Cover image for Bridge of Clay : a novel
Bridge of Clay : a novel



1st ed.
Physical Description:
537 pages ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
HL 650 L Lexile
Upon their father's return, the five Dunbar boys, who have raised themselves since their mother's death, begin to learn family secrets, including that of fourth brother Clay, who will build a bridge for complex reasons, including his own redemption.


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The unforgettable, New York Times bestselling family saga from Markus Zusak, the storyteller who gave us the extraordinary bestseller THE BOOK THIEF, lauded by the New York Times as "the kind of book that can be life-changing."


"One of those monumental books that can draw you across space and time into another family's experience in the most profound way." -- The Washington Post

"Mystical and loaded with heart, it's another gorgeous tearjerker from a rising master of them." -- Entertainment Weekly

"Devastating, demanding and deeply moving." -- Wall Street Journal

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.

Author Notes

Markus Zusak was born in Sydney, Australia on June 23, 1975. He began writing at the age of 16, and seven years later his first book, The Underdog, was published. He is best known for his young adult novels The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger, both of which are Michael L. Printz Honor books. The Book Thief was adapted into a movie. His next book, Bridge of Clay was published October 2018. It won 2019 Indie Book Awards for Debut Fiction and Book of the Year.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 9

Publisher's Weekly Review

This exquisitely written multigenerational family saga by Zusak (The Book Thief), his first novel in 13 years, weaves the story of a missing father and a bridge-building brother. The five Dunbar brothers are beholden to only themselves after the death of their mother and abandonment by their father ("Our mother was dead./ Our father had fled"). Matthew, the eldest, puts their story to paper by way of "the old TW," a typewriter: "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." Slipping back and forth in time, the book maps a complex history: grown and married with two children, Matthew recounts their mother's immigration to the United States at age 18, their father's upbringing and first marriage, and young life in the chaotic, loving Dunbar household of five boys-then devastation after their father disappears. The deftly woven threads build tension as Zusak's skillful use of foreshadowing and symbolism brings long-held secrets to the surface. With heft and historical scope, Zusak creates a sensitively rendered tale of loss, grief, and guilt's manifestations. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Twelve years after the American publication of The Book Thief (rev. 3/06), Zusak returns with an epic saga of five rambunctious Australian brothers, their long-suffering parents, and the bonds of love that tie them together. Matthew Dunbar, the eldest brother, narrates this story in an elliptical, digressive, somewhat frustratingly enigmatic style that ranges among the past, present, and future of all characters with an inexplicably high degree of omnis-cience. In the beginning there was one murderer, one mule and one boy, but this isnt the beginning, its before it, its me, and Im Matthew, and here I am, in the kitchen, in the nightthe old river mouth of lightand Im punching and punching away. The prose ebbs and flows, cascading through long and short sentences, fragments, clipped paragraphs, and staccato rhythms. The distinctly Australian landscape is fully realized, and the supporting characters (a very large number of them) are convincing in their brief cameos, but like the impressionistic vignettes that make up the plot, they are subsumed by the heftier elements. These include themes of love, forgiveness, redemptionand journeys; striking imagery and symbolism, especially in relation to the titular bridge; and abundant literary allusions, particularly to The Odyssey and The Iliad. But while Zusak is a talented writer, the self-indulgent and elegiac prose asphyxiates any semblance of good storytelling, making this book too demanding for most readers, regardless of age. jonathan hunt (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Here are the five Dunbar brothers: reliable Matthew, the oldest and the eloquent narrator of this extraordinary book; incorrigible Rory; Puck, with a pair of fists; Henry, who with a talent for making money knows the odds; Clay, the fourth son and protagonist, is the best of us, according to Matthew; and youngest Tommy, the animal collector. Their mother is dead, and their father has fled, until, one day, he returns to ask for help building a bridge. Only Clay agrees to help, and their bridge quickly assumes symbolic value. Zusak (The Book Thief, 2006) offers up a narrative that is really two stories: one of the present, the story of the bridge and of Clay's love for the girl across the street; and the second of the past, occupied by the boys' childhood and stories that Clay loves The Iliad, The Odyssey. The tone is sometimes somber and always ominous, leaving readers anxious about the fates of these characters whom they have grown to love. Zusak pushes the parameters of YA in this gorgeously written novel: a character has scrap-metal eyes; rain is like a ghost you could walk through. In the end, it always comes back to Clay, that lovely boy, as a neighbor calls him. A lovely boy and an unforgettably lovely book to match. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A national author tour, insane marketing, and an initial 500,000 print run await Zusak's first novel since his critically acclaimed, best-selling The Book Thief. Expect another sensation.--Michael Cart Copyright 2018 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

