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Markus Zusak: How Failure Gives Success Greater Meaning

Pic: Markus Zusak by Carly Earl, 2018. The Guardian

Every success I’ve had been wrapped in a gift box of failure.
-Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak was born on June 23rd, 1975 in Sydney, Australia, with Austrian-German roots. He is an Australian author who has written six books in total, including an international bestseller The Book Thief, which is translated into more than forty languages. His parents were immigrants from Germany and barely spoke English when they arrived in Australia. They didn’t want their children to face the same problem, so they encouraged them to read and communicate in English. Zusak graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Education. Then, he worked as a teacher before becoming an author.

Just like any other author, Zusak’s journey to be an author was not an easy road. He was rejected by every publisher until he finally got the chance to publish his first novel in 1999. He didn’t get famous instantaneously, instead he had to do his first reading in a small town which no one came.

The Underdog is his first novel and the first book of the trilogy. It is an adult fiction about Cameron, the youngest child in a working-class family and the narrative is about Cameron’s struggle in defining himself and his morality. The sequel was published in 2000 titled Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and the final book of the trilogy titled When Dogs Cry (published in America with a different title, Getting the Girl) was published a year later. Following the trilogy, Zusak published his fourth book, The Messenger, in 2002 and received the 2003 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award. The Messenger is about a story of a young man who learns to face his fears through experiences from playing games and learning to be a better person by helping people around him from the messages he received.

The Book Thief gave him a big success in his career as an author. In an interview with HuffPost, he said that his parents’ and siblings’ stories about growing up in Austria and Germany during and after World War II inspired him to write The Book Thief. The book is set in Germany during World War II, where Liesel Meminger is adopted by an old married couple in a small town and finds the power of words through books she stole from a Nazi book-burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library. Narrated by Death, this novel gives a different point of view for the reader. In the process of writing his fifth book, however, he had a lot of struggle. In the middle of writing The Book Thief, Zusak initially thought that no one would read his book. He spoke about his struggles when he was invited to be a speaker in TEDxSydney 2014. He changed the narration several times, from Death to Liesel’s point of view, to third-person narration, and back to Death again.

Throughout the process, he faced the failures of trying to find a suitable narration and overcome his insecurities and struggles, which befriended him along with failure. “What I found with that problem was that all of those failures had one tiny success in them for the next pages,” he said after speaking about his struggles on writing his fifth book. With those failures, Zusak admitted that the failure had given him the power to imagine around the problems; it’s given him a greater motivation and encouraged him to follow his own vision. Zusak found that writing is an arena with failures in the air. Failures shape us to  have greater respect for ourselves, for the tasks we do, and for our will to stay in that failure.

Journalist: Yohana Satvika Wahyuveda

Editor: Cynthia Olga Handoko, Fransiskus Nino (QC)

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