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Best in Show: Diem on The Book Thief and Meeting Markus Zusak

Jan 15,2014
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File 18064File 18057Last Sunday, Classic Cinemas and Readings Bookstore hosted a special event in Melbourne – a screening of ‘The Book Thief’, a Question & Answer session with author Markus Zusak, and a beautiful signed copy of the new, non-film-tie-in paperback edition. (Photos from the event are here!)

Prior to seeing The Book Thief, like every other obsessed teenager, I went on all the social media sites. I went through Markus Zusak’s tumblr from the latest posts to the earlier ones, I read his tweets until my eyelids begged me to stop, and I read this particular article he wrote regarding The Book Thief’s film adaptation. Markus (yes, I am on first name terms because I feel that after 4 signed books a barrier has been broken) puts my feelings about the film much more eloquently. Despite the book and film bearing the same name, they are different. Different mediums, different writers and a different experience altogether. Adaptations transform the written work to the big screen and in this process, things change. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. My verdict is that The Book Thief is one of the good adaptations.

I cried throughout the film. At one point everything was so blurry that I couldn’t see and I was howling inside. All the actors were brilliant; Sophie Nélisse as Leisel, Geoffrey Rush as Hans, Emily Watson as Rosa, Ben Schnetzer as Max, and Nico Liersch as Rudy. I have to give a special shout out to Nico Liersch, though - he was exactly how I saw Rudy. He had lemon coloured hair and these wonderful blue eyes. It wasn’t just the way he looked, but the way he loved Liesel that made me like his performance best.

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There are a few choices that the makers of the film made that I am still trying to comprehend. Most are minor quibbles, but I will mention the one scene that stood out the most, and it can be seen as both good and bad. It made me cry uncontrollably and hint: it’s near the end. Another hint: it was very Baz Luhrmann Romeo & Juliet-esque.

When the film ended, there was a buzz buzz and before I knew it Markus-freaking-Zusak was in the cinema and I was breathing the same air as him. My friend, Jennifer, and I looked at each other and started flapping our arms. My seat was C8 - 3 rows from the front, 3 rows from Markus.

The Q&A session with Markus was hosted by film critic and MIFF programmer Thomas Caldwell. Some of the questions from the audience included who Markus’ favourite character is (Rudy), and about a scene in the book which they found pivotal but which was not present in the film (Markus’ reply was quite complex and I was in awe with how all the words that came out of his mouth were so beautiful and I just stared at him so I do not recall what he actually said).

After the Q&A session in a flash 20 people were surrounding Markus asking for photographs and signatures. My knees were weak and I was flustered and just as I found the ability to walk again, we were asked to move to an autograph queue in the foyer. I marched outside so frantically I nearly knocked a woman over. I apologised and, realising I was being a crazy teenager, calmly lined up and let a couple of people go before me because they appeared genuinely busy and slightly impatient (and also because I felt guilty about accidentally bumping into that woman and wanted karma to be kind). My heart was beating like I had just gone jogging and my arms, holding 2 well-read copies of The Book Thief (one mine, one a friend’s) and a newly purchased copy of The Messenger, were shaking.

When Jennifer and I reached the front of the queue she had her book signed by Markus first, and they had a conversation while I stood by, hovering and smiling like a lunatic. Markus then signed my books. I can’t recall what I said to him because in my mind it was just ‘Ohmygooooooooosssssshoooohhhhmygoosshimmapassout’. And then, for some reason, Markus took a copy of Fighting Ruben Wolfe out of his bag, signed it, and gave it to me. He said something about my smile but my brain, as I said above, refused to work. It did at least manage to make me say ‘Thank you so much’ and ‘Have a good afternoon’, which I appreciate because I am so grateful for every word Markus has written. His books changed my life, changed my way of thinking, and I wanted him to know that.

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I am now going to go off and read the inscriptions for the 100th time. I do hope you read the book first (of course), and then watch the film and tell me what you think.

