Born in Sydney, Australia, Markus Zusak is an award-winning author. His parents are from Germany and Austria, having emigrated in the late 1950s, in the post-WWII era.
His fifth novel, The Book Thief, is based on real-life events recounted to him by his parents. His mother told Markus that when she was six, she saw a crowd of people being herded through the streets by soldiers. They were Jews and one emaciated old man just couldn’t keep up. A boy ran up to him and gave him a piece of bread. A soldier whipped the old man for accepting the bread and chased down and whipped the boy as well.
His mother lived with a foster family during the war, and she remembers that her foster father refused to fly the Nazi flag on Hitler’s birthday. His wife told him to fly the flag, because she was afraid they would be punished if they didn’t. That also wound up in the book.
Although the book is narrated by Death, the main character is Liesel, a young German child who’s sent to live with a foster family in a small German town during World War II. She wants desperately to read, so much so that she picks up a book that was dropped by a grave digger.
Later, her foster father teaches her to read, and because books were hard to come by, they start with the book she picked up, which happened to be an instructional book about how to dig a grave.
While researching for the book, he discovered that there were Germans who hid their Jewish friends in their basements, so he added that to the plot.
The novel took Markus almost three years to write, and when it was almost finished, he travelled to Munich, Germany to make sure he’d correctly portrayed the country.