Markus Zusak Biography (1975-)
Since the publication of his first novel in 1999, Markus Zusak has rapidly become one of the hottest young authors in Australia. In his books, Zusak, the son of working-class immigrants to Australia, tells the stories of other disadvantaged young men struggling against bad circumstances and their own internal demons to improve themselves and their lives. "Stories have always told me where I was from," Zusak told Teenreads.com interviewer Tammy L. Currier. "[My parents'] hardships and struggle to live decent lives are probably the basis of everything I approach. Also, when I see my friends, we laugh and carry on, and it's our stories that give us that laughter. I guess without stories we'd be empty."
Zusak's award-winning pair of novels about the Wolfe brothers, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry (published in the United States as Getting the Girl) has received a good deal of critical attention, both in his native Australia and in the United States. The books are written "in earthy, working-class dialect," a critic noted in a Publishers Weekly review of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and are told from the point of view of Ruben Wolfe's younger brother, Cameron. The Wolfe brothers are teenagers in a blue-collar household that has fallen on hard times since their father was injured and lost his job as a plumber. Their mother works scrubbing floors, but it is not enough to make ends meet. So when, near the beginning of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, the boys are approached by a man who runs illegal boxing matches, they accept the chance to bring in extra money by fighting. Ruben, long a participant in after-school fistfights, has no problems adapting to boxing; billed as "Fighting Ruben Wolfe," he wins most of his matches, bringing home fifty dollars in prize money after each one. Cameron, who is the more reserved of the two, has trouble and gets the ring name "The Underdog," but he stays in the ring and fights through his fear with such "heart" that the spectators often throw him tips in acknowledgment of his tenacity. "The fast-paced narrative captures the physical rigors of the boxing ring as well as the emotional turmoil and the ultimate unity of the troubled Wolfe family," commented Peter D. Sieruta in a Horn Book review of Fighting Ruben Wolfe. Although the two brothers eventually are forced to face each other in the ring, they remain close; each chapter of the book concludes with a conversation between the two.
Zusak explained to Currier that the relationship between Ruben and Cameron is "my brother and me all over—not giving each other an inch at home, but willing to die for each other in the world." Zusak and his older brother even used to box each other in their backyard, "and being younger and smaller than my brother, he really used to beat the crap out of me," he continued.
In When Dogs Cry, the sequel to Fighting Ruben Wolfe, "Zusak explores the deep if inexpressible desire to create, as well as the intersection between family loyalty and romantic affection," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor in a review of the U.S. edition titled Getting the Girl. The Wolfe brothers have given up boxing, and Cameron has turned to writing as a means to express himself and to try to figure out who he is. At the moment, he seems to be a loner and a loser, as he wanders the streets by himself and pines outside the house of a girl who cannot stand him. Life starts looking up when Octavia, a sweet girl recently dumped by Ruben, turns her affection to Cameron, but Ruben objects to their blossoming romance. "The interaction of the characters is the real strength of this novel," Janet Hilbun commented in School Library Journal.
Zusak is also the author of The Messenger, a novel about an aimless twenty-year-old cab driver named Ed. Ed is a laid-back nobody until he helps to foil a botched bank robbery and someone begins sending him playing cards with addresses written on them. Each address, Ed discovers, leads him to someone who needs help: an abused wife, a lonely old woman, a struggling athlete. By helping these people, Ed begins to find a purpose and meaning in life. Zusak "is a keen observer of the bonds that both connect and stifle relationships," Denise Civelli wrote in the Herald Sun, and he is also "gifted in unveiling enchantment in the simple dealings of everyday life."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Advertiser (Adelaide, South Australia, Australia), August 18, 2001, "The Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards," p. L19; August 17, 2002, "The Best Children's Books," p. W11; August 16, 2003, "Children's Book of the Year Awards," p. W09.
Booklist, February 15, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, p. 1129; May 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Getting the Girl, p. 1656.
Daily Telegraph (Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia), August 23, 2003, Ray Chesterton, interview with Zusak, p. 30.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), October 12, 2002, Denise Civelli, review of The Messenger, p. W30.
Horn Book, March, 2001, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, p. 217; May-June, 2003, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Getting the Girl, p. 360.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Getting the Girl, p. 402.
Publishers Weekly, February 26, 2001, review of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, p. 87.
School Library Journal, March, 2001, Edward Sullivan, review of Fighting Ruben Wolfe, p. 258; April, 2003, Janet Hilbun, review of Getting the Girl, p. 171.
Sunday Tasmanian (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia), December 15, 2002, Richard Sprent, review of The Messenger, p. T18.
Pan Macmillan Australia Web Site, http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/ (October, 2002), "An Interview with Markus Zusak."
Scholastic Australia Web Site, http://www.scholastic.com.au/ (October 6, 2003), "Profiles: Markus Zusak."
Teenreads.com, http://www.teenreads.com/ (October 6, 2003), Tammy L. Currier, interview with Zusak.*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Carlos Watson Biography - Was a Student Journalist to Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) BiographyMarkus Zusak (1975-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights