with your dissertation. May I read it upon completion? Will it be available online? This blog is called Bildungsroman, and you may call me Allie.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: August 15th, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)
the book thief

honestly, i think the book thief was terrible. many of you will disagree with me and many will agree. But for me it was so hard to read it because i had no interest in it whatsoever

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: August 16th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC)
Re: the book thief

As they say, "One man's junk is another man's treasure." In that same respect, one person's favorite book is another's least favorite, and so on!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 9th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC)
BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ

I heard that they will be making a movie out of The Book Thief! Do you know when the release date is? I'm excited to see the movie, but they better not ruin the book with it. But no matter what the book will always be better :)

Thanks!

<3 Max Vandenburg <3

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 9th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)
Re: BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ

Hi there! As far as I know, the movie is still in the early stages of development.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: July 17th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
contact of markus suzak

Hello!
i'm a graphic design student, and i'm finishing my graduation, i wan't make a work for end my graduation about "the book thief"'s design. i would like interview, or talk with markus suzak. should you give me any email, or contact that i can communicate with him?

thank you for your time, and sorry about the english, i'm a brazillian girl, and my english isn't very good.

if you can aswer my question for the e-mail crisehn@hotmail.com , i will aprecciatte.

thanks again.

thais sehn

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: July 17th, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC)
Re: contact of markus suzak

Hi there! I don't have any direct contact information for Markus Zusak. You might try to email the publisher of The Book Thief: knopfpublicity@randomhouse.com Good luck!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: August 14th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
hansen2@mchsi.com

well Markus Zusak, I'm 56, american, christian woman that reads atleast a book a week. More often than not, I get about 100 pages in and toss it. The Book Thief had me blubbering like a baby in my gazebo on a gorgeous summer day. When I began the book i thought" a little strange-don't know if it'll grab me" , however, it grabbed me. a beautifully written book, I was fully into the characters and I was able to identify them through the people that I have known in my life-so very human. From your pictures, you look like a young man and I can only say that you are wise beyond your years- an old soul. Keep writing and keep teaching. Kathy Hansen

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: August 14th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Re: hansen2@mchsi.com

Thanks for commenting, Kathy!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 4th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)
Brilliant

I'm a physician in the USA and I read 2 -3 books a week. I have never written back to any author. The Book Thief was truly a magnificent tale - The best 5 books I've ever read - extremely touching and honest. Mr. Zusak has an exceptional ability to relate with his readers. Well done!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: October 4th, 2009 06:41 am (UTC)
Re: Brilliant

Excellent.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: February 23rd, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)

I go to Xavier High School in New York, my english teacher first made me read this book and i wasn't really crazy about it because she usually makes us read some boring books I'm not really a fan of. So i was a little shakey at reading this at first. But once i got past the first chapter i couldn't put it down. I finished the book within 3 days. About two weeks before i was supposed to finish it.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: February 24th, 2010 02:15 am (UTC)

That's wonderful! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: August 30th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
LOVE THE BOOK THEIF!!!1

OH MY GOD I ACTUALLY GOT TEARED UP READING THIS BOOK.I CAN NOT RELATE TO IT, BUT IT IS SSSOOO TOUCHING.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: August 31st, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)
Re: LOVE THE BOOK THEIF!!!1

It's an amazing book.

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