Like many, I adored and was completely destroyed by "The Book Thief," Zusak's best-selling 2005 novel about a girl, the power of reading and the Holocaust. His muchanticipated follow-up, "Bridge of Clay," is a multigenerational story (think "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn") that goes forward and backward, present and back again, in looping, narrowing spirals, as Zusak explores how family members build, buoy, wound and save one another. The five boisterous Dunbar boys are a unit; along with their father, Michael, and their mom, Penny, they form the puzzle of a family. With the death of Penny - an immigrant to Australia from Eastern Europe who is simultaneously lucky and luckless and one of the most beautifully drawn characters in the book - the puzzle has been shattered. Michael disappears, broken with grief, leaving the eldest brother, Matthew, to care for the rest. Then one day their father returns, asking the boys for help building a bridge. Clay, the brother who "took all of it on his shoulder," is the only one who agrees. "Bridge of Clay" has been more than a decade in the making, and it shows: The characters are clearly loved, and the artistry of language will leave you gasping at times. On a more frustrating level, the structure is confusing, particularly in the beginning, and narrative propulsion is muddled by the scope and poetic repetition. It's a big ask for the reader to make it through a huge chunk of pages without some clear grounding. But for those who keep going, this look at how familial love transcends time, space and consequence will offer an enormous payoff.

Bookseller Publisher Review

More than a decade after The Book Thief, Markus Zusak returns with an evocative, compassionate and exquisitely composed coming-of-age story about family, love, tragedy, and forgiveness. Narrated by Matthew, the eldest of the five orphaned Dunbar brothers, Bridge of Clay ping-pongs backwards and forwards in time with gleeful (but assured) abandon, thrusting readers into the headspace of its ensemble cast through an older Matthew's omniscient point of view. We learn of Penny Dunbar's expedition from the Soviet Union to Australia; of Michael Dunbar's first failed marriage; of the piano that united Penny and Michael; of their love that blossomed, and the sons that followed; of Penny's terminal illness; of Michael's breakdown and desertion, which left five young boys in an unruly homestead, without adult supervision and guidance; and of Clay's fateful decision to help their father build a bridge in bushland where Michael has made a new home. Zusak's prose is distinct: astute, witty, exquisitely rhythmic, and utterly engrossing. The deliberateness of his sentences, down to the punctuation, is something to savour. While Bridge of Clay doesn't rival The Book Thief with regards to its breathtaking scope, Zusak's new book is a profoundly moving and engaging meditation on innocence and the pliable ties that bind family together in a quintessentially Australian setting. Simon McDonald is the senior bookseller at Potts Point Bookshop

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 UP-Narrated by the oldest of the five Dunbar boys, Matthew, Zusak's latest explores the struggles of the family in both the present and the past. The boys are living together when their father, Michael, comes by seeking help in building a bridge. Michael had abandoned them shortly after their mother, Penelope, died of cancer a few years prior. Clay, the second youngest of the brood, decides to go help their father with this project even though he knows this will bring animosity from his eldest brother. Interwoven are the stories of Penelope and Michael's relationship, the boys' schooling, and some romance mixed with tragedy. Zusak reads, bringing the characters to life. VERDICT The story of healing "bridges" is engaging, but the multiple storylines and jumps in time can get overwhelming.-Megan Huenemann, Norris High School, Firth, NE © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Guardian Review

