Talking with Markus Zusak
Long before the producer chooses an audiobook narrator for a book, the author must choose his narrator--the voice of the character who will tell the story on the printed page. For THE BOOK THIEF , author Markus Zusak chose Death.
Zusak’s highly acclaimed novel takes place in Germany during the turmoil of WWII. Although he tells the very personal and beautiful story of young Liesel Meminger, Zusak chooses not to use Liesel’s voice. The narrator is instead the slightly droll, slightly melancholy voice of the Grim Reaper.
Booksellers often hear readers say they “cannot read another book about the Holocaust.” Imagine, then, how Death might have felt having to gather all those souls--the Jews, the Germans, the Russians. How would Death take a vacation from all the dying? In Zusak’s imagining, Death takes a vacation by “distractions,” by knowing the stories of those humans who elude him. Liesel’s story proves to be Death’s greatest distraction. And in Death’s telling, the reader is offered a unique and compelling account of the war and the girl that survived.
Marcus Zusak was eager to hear how audiobook narrator Alan Corduner would voice Death. In his mind, Death would express a wide range of emotions, but somehow sound only almost human. Zusak thinks the audiobook has turned out beautifully. “I especially like the part when Alan says, ‘Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.’ That gives me shivers.”
Zusak’s novels grow out of the spoken word. The seed of THE BOOK THIEF came from his parents’ stories of living in Germany and watching their neighbors’ tiny acts of courage against the Nazi regime. Hearing those recollections from the safe distance of his family’s new home in Australia did not lessen their effect on the boy who would become the award-winning writer. “The telling and retelling of those stories has helped my writing a lot,” says Zusak. “The spoken word has taught me how stories work, and what each moment in any particular story is worth.”
Also recently released on audio is Zusak’s award-winning novel, I AM THE MESSENGER . As in THE BOOK THIEF, the main character must commit enormous acts of courage to do what is just and what is kind. Cab driver Ed Kennedy fights his own epic and wonderfully odd battle against suburban disaffection. The narration by fellow Aussie Marc Aden Gray left Markus Zusak “in stitches.” Gray’s delivery has many great moments for the author, and Zusak finds himself listening repeatedly to many passages.
This reader picked up both books in hardcover and came to the audiobooks later. While listening, there was small scene in THE BOOK THIEF that was lost in the speed of the reading. In a stolen conversation with Max (of whom you will know more when you experience the book) Liesel is given an answer that is “as though he’d opened her palm, giving her the words, and closed it up again.” This is the experience, exactly, of hearing the audiobook productions of Marcus Zusak’s stunning novels.--Kirsten Cappy
DEC 06/JAN 07
© AudioFile 2006, Portland, Maine
Photo © Bronwyn Rennex