Markus Zusak
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumMarkus Zusak - Credit: Bronwyn Rennix

By the time he was 16, Markus Zusak knew that he wanted to be a writer, and he certainly hasn’t let much stand in his way. He's now a highly acclaimed and much loved author, best known for his novel The Book Thief, which has sold over 1 million copies. Previously he had written four other books for young adults, the first published in 1999 when Markus was just 24.

Zusak grew up in Australia, but his father is Austrian and his mother German, so he has strong links to the landscape and history he writes about in The Book Thief. He always maintains that the inspiration for The Book Thief came from the stories his parents told him. One particular scene witnessed by his mother – a small child who gave an emaciated old Jewish man a piece of bread as he was being marched to a concentration camp – stuck in Zusak's mind:

Soon, a soldier noticed and walked over. He tore the bread from the man's hands and whipped him for taking it. Then he chased the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. In one moment, there was great kindness and great cruelty, and I saw it as the perfect story of how humans are. [1]

It was this story that planted the seed that grew into The Book Thief, with its theme that people are good and bad and everything in between. Zusak looks deep into the contrast between the opposing ends of humanity, a theme he also explores in I am the Messenger.

Born in 1975, Zusak is the youngest of four children. He believes this gave him his determination and strength. "You are proving yourself from the moment you are born," he says in an interview with the Australian Courier Mail. [2]

Zusak claims he didn’t have many literary influences in his early years; his father was a house painter and his mother a cleaner. His parents did however make sure that he and his siblings had plenty to read. As neither of them could speak much English when they arrived in Australia, reading books was a way of teaching their children strong communication skills for the future. It was getting lost in the world of his favourite teenage books, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Old Man and the Sea, that inspired him to become a writer.

Following the huge success of The Book Thief – it has won three notable literary awards and the film adaptation is due for release sometime in 2010 – this rising star of the literary world has a lot to be smug about. But Zusak is pretty modest about his new found fame and writing abilities. He says he finds writing extremely difficult:

I'm not one of these 'the characters write themselves; the story just fell out of me' kind of writers. Wish it was like that. I had a lot of failure and knock-backs before success came along. [2]

Zusak had seven rejections before one of his manuscripts was picked up, and he claims his first book was pretty “awful”. He trained as a teacher and tutor, believing he might never make a decent career from writing. He’s had to work hard, and he firmly believes the route to success in writing is to practice, practice and practice, a mantra which has clearly paid off.

He now lives in Sydney with his wife and young daughter, and when he’s not writing he is trying hard to improve his surfing skills.

Author Website

Guardian Interview

View From Here Interview

Courier Mail Interview



[1] Taken from an interview with Marcus Zusak for Random House at

[2] Interview with Kathleen Noonan of Courier Mail; October 2008,23739,24541508-5003424,00.html