Friday, October 23, 2015

Markus Zusak - author of The Book Thief - entertains a Sydney booklover crowd

No. This isn't a "Friday Favorites", "Blogger Love", or "Ten Things That Made Me Happy" post. Although, it is about a favorite author, books I love, and an event that made me happy. 

Is this the longest post I've ever written?  Maybe.  But, if you're a booklover/bookworm/booknerd then this post may (should) interest you.

Thursday, the 22nd of October, this is what I had to say on facebook:
I rarely have anything planned during the week anymore (I guess I've gotten old); the one night I have something planned, it's raining buckets.
I used to go to bars, clubs, and live music gigs. Now, I'm going to an author's Q&A and book signing. Another sign that I've gotten old? Possibly. I'm comfortable with who I am.
Who was I going to see?  Author Markus Zusak was speaking at the Sydney Jewish Museum.  Not a whole lot of information was given...just that he was speaking, doing a Q&A, and signing books.  Over 1500 people joined the event page on facebook.  The website for the Sydney Jewish Museum listed the event as SOLD OUT.  I had no idea what to expect.  My heart swelled over the story of The Book Thief, and I recently read (and loved) The Messenger as well.  So, I was excited to attend this event.

The event started at 6:30pm, and it was raining pouring in Sydney.  With my feet soaked and feeling like a humid, sweaty mess, I sat in my second row, center seat at 5:55pm.  I looked around and realized I was the 15th person there.  Where were all these people attending the event? 

Oh, they arrived, and the auditorium was packed with ... hmmmm ... I'd guess 700ish people (mostly women) by the time Markus took the podium at 6:49pm.

Markus spoke for about half an hour, took some questions for about 20 minutes or so, then ... for the first time to a public audience,  he read from the new book he is working on for another 10 minutes.

Markus is down-to-earth, charismatic, genuine, funny, humble, truly lovely, and downright adorable.  He is someone you want to be your friend or marry your sister.

The following are some highlights from the stories he told and answers he gave:
  • Born in Sydney, Markus is the youngest of four siblings with two older sisters and an older brother.
  • His mother is from a small town outside of Munich, Germany, and his father is from a town near Vienna, Austria.  They both migrated to Australia in the 1950s.
  • Markus shared family stories including tearing up his mother's gardens, playing sports with his brother, "The Zusak Alarm Clock Incident" of Christmas 1984, discipline via wooden spoons, and more.
  • Through his parents' ability as "great storytellers", he learned some of their experiences before, during, and after WWII; some of those stories become part of The Book Thief.
  • His paternal grandfather was a painter who painted homes and businesses of Jews and was ostracised for having Jewish clients, as well as refusing to join the Nazi party.  **an inspiration for a character in The Book Thief 
  • As a child, his mother witnessed people being herded to Dachau (a concentration camp near Munich and his mother's home).  A neighbor boy rushed to an emaciated man with a piece of bread.  The prisoner was crying tears of thanks.  A German soldier whipped the man for accepting the bread, chased the boy, and whipped him for giving the bread.  **another story that found its way in The Book Thief
  • He acknowledges why he thinks The Book Thief is special: the combination of "the beauty of humans" and "the great terror of humans".
  • Markus considers his family fortunate for there were other German nationals during the war or Austrians under Russian occupation after the war that suffered much harsher fates. 
  • When The Book Thief was gaining attention and success, his father asked how his sales were going in Germany.  Markus answered thinking his sales were "pretty good".  His dad nodded but replied "Ya, good, but it's no J.K. Rowling, is it?"  His dad also told him the book was "so much better in German".  Markus was like "Thanks, Dad.  Good to know the German translators are better storytellers." 
  • The character of Max was inspired during a visit to The Sydney Jewish Museum, in a book he found there about Jews that lived hidden in German citizens' homes.
  • After being asked his favorite character he's written, he replied that there are two:  "The Doorman" (the dog) from The Messenger and Rudy from The Book Thief.
  • I really should have asked him "what's up with The Messenger also being published as I Am the Messenger?" So confusing. 
  • He said that the idea of using "Death" as the narrator for The Book Thief came from a writing exercise he conducted with school children.
  • The idea of a girl stealing books was originally set in modern day Sydney ... he changed the setting and time, and the story just really worked.
  • The last line of The Book Thief "pays homage to" the last line of A River Runs through It.
  • When asked about the film adaptation of The Book Thief, this generated a lot of discussion.  He is grateful, but he admits a whole lot more money is involved in movie-making than book-writing.  He stressed that he thought the five lead characters gave fantastic performances.  He felt the film had a lot of "great intentions" but overall wasn't a "great film".  He advised to work a few scenes differently (as he did not write the screenplay) but his suggestions were knocked down.  One scene in particular, he was very passionate about (and disappointed) how it played out on screen vs. in the book.  (I won't give any spoilers - if you want to know more, we can talk via email.)  When he talked about this, I got goosebumps. 
  • Regarding his new book, he feels like he's almost over-worked it and "killed it", so he is "bringing it back alive". 
  • He admits that he second guesses himself and ignores some of his own good ideas or inspirations...that he battles his own fears and self-doubts.
  • Nothing makes him happier than writing.
  • He loved reading as a child, and as a parent, he can see in his own children that one is innately a reader and the other isn't.
  • His new book is called The Bridge of Clay and is about four brothers.
Here is my one (and only) complaint.  The book signing portion.  I arrived early and got a super duper seat.  But.  The way the room was set up, that meant that I was one of the last to leave the room, of the last in line to get my book signed.  So, I waited for 30 minutes and didn't move a step forward (because those of us at the end of the queue were all kind of crowded in a back hallway).  So, I left.  I decided his words in his books were more important to me than his signature.  And, I'm okay with that.