Jan 20,2014

@Diem That's absolutely fine, I'm totally happy with being called Sarah :-D

Jan 18,2014

@Eva Dunwell I am so happy you also had a wonderful experience meeting him. Gosh. I am just reliving that moment after reading your description and I have a goofy grin right now. He is genuinely such a lovely, lovely person and he was so polite and generous and thoughtful. I was too giddy to ask for a photo of him but you can just imagine it: a crazy wide eyed girl and this charming and dashing author. I kept shaking- as I kept mentioning above. Ha ha. And I did also feel like he was probably exhausted. I know an author, Fiona Wood, and I remember asking her one time about book signing and whether or not she gets sore hands but she said that it was the equivalent of writing a couple of pages. But yes, that was probably another reason why I didn't ask for a photo. Ahhhhhhh, I am so happy that you too got to meet him. 

@Sarah I know. A free book. I kept staring at him. I do hope you enjoy the movie!

@Sara In the book, he did mention the fate of that particular character (I'm trying to be as vague as possible) and yes, I did do some curling in the corner and sobbing. I feel the same way, it was a good adaption because books and movies are so different. Why was the movie so cruel!? A tiny part of me hoped they changed the ending because y'know, but noooooooooo. I loved it though. I wished you were there. 

(Can I refer you to your names Sarah and Sara? I feel like we're friends.) 

Jan 17,2014

Wow. Wow. That is so amazing. How did I not know about this?? D: WHYY???

Okay. Moving on. OHMYGOSH YOU MET MARKUS ZUSAK. You breathed the same air as him! :O I completely understand your craziness. :P At least you, y'know, spoke to him. I probably would have just stood there in awe and mumbled something meaningless. (And he gave you a free book!)

As for the movie, I loved it too. x) It wasn't as perfect as the book, but I don't think it could have been. I think Markus' magic with words was part of what made it so brilliant and you can't translate that in the film. And yes, that ending was so sad, but in the book, his descriptions just made it so much more powerful and I don't know how he did it because he told you HALFWAY INTO THE BOOK WHAT WOULD HAPPEN AND I STILL FELT LIKE CURLING UP IN A CORNER AND CRYING MYSELF TO SLEEP. I'm pretty sure he broke some unspoken author's rule there. You do not tell your readers what will happen at the end. 

Not to mention the characters were how I pictured them and they were all so wonderful and even though it had it's differences, I still think it did the book justice. :')

Jan 17,2014

Sounds like it was totally awesome. And you scored a free book? :-)

I keep hearing good things about the movie, so I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Jan 17,2014
anonymous's picture

Markus came to Perth tonight (last night now!), and there was a screening and Q&A (unfortunately I wasn't able to get a ticket for it - they sold out quickly!), but after the general public were able to get books signed and meet him. I too shared your level of excitement! The function had started at 5.30, and by the time we got to meet him it was almost 10pm. I didn't actually get to the table (long lines!) until after 11pm. I noticed that almost every person who went before me, Markus thanked them for waiting so long in line, which I thought was truly lovely of him. He was so very patient and nice to everyone, when he must have been exhausted. I could tell his wrist was hurting from signing hundreds and hundreds of books. When I got to meet him, I thanked him for being there so long so we all got to meet him, he smiled and was rather lovely. I told him that his book, The Book Thief, had made me cry, which was kinda awkward as I read most of it on buses and trains and in waiting rooms (he laughed!). I also said it was one of my favourite books and that I recommended it to everyone. He thanked me for that, and said it was lovely to have readers like me. 

I had wanted to have a photo with him, and the lady who was crowd controlling said if I was happy to wait until after he had finished signing books that I could. So I waited another 20minutes or so, and then a photo was organised. After that, I once again said how lovely it was to meet him (huge smile on my face), and then Markus grabbed a copy of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, opened it up and inscibed it to me, handed it to me and said it was an honour to meet me. I was walking on air! 

Markus was so lovely and gracious, it was an honour to meet him. I'm glad you enjoyed meeting him too. Now, I'm going to go read my new book! :-)

- Eva Dunwell

Jan 16,2014

@Anonymous He is such a fantastic writer!

Jan 16,2014
anonymous's picture

OMG you are so lucky to have had a chance to meet Markus Zusak, i too am a huge fan of his !

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