Five boys alone in a house seek redemption through construction in the long-awaited follow-up to The Book Thief It takes courage, not to mention a macabre twist of the imagination, to conceive a novel for young adults narrated by Death. Markus Zusak’s 2005 The Book Thief, the story of a young German girl whose family give shelter to a Jewish refugee during the second world war, became an international bestseller. Yet the most arresting aspect of the novel was the first-person perspective of the Grim Reaper, who turned out not to be particularly grim at all, but rather sardonic, personable and remarkably funny. Death was always going to be a difficult act to follow; and Zusak has laboured for more than a decade on his subsequent work. At almost 600 pages it shares The Book Thief ’s epic weight, but is the first of his novels to be promoted as general fiction, rather than for young adults. The distinction is not immediately apparent, as Zusak pitches the reader into the “terrifically teenaged world” of the Dunbar boys; five fractious, semi-feral brothers living unsupervised in a suburb of Sydney against a backdrop of cheap food, bad movies and badly behaved pets. The narrator is Matthew, the eldest and apparently the breadwinner (though it is not entirely clear what he actually does to sustain this adult-free household), whose language ranges from mock-heroic to downright cartoonish as he introduces this “family of ramshackle tragedy. A comic book kapow of boys and blood and beasts.” His brothers, in descending order, are Rory, the most pugilistic of the bunch; Henry, who insists on a visual diet of Bachelor Party and similarly dreadful films from the 1980s; Clay, a dark horse who emerges from the shadows to become the novel’s central character; and Tommy, a collector of stray animals including a mule called Achilles, Telemachus the budgie and Hector the cat. The primary focus falls on the penultimate brother, Clay – the quietest and most enigmatic of the clan, who spends his time obsessively poring over a monograph on Michelangelo or pounding round the track of the derelict athletics stadium behind the house. As his elder brother observes: “Clay was warming up. Truth be told, Clay was always warming up … It bears mentioning that what our brother was training for was as much a mystery to him as it was to us. He only knew he was working and waiting for the day he’d find out.” That day finally comes around with the unexpected arrival of the boys’ father, whose reappearance is as mysterious as it is unwelcome. Mr Dunbar is never mentioned by name, being referred to exclusively as “the Murderer” (though his crime would appear to be abandonment rather than homicide). Since the death of his wife, Dunbar senior has been living in the outback beside an overflowing river. He now requests the help of his sons to build a bridge. Clay’s decision to join his father is seen by the rest of the family as an unforgivable betrayal, while the building of the bridge is subject to delays, which along with digressions account for much of the book’s length: “What the hell was he waiting for? When would they start building? Was this bridge procrastination?” It seems clear, however, that the actual construction project is secondary to Zusak’s elaboration of an overarching metaphor; as the bridge not only reconnects a broken family, but also provides a link to the loss of the boys’ mother, Penelope, to cancer. The chapters detailing the death of Penelope are among the most moving and successfully realised, not least because they allow Zusak’s uniquely laconic and insinuating concept of death to stalk the narrative: “She’d started leaving us that morning and death was moving in. He was perched on the curtain rod. Dangling in the sun. Later, he was leaning, close but casual, an arm draped over the fridge; if he was minding the beer he was doing a bloody good job.” Throughout The Book Thief the presence of Death is associated with colour, particularly white: “‘Some of you are most likely thinking that white is not really a colour,’ Death maintained. ‘Well I’m here to tell you that it is. White is without question a colour and personally I don’t think you want to argue.’” The same deathly whiteness irradiates the narrative of Clay’s story, as the merciless Sydney sunlight is variously described as “aspirin-white” or “collarbone-white”. Penelope, who emigrated as a teenager from eastern Europe, finds herself oppressed by “the mauling light here. This city. It was so hot and wide and white. The sun was some sort of barbarian, a Viking in the sky.” You could argue that Zusak has a tendency to overplay the theatrical illumination, as even the act of opening the fridge becomes a physical assault: “From nowhere there was light. It was white and heavy and belted him across the eyes like a football hooligan.” But if The Book Thief was a novel that allowed Death to steal the show, its slightly chaotic, overlong, though brilliantly illuminated follow-up is affirmatively full of life. - Alfred Hickling.

