‘Bridge of Clay’ is an Australian family saga, focusing on five brothers abandoned when their mother dies, and their father disappears. That is until the father returns and asks his sons to travel to a property in the bush to build a bridge – a literal and metaphorical way of making amends. Only one boy agrees. Clay.
It was, according to Pan Macmillan, the “most anticipated book of the decade” – and not without reason.
The Book Thief, Zusak’s earlier hit, spent over 10 years on the New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into 40 languages, sold 16 million copies, and was made into a major motion picture starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson. For the past 13 years Zusak was able to survive – supporting two kids and his wife Dominika, who manages his authorial administration and appearances – on royalties alone, until he wrote his next book, 23 years later.
“Bridge of Clay’ was a huge hit but attracted mixed responses. While critics attribute it to the shift in the genre considering ‘The Book Thief’ was slotted as Young Adult Fiction by many. Marcus defers, “It is not a book written under a specific genre. A book is a book for me.‘The Book Thief’ published as young adult book in some places, but in most places, it is a book for adults.
These are all publishing names and categories. As an author, if you write a book, you want to write something that people love and that for me is the greatest challenge and ambition. A loved book transcends whatever category it comes from.”
In fact, the story of Clay has been with Marcus for some time now, since he was 20- years-old to be precise, and in a way is a labour of love. “The book has been in my heart for 23 years now. I wrote it because I love writing stories, characters and playing with those characters.
To be honest, I did not write that book to grow more audience at all; I wrote it in the phase of my audience shrinking. The earlier book has been such an unexpected success. It sold many copies in several countries and after all that, the least you can do is not emulate the same.
The challenge of writing that book was that thought that a lot of people will read it and are going to compare it with my earlier book, so the question is will you still write it the way it needs to be written? And not try to gain he same success, because you can’t predict that. I write that book for the characters in the book.”
“It was an interesting feeling, when I finally completed writing the book. Everyone thought that I would be ecstatic that it was finally over. A part of me was happy, but the other part of me was flat, because after you are finally done you realisethe real joy is the making of it,” he adds.
About the central character, Marcus Zusak explains, “I had a boy in my head, who wanted to build a bridge to make one perfect thing and his name was Clay, so title became ‘Bridge of Clay’. Immediately I thought how clay could be moulded. I already had a big metaphor running into the book. I was attracted to the idea of whether the bridge stays when it’s hit by the flood that brought me to the central character Clay.
He is a lover of stories and has this secret that drives him to build a bridge. It’s also about everyone around him that make him what he is. The story is also about what happens before he was born. Se we go to this back story of his mother, Penny and father, Michael.
Clay is usually discussed in much length in Marcus’ interviews. But there are other characters which are very close to his heart. He reveals, “Clay’s mother Penny Dunbar is the heart of the book. Her five sons worship her and Clay in particular, and her husband too.
The story is about how they learn to live without her. It is almost the first scene I thought for the book where Penny is dying in the flash back. All the boys are playing Monopoly and have this big fight; one of the boys steals the Iron and when the others are looking for it, Penny’s voice comes from inside, ‘look in his pocket’.
One of the brothers pulls it out and remarks – How are we going to live without her. Carey Novac, Clay’s best friend, Abby, Michael’s first wife, and Penny are three characters with a lot of vitality, and they are game changing people.
Is this book a little autobiographical?I think it works at two levels. “There are these little moments in the book that are true. That said, everything is true in a lie because it is part of you and your heart is invested in it,” he states.
First published in http://www.thehansindia.com