Bridge of Clay (Zusak)

Bridge of Clay 
Markus Zusak, 2018
Random House Children's
544 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780375845598


Summary
An unforgettable and sweeping family saga from the storyteller who gave us the extraordinary bestseller The Book Thief.
 
The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?
 
Written in powerfully inventive language and bursting with heart, Bridge of Clay is signature Zusak. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1975
Where—Sydney, Australia
Awards—Michael L. Printz Honor, 2006 and 2007; Kathleen Mitchell Award, 2006; Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award, 2003
Currently—lives in Sydney, Australia


Australian author Markus Zusak grew up hearing stories about Nazi Germany, about the bombing of Munich and about Jews being marched through his mother’s small, German town. He always knew it was a story he wanted to tell.

"We have these images of the straight-marching lines of boys and the ‘Heil Hitlers’ and this idea that everyone in Germany was in it together. But there still were rebellious children and people who didn’t follow the rules and people who hid Jews and other people in their houses. So there’s another side to Nazi Germany,” said Zusak in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald.

By the age of 30, Zusak had already asserted himself as one of the most innovative and poetic novelists around. After publication of The Book Thief, he was dubbed a"literary phenomenon" by Australian and U.S. critics. In 2018 he published Bridge of Clay, also to wide acclaim.

Zusak is the award-winning author of four previous books for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, and I Am the Messenger, recipient of a 2006 Printz Honor for excellence in young adult literature. He lives in Sydney. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
There’s much to love about this capacious novel, but there’s also so much… an extravagantly overengineered story.
Washington Post


This book is a stunner. Devastating, demanding and deeply moving, Bridge of Clay unspools like a kind of magic act in reverse, with feats of narrative legerdemain concealed by misdirection that all make sense only when the elements of the trick are finally laid out.
Wall Street Journal


In a complex narrative that leaps through time and place and across oceans, Zusak paints a vivid portrait of the brothers trying to regain their balance by keeping their family’s story alive.
Time


If The Book Thief was a novel that allowed Death to steal the show… [its] brilliantly illuminated follow-up is affirmatively full of life.
Guardian (UK)


Warm and heartfelt.… This is a tale of love, art and redemption; rowdy and joyous, with flashes of wit and insight, and ultimately moving.
London Times


(Starred review) [E]exquisitely written…. With heft and historical scope, Zusak creates a sensitively rendered tale of loss, grief, and guilt’s manifestations (Ages 14–up).
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review) The tone is sometimes somber and always ominous, leaving readers anxious about the fates of these characters whom they have grown to love…. A lovely boy and an unforgettably lovely book to match.
Booklist


Years after the death of their mother, the fourth son in an Australian family of five boys reconnects with his estranged father.… Much like building a bridge stone by stone, this read requires painstaking effort and patience (Age 16-adult).
Kirkus Review



Discussion Questions
1. The book starts with a striking scenario: "In the beginning there was one murderer, one mule and one boy.…" What expectations did this give you for the novel? Do you think this is representative of the story as a whole?

2. Penny’s and Michael’s upbringings are very different. Do you see ref lections of their childhoods in the way they choose to bring up the boys? What do you think was the purpose of focusing on their family history?

3. Each of the Dunbar brothers seems to be connected to one of the pets. Can you draw connections between these relationships and the animals’ literary names?

4. Why are Michael, and later Clay, determined to build the bridge? Do you believe that they are doing it for different reasons?

5. Clay and Carey’s relationship is a cornerstone of his story—why do you think he was able to tell her things that he couldn’t tell his brothers? How do you think her death affected the remainder of his story?

6. Readers go over the story of Penny’s death a few times throughout the later sections of the narrative. What more do we learn about her character and about how her passing transformed all the boys? How do each of the boys react?

7. On pg. 9, Matthew says: "Let me tell you about our brother. The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay. Everything happened to him. We were all of us changed through him." Discuss the changes this is referring to. How are each of the boys different by the end of the story?

8. The action that makes up the bulk of the novel has already happened when Matthew tells us the story. Were you still surprised by the conclusion and where all the boys ended up?

9. At first it is not clear why Matthew is narrator, but later on (pg. 490) he says:

For starters, this story wasn’t over yet.
And even then, it wouldn’t be him.
The story was his, but not the writing.
It was hard enough living and being it.

Why do you think it was important to tell this story? What can you assume about Matthew’s relationship with Clay following the events in the book?

10. Bridge of Clay is about the complexity of the relationships within the Dunbar family. As you read their story, did you find anything relatable? Was there anything you found hard to empathize with?

11. Markus Zusak has said:

Bridge of Clay is about Clay Dunbar, who builds a bridge to honor his parents.… He builds a bridge for his brothers, but he’s also building the bridge for himself. That’s his one attempt at greatness. And I think he really wants to produce a miracle as a kind of cure for the tragedies he’s endured, and he wants to make one great thing to transcend humanness. I think at the end of the day, even if he falls short, he just wants it to be a great attempt, and that to me is what the book is really about.

How do you assess Clay’s "great attempt"?

(Questions issued by the publisher. See the complete Discussion Guide.)

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