Friday, March 18, 2016

Welcoming Marcus Zusak

Marcus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, spoke in Atlanta last night at the William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum as part of his tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of his acclaimed novel. He was introduced by Little Shop bookseller Krista Gilliam. Her remarks are included below.

Good evening! I’m Krista Gilliam, a bookseller at Little Shop of Stories, an independent bookstore located in downtown Decatur.  It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’d like to thank the Breman Museum for partnering with us on this event and for providing this beautiful venue.


At Little Shop of Stories, we feature hundreds of events a year, and host countless authors promoting their recent books. We love being able to introduce our customers to new books and connect them with authors. But there is something extra special about tonight, because we aren’t here to learn about a new book, or to meet the author of a book that’s just recently appeared on The New York Times bestseller list.


The Book Thief was published ten years ago. And somehow this room is still packed with people who have been impacted by this beautiful, haunting story. We are gathering tonight because this is a book that has changed us, inspired us, touched us. It’s a book we’ve handed to our brothers or teachers or students or friends and said. This book. You have to read this book. We are here, ten years later, because it has stayed with us. It isn’t just a story; it’s become our story.


The Book Thief is a book that breaks us. Despite all of Death’s warnings and foreshadowing throughout the pages, when the bombs hit Himmel Street, it is as if they are falling on our own hearts. I found myself completely broken when I reached the end of this book. I felt raw and overwhelmed and hyper-aware of the world and my tiny place in it. And I would bet that we all had a similar response to this story. This is a book that opens us up to the suffering of others. It forces us to look directly at terrible tragedy and to sit with pain. It teaches us empathy, and makes us feel, two things that are crucial to the human experience.


This is also a book that gives us hope for the future. It is about the ability to overcome brutality, and about the power of humanity, and about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. My husband and I were reminded of the hope of this book as we brainstormed names for our baby girl. We thought of all the characteristics we wanted our daughter to have--we wanted her to be brave and kind and tough and compassionate. We wanted her to be able to see beauty even in the midst of suffering. We wanted her to love books. And we remembered the girl from The Book Thief.


Today, my daughter Liesel is one and half years old, and one day when she’s old enough, I will hand her a copy The Book Thief to read herself. In the book, Max and Liesel literally write their own stories, and The Book Thief reminds us of the blank pages of life ahead of us, and the chance we all have to fill them with stories of beauty and hope and purpose.


I heard a quote recently by Frederick Buechner that I think sums up The Book Thief perfectly:


“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”


Thank you, Markus Zusak, for showing us the beauty and tragedy of the world, for sharing Liesel and Max and Rudy and Hans with us, for helping us not to be afraid, for inspiring us and changing us. We are here tonight because we love your book. Here’s to another ten years of The Book Thief.

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