'The Book Thief' - In Conversation with Markus Zusak


I was quite pleased to get out of the house Wednesday night. I left my dear husband with a toddler who thought repeated high pitch squeeling was hilarious, and a five year old who never stops asking questions, but currently fails to pay attention when you answer him. A response of, 'What did you say?', after you answer each question, wears decidedly thin after awhile. So I escaped and surrounded myself with adults who share a common love of 'The Book Thief' instead. Bliss I tell you.

I'm so very glad my sister forwarded me an email in December from Riverbend books regarding a book signing, film viewing and 'In Conversation' with the author. I immediately brought myself a ticket and announced to my husband that my Christmas gift was sorted. Not only did I attend a champagne reception for the author (this pregnant lady drank apple juice) and receive a beautiful hard back copy of the book, I also had the chance to join a joyful crowd of women, and two or three men, to get my book signed by Markus Zusak. When it was my turn I joked with him about the predominately female turn out and he quipped back that had he known he'd meet so many women though writing he'd have started sooner.

I love meeting people whose work I admire, but whom I know nothing of personally. It's always an interesting surprise. In Markus's case I couldn't help but think he is a publicists dream come true - not only is he an extremely talented writer, he's also handsome, well spoken, generous, down to earth and amusing in that quick witted, Aussie way. 

After the signing we found a seat amidst the packed Balmoral theater and watched the film adaption of the book. If you have read the book, rush to you nearest cinema now. If you haven't, pick up a copy and a cuppa, settle in for a wonderful read. Then go straight to the cinema. Really. 

We've all heard the saying that 'the film is never as good as the book', but it really isn't a fair comparison. A book has time, pages and pages of time, to develop subtly. A film hasn't the same luxury. But what this film does have is great beauty and great heart. During the conversation with Markus after the film, questions were asked and answered. One thing he said that really stood out to me was that he wrote the book, but not the film, but what he hoped was that it had the same 'heart' as the book. And I do believe they have accomplished just that. Not to mention a perfect selection of cast members.

I took notes during the talk, and there are so many interesting facts I'd like to share with you. For instance, Markus mentioned that questions like, "What is the book about?" are the kind that give him nightmares. To him, this book is about stories - the stories we tell, the stories we know and the stores we write. It's also about words, which is emphasised in the film - words of propaganda and a girl stealing the words back to make something beautiful. 

One of his favourite moments in the film was when Rosa gives the school teacher one final hard 'look.' It's a perfect moment. If you've seen the film I'm quite sure you're nodding now. If you haven't, you can't miss it. When asked about writing, Markus explained that his parents taught him how to write by telling their life's stories around the kitchen table. His father was a house painter in Germany, and his mother a house cleaner. Several of the characters from the book are based on real people from his parents stories. He writes chronologically, and has a routine in which he writes everyday. He wrote and re-wrote the first part of the book 150 - 200 times before getting it right. As a result the first half of the book took him two and a half years to write, while the second half took him a month. Partly joking he said the speed of the second half was achieved because his publisher was due to go on maternity leave.

So, pick up the book, or see the film and support a talented Australian writer. Because I do believe this time the film has just as much merit as the book. And you won't be disappointed.

Have you seen the film? 
What did you think?

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