I came home after the reading and said to my husband, "That was the best reading I've ever been to, and he only read from his book for about ten minutes..."
"Raise your hand," he had said, "if you're here because you read The Book Thief." All hands went up. "That's just great!" He talked a bit about that book and how he had it in his head for years and years. He grew up with his parents (who were immigrants from Germany and Austria), telling stories about Nazi Germany and what it was like growing up at that time. He figured that, someday, he'd share those stories with the world. Sometimes he'd be out and about and he'd see something and think, hey, maybe I can put that in that Holocaust book of mine.
He first wrote the story from the perspective of Liesel, the main character. "But what I got was a very Aussie sounding German girl...I don't have an imagination. I just have a lot of problems." And then, one day, he decided to try writing it from the perspective of death. So he started over. "It's never good the first time..." he said. "You have to be flexible." He rewrote that book several times, in fact, and even then it needed a lot of editing and more hard work.
"I never thought anyone would read that book," he said. "Frankly, I'm amazed at seeing you here. If you've ever told your friend about The Book Thief--- if you said, 'hey, there's this sad book about Nazi Germany. Hardly any of the characters live, and it's really depressing. You should read it...' Thank you!"
He went on to tell us that when he first started out, he did a reading in the Margret River Public Library in Western Australia. No one showed up. (We all groaned for him.) "That wasn't the worst part," he said. "...They still made me do the reading! It was just me and the librarians."
A Master Storyteller
He talked about being the youngest of four. His older brother, just above him, would punch him. For no reason. "What was that for?" he'd ask. "I don't know," and he'd punch him again for good measure.
He worked with his dad and older brother and they painted houses. I'm not able to give his story justice, I'm sorry, but he went on to tell us how his brother would always eat a boiled egg for lunch every day. He'd put it in his blue lunch pail. Every day at lunch, he'd sit on a paint bucket and peel the egg and eat it. One day, though, he decided to crack it on his head, just to be funny. He did it the next day, and then the next. Soon, it was routine. His brother would sit on the paint bucket, crack his egg on his head, peel it, and eat it.
After a few weeks, Markus Zusak said he was so mad at his brother, always picking on him all the time, so before they left for work, and when his brother was in the bathroom, he switched the boiled egg with a regular egg. Markus Zusak made sure the blue pail was just as his brother left it by the front door so he wouldn't notice he'd changed anything. And they went to work.
All day, Markus Zusak fought his guilt. Finally, he went to his dad to talk about what he'd done, so he called up to his dad who was on a ladder painting the side of a house. "Why aren't you working?" his dad asked. Markus said his dad always said that. He didn't like him or his brother goofing off.
"Just wanted to tell you something," Markus said.
"What'd you break?"
Markus Zusak told us that he was always breaking things or not thinking things through. Like the time he painted himself in a corner. When he yelled, no one came for him, so he had to wait the two hours for the paint to dry.
"What did you want to tell me?" his dad asked, and Markus Zusak chickened out. He told his dad that it was nothing, but his dad insisted that it was something and that he better tell him because he made him stop his work and climb down that ladder, so Markus Zusak spilled. He told his dad what he'd done, how he switched the eggs, and he prepared for his dad to get angry.
After a minute, his dad sighed, shook his head and said, "That is brilliant!" (We laughed so hard when Markus Zusak told us that part of the story!) "Tell you what," his dad told him. "Go back to work and I'll see you at lunch. And don't be late."
At lunch, his dad and Markus Zusak stared at his brother. His brother was all, "What's wrong with you?" But he cracked his egg over his head, and the yoke ran down his head, and his dad laughed so harder than anyone!
For those of you who were at the reading or heard that story before, I'm sorry that I didn't do it justice, but I really wanted to share that story. It's what made his reading so memorable and funny and important to me...
Read Part 2
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkok Street, Hong Kong"