Kirkus Review

Years after the death of their mother, the fourth son in an Australian family of five boys reconnects with his estranged father.Matthew Dunbar dug up the old TW, the typewriter his father buried (along with a dog and a snake) in the backyard of his childhood home. He searched for it in order to tell the story of the family's past, a story about his mother, who escaped from Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall; about his father, who abandoned them all after their mother's death; about his brother Clay, who built a bridge to reunite their family; and about a mule named Achilles. Zusak (The Book Thief, 2006, etc.) weaves a complex narrative winding through flashbacks. His prose is thick with metaphor and heavy with allusions to Homer's epics. The story romanticizes Matthew and his brothers' often violent and sometimes homophobic expressions of their cisgender, heterosexual masculinity with reflections unsettlingly reminiscent of a "boys will be boys" attitude. Women in the book primarily play the roles of love interests, mothers, or (in the case of their neighbor) someone to marvel at the Dunbar boys and give them jars to open. The characters are all presumably white.Much like building a bridge stone by stone, this read requires painstaking effort and patience. (Fiction. 16-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

In this rollicking new novel by Zusak (The Book Thief), we meet the Dunbar boys: narrator Matthew; wild Rory; bridge builder Clay; Henry, the entrepreneur; and Tommy, the animal lover. The Dunbars' interactions bring to mind cartoons in which characters are locked together with fists flying and pain inflicted, and the narrative takes on big themes such as love, death, sin, abandonment, and redemption. After having left the boys on their own, their father, Michael, returns to ask for their help in building a bridge across a river. Only Clay rises to the challenge. Each chapter stands on its own, focusing on different characters, including Michael, from a small Australian town; the boys' mother, Penny, from Eastern Europe; and Carey Novac, an aspiring jockey and Clay's love interest. Invoking the Iliad and the Odyssey, the story creates its own larger-than-life mythologies. VERDICT Though the movement from one chapter to the next can be confusing-the novel would have benefited from more editing and tightening-Zusak just loves his characters (including the animals), and the reader will, too. Marketed for a YA audience in the United States but best suited to strong YA readers and adults.-Jacqueline Snider, Toronto © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



