"I always had stories in my head. So I started writing them."
Markus Zusak's novels include Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting The Girl , I Am The Messenger, and The Book Thief.. He received the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year Award for I Am the Messenger. He lives in Sydney, where he "writes, occasionally works a real job, and plays on a soccer team that never wins. When asked about The Book Thief, he explains, "I wanted to write something very different than what I'd done before. The idea of a book stealer was in my head when I was writing I Am The Messenger, but it wasn't ready to be written. The original idea was set in the present in Sydney, which didn't feel quite right. Then I thought about writing of the things my parents had seen while growing up in Nazi Germany and Austria, and when I brought the ideas together, it seemed to work, especially when I thought about the importance of words in that time, and what they were able to make people believe."
In a 2006 interview with Publishers Weekly Zusak explained that the initial inspiration for The Book Thief were two stories he was told as a child. The first was of a tale his mother told of Munich being bombed. "Everything was red, like the sky was on fire. That was a memory that I could see really clearly as a child, a very visual image," he says. The second story was of a teenage boy who took pity on an emaciated Jew being forced through the streets, and offered him some bread. Both were whipped by a soldier who witnessed this act of compassion.
In his acknowledgements Zusak mentions many people but ends with "special thanks to his parents, Lisa and Helmut Zusak - for the stories we find hard to believe, for laughter, and for showing me another side."
The Book Thief was published in September 2005 in Australia to wide acclaim, and was positioned as Zusak's adult debut. In the USA, Random House have chosen to publish it as a young-adult novel, which Zusak is comfortable with saying, "For a teenage audience, it's clearly for sophisticated readers. You just hope it gets into the right person's hands, whatever their age".
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A conversation with Markus Zusak about The Book Thief
Q: What inspired you to write about a hungry, illiterate girl who has
such a desire to read that she steals books?
A: I think it's just working on a book over and over again. I heard stories of cities on fire, teenagers who were whipped for giving starving Jewish people bread on their way to concentration camps, and people huddled in bomb shelters. . . . But I also had a story about a book thief set in my hometown of Sydney. I just brought the two ideas together and realized the importance of words in Nazi Germany. I thought of Hitler destroying people with words, and now I had a girl who was stealing them back, as she read books with the young Jewish man in her basement and calmed people down in the bomb shelters. She writes her own storyand it's a beautiful story through the ugliness of the world that surrounds her.
Q: How did you decide to make Death the narrator of the book?
A: With great difficulty! I thought, "Here's a book set during war. Everyone says war and death are best friends." Death is ever-present during war, so here was the perfect choice to narrate The Book Thief. At first, though, Death was too mean. He was ...
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