Australian author Markus Zusak's Bridge of Clay was his most ambitious book
Australian writer Markus Zusak, best known for his novels for young adults, The Book Thief and The Messenger, was on his maiden trip to the city as a part of the Australia Fest, a six-month long celebration of Australian culture and creativity. The 43-year-old author, who wrote his first novel The Underdog when he was just twenty years old, first spoke at Chennai and Mumbai on on his whirlwind India tour, before heading to the Jaipur Literary Festival. A surfer and dog lover, Zusak spoke about his most ambitious work yet, Bridge of Clay, which was released last year, and how he grows on each book. Excerpts:
What pressures did you feel while writing Bridge of Clay, to follow up on The Book Thief?
I believe you’re always being tested as a writer. When I wrote The Book Thief, the test was that I thought no one would read it, and I had to ask myself, ‘Will you still write it?’ In the case of Bridge of Clay, I knew many people would read it, and I had to ask myself again, ‘If I could write it, exactly how it needed to be written?’ It was always my most ambitious book. So it was always going to be hard.
What, according to you, made The Book Thief such a success?
Death narrating was a factor, and also the characters themselves. We can’t really know what strikes a chord with the readers, and that’s the beauty and mystery of books. We just have to write them and hope for the best.
Tell us about Bridge of Clay.
The story is about five brothers, the Dunbar boys, who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. They later discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance and one of the boys, Clay, will build a bridge for a miracle.
How much of yourself do you place into your stories?
In The Book Thief, it’s nothing and everything, because of course, I didn’t live in Germany at that time. But it’s also the memory of the stories I heard from my parents as I was growing up, which played a part. In the end, I think there’s a part of you in everything even though you haven’t lived even a moment of it.
You said in an interview that after each book, you have changed as a person. Could you explain, please?
Maybe it depends how long a book takes. I didn’t have children when I wrote my first five books, and with Bridge of Clay, the book took much longer than I originally thought. Each book changes you in some way and you hope to grow with each one.
What made you choose writing as a career, and what keeps you busy otherwise?
I just loved novels. I loved reading something that I knew wasn’t true, and believing it while I was in it. I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do with my life.’ Family is always number one, and we also have animals, and all of my days start with walking our two dogs. I also love to surf.
How has your writing changed from the first novel till now?
I’ve never ever been concerned with trends, or the age of an audience. I’ve always believed that you have to write the book you need to write – so I’ve never adapted my writing according to those sorts of concerns. I’d say my writing has just become more and more ambitious as I’ve grown as a writer.
What other projects are you working on?
For the moment, I’m just enjoying the idea of a possibility.
Any Indian authors you follow?
Recently, I read Leila by Prayaag Akbar, which felt like the beginning of a new adventure into that territory.