Build­ing the Bridge

India Today - - LEISURE - —with Farah Yameen

The name Markus Zusak may not ring a bell. But The Book Thief al­most cer­tainly will. Adapted into a film star­ring Ge­of­frey Rush and Emily Wat­son in 2013, The

Book Thief is the story of a young girl who learns to read from a Jewish refugee her fam­ily is hid­ing from the Nazis. It went on to be a best-seller. Now, more than a decade since its pub­li­ca­tion, Zusak is back with his much-an­tic­i­pated next novel,

Bridge of Clay, a fam­ily saga of five brothers who are bring­ing them­selves up with­out any adults. He spoke with in­dia to­day about how the book evolved.

Q: You’ve said you con­ceived of Bridge of Clay when you were 19. What sparked the idea?

I was 19 or 20 years old, and in my mind I saw a boy who was build­ing a bridge. I named him Clay­ton, which was the one piece of luck I needed. I thought I would

call the book ‘Clay­ton’s Bridge’, and then a few months later, I thought: No, not ‘Clay­ton’s Bridge’—make it ‘Bridge of Clay’. And that was when a whole new depth of mean­ing and emo­tion in­stantly en­tered the idea. I thought of a boy who was build­ing a bridge of stone or wood, but it was also made of him—of Clay. I im­me­di­ately saw the dual mean­ing of Clay (the name) and clay (the ma­te­rial), which can be moulded into any­thing, but needs fire to set it. That was when I knew there was a book to write.

Q: How did the book evolve in the decade that it took to write it?

When I fin­ished The Book Thief, I knew some­how that I had pub­lished four books pre­vi­ously that re­ally meant some­thing to me, and that book meant ev­ery­thing. I never wanted to go back to writ­ing books that meant just some­thing to me ever again.

Q: You have said else­where that in­stances from your own life have in­spired bits of the book.

It’s usu­ally just the very small things, and they never ex­ist in a book ex­actly as they hap­pened in real life. In my own house, for ex­am­ple, we have two chil­dren, two dogs and two cats, and in the Dun­bar house­hold in the Bridge of Clay, there are five brothers and five an­i­mals. There is plenty of chaos in our house­hold with our four­some of pets,

but I el­e­vated it to make it five. The cat in the book named Hec­tor is based on one of our cats, named Bru­tus, but he grows in the writ­ing of the novel. That’s why I love writ­ing. We see the world in a to­tally unique way that is also some­how fa­mil­iar.

Q: The Book Thief had death as a nar­ra­tor. Do you feel that death con­tin­ues to be a char­ac­ter in this book?

I guess death is a kind of friend to all of us in a way, be­cause know­ing it hangs over us is what makes ev­ery­thing we do worth­while. Death is still a ma­jor force in Bridge of Clay and there are a few cameos, where Matthew imag­ines Death hang­ing from the power lines, or sit­ting on the cur­tain rod in the kitchen. This time around, what hasn’t changed is find­ing great life in the face of death.

Q: The premise of The Book

Thief—a fam­ily shield­ing a Jew from the Nazis dur­ing World War II—was fa­mil­iar to read­ers in the sub­con­ti­nent. Bridge of Clay is more for­eign ground.

It’s a very Aus­tralian book in some ways, and I think our coun­tries do have a bond over a par­tic­u­lar sport. All of my books are about fam­ily. About try­ing to live de­cently, to look for laugh­ter and am­bi­tion in our lives and, hav­ing been to In­dia once be­fore, I know the peo­ple are gen­er­ous and warm, and talk­a­tive and kind. These are all the el­e­ments I look to write with, and so I hope In­dian read­ers will con­nect with the Dun­bar fam­ily, and with Clay, whose story is about build­ing a bridge, to make one per­fect, beau­ti­ful thing.

BRIDGE OF CLAY by Markus Zusak DOU­BLE­DAY `799; 544 pages

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