portrait of a killer as a middle--aged man   If before the beginning (in the writing, at least) was a typewriter, a dog, and a snake, the beginning itself---eleven years previously---was a murderer, a mule, and Clay. Even in beginnings, though, someone needs to go first, and on that day it could only be the Murderer. After all, he was the one who got everything moving forward, and all of us looking back. He did it by arriving. He arrived at six o'clock.   As it was, it was perfectly fitting, too, another blistering February evening; the day had cooked the concrete, the sun still high, and aching. It was heat to be held and depended on, or, really, that had hold of him. In the history of all murderers everywhere, this was surely the most pathetic:   At five--foot--ten, he was average height.   At seventy--five kilos, a normal weight.   But make no mistake---he was a wasteland in a suit; he was bent--postured, he was broken. He leaned at the air as if waiting for it to finish him off, only it wouldn't, not today, for this, fairly suddenly, didn't feel like a time for murderers to be getting favors.   No, today he could sense it.   He could smell it.   He was immortal.   Which pretty much summed things up.   Trust the Murderer to be unkillable at the one moment he was better off dead.   *   *   *   For the longest time, then, ten minutes at least, he stood at the mouth of Archer Street, relieved to have finally made it, terrified to be there. The street didn't seem much to care; its breeze was close but casual, its smoky scent was touchable. Cars were stubbed out rather than parked, and the power lines drooped from the weight of mute, hot and bothered pigeons. Around it, a city climbed and called:   Welcome back, Murderer.   The voice so warm, beside him.   You're in a bit of strife here, I'd say. . . . In fact, a bit of strife doesn't even come close---you're in desperate trouble.   And he knew it.   And soon the heat came nearer.   Archer Street began rising to the task now, almost rubbing its hands together, and the Murderer fairly caught alight. He could feel it escalating, somewhere inside his jacket, and with it came the questions:   Could he walk on and finish the beginning?   Could he really see it through?   For a last moment he took the luxury---the thrill of stillness---then swallowed, massaged his crown of thorny hair, and with grim decision, made his way up to number eighteen.   A man in a burning suit.   Of course, he was walking that day at five brothers.   Us Dunbar boys.   From oldest to youngest:   Me, Rory, Henry, Clayton, Thomas.   We would never be the same.   To be fair, though, neither would he---and to give you at least a small taste of what the Murderer was entering into, I should tell you what we were like:   Many considered us tearaways.   Barbarians.   Mostly they were right:   Our mother was dead.   Our father had fled.   We swore like bastards, fought like contenders, and punished each other at pool, at table tennis (always on third-- or fourth--hand tables, and often set up on the lumpy grass of the backyard), at Monopoly, darts, football, cards, at everything we could get our hands on.   We had a piano no one played.   Our TV was serving a life sentence.   The couch was in for twenty.   Sometimes when our phone rang, one of us would walk out, jog along the porch and go next door; it was just old Mrs. Chilman---she'd bought a new bottle of tomato sauce and couldn't get the wretched thing open. Then, whoever it was would come back in and let the front door slam, and life went on again.   Yes, for the five of us, life always went on:   It was something we beat into and out of each other, especially when things went completely right, or completely wrong. That was when we'd get out onto Archer Street in evening--afternoon. We'd walk at the city. The towers, the streets. The worried--looking trees. We'd take in the loudmouthed conversations hurled from pubs, houses, and unit blocks, so certain this was our place. We half expected to collect it all up and carry it home, tucked under our arms. It didn't matter that we'd wake up the next day to find it gone again, on the loose, all buildings and bright light.   Oh---and one more thing.   Possibly most important.   In amongst a small roster of dysfunctional pets, we were the only people we knew of, in the end, to be in possession of a mule.   And what a mule he was.   The animal in question was named Achilles, and there was a backstory longer than a country mile as to how he ended up in our suburban backyard in one of the racing quarters of the city. On one hand it involved the abandoned stables and practice track behind our house, an outdated council bylaw, and a sad old fat man with bad spelling. On the other it was our dead mother, our fled father, and the youngest, Tommy Dunbar.   At the time, not everyone in the house was even consulted; the mule's arrival was controversial. After at least one heated argument, with Rory---   ("Oi, Tommy, what's goin' on 'ere?"   "What?"   "What--a--y' mean what, are you shitting me? There's a donkey in the backyard!"   "He's not a donkey, he's a mule."   "What's the difference?"   "A donkey's a donkey, a mule's a cross between---"   "I don't care if it's a quarter horse crossed with a Shetland bloody pony! What's it doin' under the clothesline?"   "He's eating the grass."   "I can see that!")   ---we somehow managed to keep him.   Or more to the point, the mule stayed.   As was the case with the majority of Tommy's pets, too, there were a few problems when it came to Achilles. Most notably, the mule had ambitions; with the rear fly screen dead and gone, he was known to walk into the house when the back door was ajar, let alone left fully open. It happened at least once a week, and at least once a week I blew a gasket. It sounded something like this:   "Je--sus Christ !" As a blasphemer I was pretty rampant in those days, well known for splitting the Jesus and emphasizing the Christ. "If I've told you bastards once, I've told you a hun dred Goddamn times! Shut the back door!"   And so on.   Which brings us once more to the Murderer, and how could he have possibly known? Excerpted from Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.