Internationally acclaimed author Markus Zusak was born June 23, 1975. His mother, of German descent, and his father, of Austrian descent, inspired his writing in ways that only parents who have witnessed some of humanity’s greatest crimes can.
Growing up, Zusak was introduced to the world of stories that his parents told him about the cruel reality of Nazi Germany. His writing of The Book Thief was a result of one of the experiences that his mother shared with him as a child. Seeing that Zusak has such admirable parents, it isn’t hard to imagine why he has become that success that he now enjoys.
Zusak’s father, a house-painter, inspired the first yearning for a career in young Markus. As a teenager, Zusak would go along with his father to jobs to try out house-painting, but thankfully he did not follow this path. Having made so many mistakes while aiding his father, Zusak found that not only was he not talented in the art of house-painting, but that he found it increasingly boring. It wasn’t for a few years after this dream was forfeited that Zusak began the arduous task of being a writer.
Now living in Sydney, Markus Zusak enjoys the fruits of his success. He surfs to escape from the demands of his writing career, and watches the same films continuously when in a writing rut. But Zusak isn’t just any writer, he is a writer with many stories to tell.
During the time of Nazi Germany, Zusak’s mother witnessed many spectacles of human cruelty. But, Markus lets us know that not all of the stories were of a depressing nature. Some were quite empowering to hear. He states as such during an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald: “We have these images of the straight-marching lines of boys and the ‘Heil Hitlers’ and this idea that everyone in Germany was in it together. But there still were rebellious children and people who didn’t follow the rules and people who hid Jews and other people in their houses. So there’s another side to Nazi Germany.” This is important to note when reading Zusak’s The Book Thief, since it was inspired by a scene of rebellion that Zusak’s mother was a witness to.
Inspiration for The Book Thief :
Markus Zusak originally thought of creating a novel consisting of only 100 pages or so, but soon the story took a life of its own. But he wanted to do the best possible retelling of what his mother experienced during one of the darkest times of human history. In an interview with Random House books, Zusak explains what inspired him most to write his international bestseller:
“One day, there was a terrible noise coming from the main street of town, and when she ran to see it, she saw that Jewish people were being marched to Dachau, the concentration camp. At the back of the line, there was an old man, totally emaciated, who couldn’t keep up. When a teenage boy saw this, he ran inside and brought the man a piece of bread. The man fell to his knees and kissed the boy’s ankles and thanked him … Soon, a soldier noticed and walked over. He tore the bread from the man’s hands and whipped him for taking it. Then he chased the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. In one moment, there was great kindness and great cruelty, and I saw it as the perfect story of how humans are.” -Random House.
Inspiration for The Messenger:
In the same interview, Zusak explains his process behind his other successful novel, though this one is arguably more comical:
“I was sitting in a park one night eating fish and chips and saw a bank with a fifteen minute parking zone out the front, and I thought, ‘Fifteen minutes, that’s not very long — every time I go the bank it takes a lot longer than that.’ I then thought, ‘What if you were in that bank when it was being robbed and your car was out in the fifteen minute parking zone? How would you get out to move your car to avoid getting a fine?’ That gave me the bungled bank robbery scene that led to everything else in the book.” -Random House.
Even knowing all of this, one must surely ask what inspired this great author to join the legions of memorable writers of our time. His answer comes in a way that a lot of similarly successful authors have truthfully answered: he was inspired by novels he read as a teenager. He admits in his interview with Random House that “I started writing when I was sixteen” (Random House). In his response he adds that it took him seven long years of being rejected and failures before he was finally published. But about this experience he has no regrets, adding that “I’m glad those failures and rejections happened. They made me realize that what I was writing just wasn’t good enough – so I made myself improve” (Random House).
As for the books that encouraged him, Zusak gives two examples:
- Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal—a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature”
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges.
“Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband’s suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert’s long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus — in that order. But the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert’s younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself….”
On a final note, what routines does Zusak follow when creating another one of his masterpieces? He admits to having two different routines:
- The non-lazy routine: This usually consists of him getting up at 7 a.m. and working until 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. because of any distractions that may occur. He then takes a long break and continues writing into the afternoon.
- The lazy routine: Zusak uses this term when he wakes up at 10 am to work and keeps working into the later part of the afternoon.
What’s important to note about his routines however, is that when he is either beginning a text or ending one he varies his schedules. He usually works late into the night or works all night “mainly out of desperation to finally get [the book] done” (Random House).
Markus Zusak enjoys a comfortable spot being in thousands of readers’ to-read or have-read book lists. In fact, several of his novels are on my own to-be-read list. He is a successfully enchanting writer who still promises to create more and more inspiring novels over the years.
If you’re interested in anything written by Markus Zusak, feel free to browse any of the titles that I have posted below:
1. The Book Thief
“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… .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.”
2. I am the Messenger
“Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger… .
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?
Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.”
3. Underdogs (Wolfe Brothers series 1-3)
“Before THE BOOK THIEF, Markus Zusak wrote a trilogy of novels about the Wolfe Brothers: THE UNDERDOG, FIGHTING RUBEN WOLFE, and GETTING THE GIRL. Cameron and Ruben Wolfe are champions at getting into fights, coming up with half-baked schemes, and generally disappointing girls, their parents, and their much more motivated older siblings. They’re intensely loyal to each other, brothers at their best and at their very worst. But when Cameron falls head over heels for Ruben’s girlfriend, the strength of their bond is tested to its breaking point.
We’re proud to present these novels together for the first time, and to be introducing American readers to THE UNDERDOG, never before published in the United States. Fans of THE BOOK THIEF won’t want to miss reading the novels that launched Markus Zusak’s stellar career.”
4. Bridge of Clay
“It’s about a boy.
His name is Clay.
He’s building a bridge.
And he wants that bridge to be something truly great and miraculous.”
**This last addition is set to be published in September 2012**
I hope that you guys feel inspired to check out Markus Zusak’s novels after reading this post!
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