An Interview with Markus Zusak, Author of The Book Thief (in Select Theaters November 8)

When Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief started appearing on everyone’s “Must Read” list back in 2007, I hesitated in reading it. Although ultimately an inspirational, triumphant book, it details a kind of heartache that requires a real emotional investment.

I was finally ready to read The Book Thief last month – and finished it in just a few days. It is beautifully written and powerful, emotional, bitter and sweet, and most of all – redemptive. I felt as if I had been broken into a million pieces and put back differently – maybe just a little better – after reading The Book Thief.

Now 20th Century Fox is bringing The Book Thief to select theaters beginning November 8, 2013.

Book Thief Movie Poster

About The Book Thief

Based on the beloved bestselling book, THE BOOK THIEF tells the inspirational story of a spirited and courageous young girl who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a new family in World War II Germany.

Starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse

Directed by Brian Percival

Screenplay by Michael Petroni, based upon the novel by Markus Zusak

It was with great excitement – and a tiny fear (still raw from the emotions of reading) that I might break into tears – that I got to join in on a phone interview with The Book Thief author Markus Zusak. Here are some of his answers to our many (many!) questions.

Markus Zusak

 On handing The Book Thief over to filmmakers:

The best thing I can say is I was really comfortable handing the material over to Brian [Percival], the director.

What I hoped was that the film will be different from the book in a whole lot of ways. But I think it’ll have the same heart. As the writer of the book, you can’t really ask for more than that.

And you’ve got to trust these people because they know what they’re doing. …

Rather than being in the current of all of this happening the way I’ve always been for the last 10 years with the book, it’s sort of nice to be standing on the sideline a little bit and watch it all happen.

On the process of translating a book to screen:

They asked me, “What from the book do you feel like you would mourn not being in the film?” There were a few things. I’m curious to see what happens in the very end.

But, I knew that things were cut out. One of the things we talked about was a scene in the book where Max, the young Jewish man who’s hiding in the basement, imagines himself fighting and having a boxing match. Brian [Percival] was saying, “Oh, yes, I was trying so many ways to try to get that into the script and into the film.” But it was just something that wasn’t going to work for them in the actual film.

There were a few other scenes or chapters in the book that we talked about. I think some will make it in and some won’t. And that’s just kind of the way it goes.

movie stills from The Book Thief

On Death, who narrates the book and the film:

I wanted Death to be the missing part of us.

That’s why he just talks a little bit left of the way we would talk. Why he’ll say something like, “The trees, ‘who were…’, or the sky, ‘who was…’. He spoke like that. I wanted Death to refer to the sky and the trees and the ground, the earth, as an ‘us,’ as colleagues in a way. And that’s why there’s a feeling that he’s the missing part of us, and he’s just trying to understand us.

Has he seen the film yet?

I haven’t seen the film yet. I just want to pay the respect to the producers and Brian [Percival, the director] to see it when it’s 100 percent. I don’t really want someone to read a book of mine until I’ve made the very, very last correction. So, I haven’t seen it.

I’m kind of looking forward to the surprise of it myself how they do it and get it done. And again, it’s kind of nice that I don’t have the problem of trying to make it work.

On his favorite part about meeting readers and fans of The Book Thief:

It’s really nice. I’m just glad someone shows up. (laughter) The first time I ever spoke in a library, no one turned up. And so, that’s firstly what you’re grateful for.

Honestly, I think [my favorite part about public appearances is] that people still care about books. That’s what I love the most – here they are on a Tuesday night, whatever night of the week. And they could be at home watching TV, or they could be, I don’t know, texting someone for three hours.

But, they’ve come to listen to an author speak – and not necessarily me, [could be] anyone. I think that’s the biggest thrill I get – that people still love books and that people still love stories.

Though we were originally given only about 20 minutes to interview Markus Zusak, he stayed on the phone with us for more than 40. I found him to be warm, generous, open with sharing his thoughts, and incredibly down-to-earth. He created an amazing masterpiece in The Book Thief – a New York Times #1 Bestseller, a book that is now required reading in many high schools, a work that has left a mark on our generation. And yet he still seems genuinely humbled by the entire experience, and dedicated simply to the love of stories and books.

It was a great honor to be able to interview Zusak, and I am so excited to see The Book Thief in theaters.

For more of The Book Thief Online:

Visit the official website

Like The Book Thief movie on Facebook

Like Author Markus Zusak on Facebook

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