I don't know if I can ever go to another author's speaking engagement because this one was that good.  I can't imagine any author being more enjoyable of a person to hear personal stories and accounts of growing up and working through the writing process.  

Have you ever attended an author's event like this?  Was it just as wonderful of an experience as mine?


  1. This sounds fun! I've never been to anything like it. How cool that you got a sneak peek at what he's working on!

  2. I've never been to an event like this, errantly nobody wants to come anywhere near Kansas City for a book signing. I get it there's not much to do here. However I would really really like to go! I have to admit though I haven't read either one of these books and I knew that The Book Theif was very popular but I still haven't gotten to it yet!

  3. I am so glad that he exceeded your expectations! Sounds like it was definitely worth venturing out in the pouring rain for :)

  4. That's so awesome that some of the stories from The Book Thief are from stories that his parents told him about! I haven't seen the movie adaptation of The Book Thief yet (it's been sitting on my DVR for a while), but maybe I'll have to go in with low expectations. Overall it sounds like you had a fantastic night hearing him speak!

  5. How exciting and if you go to another book signing you'll know to grab a back seat.

  6. What an amazing night! I've never been to a book event/signing and have always wanted to. I'm so glad you had a good time. Bummer about the autograph, but I love that you had a good attitude about skipping out on it.

  7. So glad you had such a good experience. I haven't been to one before and it's a bummer you missed out on the signing but maybe at the next one.

  8. I have The Book Thief but haven't read it yet...after I read it I'm going to have to email and hear more. Specifically about the scene in the movie (even though I haven't seen that either...).

  9. I was fortunate enough to meet Lisa Gardner a few years back. She was doing a book tour to promote her most recent book at the time (Touch and Go). She was incredibly down to earth and personable. I had a great time. So very glad to hear about your experience!

  10. You lucky thing! I've not had the opportunity to hear Markus Zusak speak (sounded fantastic), but have heard many other authors do so, and wholeheartedly encourage anyone who's an avid reader to make the effort to go to a writers festival near you. Some authors are better public speakers than others (as in any field) but you always walk away with enhanced meaning from the book and/or interesting tangents to think about.

  11. oh my good lord, i would have bawled the entire time. all the feelings from that book would have come up, you know? i'm sorry you didn't get the book signed, but what an absolutely amazing experience. thank you for sharing. can't wait for his new book!

  12. i dont think i could go to something like that either but man, the book thief was one amazing book!!

  13. I wish I had been able to go with you to this because it sounds amazing and I probably would have cried a bit. Fine. A lot. I can't handle Holocaust stories without become a blubbering mess.

    I went to one with Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain). It was so, so good. And I went to one with Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) for her first book. Also so, so good. But I had a similar experience with the book signing portion to the point that I didn't wait in line for Garth Stein but did for the Bloggess. She's as great as you'd think.

  14. I've read neither book (TBR, ok!), but it seems awesome!
    I felt this way about a PostSecret event I went to. I was one of the first to arrive (alone because no one would come with me), I sat up front, and then had to wait in line for an autograph. I did wait in line because I sent the autograph to a friend who introduced me to PostSecret, but yeah, I feel you.

  15. I knew you'd love him! He's just so delightfully normal, isn't he??

    And yeah...I saw him just before the movie of The Book Thief came out when it looked like it was going to be really good. I was sad at how it turned out. I felt like they totally missed out on the heart and the point of the story.

  16. I'm so glad you loved this event! I know you were really looking forward to it, and I'm happy that it didn't disappoint (with the exception of the book signing portion, of course). I really REALLY need to read Zusak's books! They're on my list ... Hopefully I'll get to them soon.

    I think I may have told you this already (or maybe not, I can't remember), but I went to a reading/book signing with Chuck Palahniuk several years ago. It was so much fun, and I'm so glad I went ... But I felt like a complete idiot because I was so starstruck. I think I said, "It's nice to meet you," or something equally generic when he signed my book and I look like a deer in the headlights in the picture I got with him. It was kind of sad. (But obviously still a really awesome experience for me!)


I love comments, and I enjoy our interactions. I respond via email, but if you're a "no reply blogger", I can't. Don't think I'm ignoring you!