Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
Pan Macmillan, 2018. ISBN 9781760559922
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) Recommended. With a story that is based on the deep and abiding love of a family, this book plunges us deeply into the world of the Carey family in a Melbourne suburb near one of the great horse racing tracks. The five sons are educated at the local school, but their home education is deeply embedded in the Greek classics, with even their pets being named after the great Greek heroic figures. This is a story that packs an enormous punch, just as the boys do so often in their home, even though they are surrounded by love and care. The book is suitable for older adolescents, and certainly is a great read for adults.
Zusak has chosen a storyline that takes the reader through the years of the boys youth, through the loss of their mother to illness, their father's occasional abandonment, their loving care of their somewhat unusual pets, and the animals that are ever-present in their lives, especially the mule. All the names of the animals represent the qualities that the boys attribute to their furry friends, and this is the key to their shared set of values and beliefs that holds them together when their mother dies and their father appears to abandon them.
Choosing to weave his story deep in the suburbs of Melbourne, Zusak takes us back and forth in time so that we have to construct the storyline as we work to place each chapter in its right time. When their father leaves them, after his wife's death, the boys fight and play, read and build, but never stop supporting each other and find ways to cope, in their inimitable style. The father is not a bad figure but is grieving so deeply that he cannot stay with his sons. Yet they forgive him!
Place matters in this text, and the story is set in different places that re-appear throughout the narrative. We get to know The surrounds, the bridge over the deep valley that they work to construct, the racetrack and the racing horses, and the animals' shelters at home. Clay's bridge, the shelters for the animals, their home, the race track and local area are all deeply reflective of this family. The mixing-up of the timeline appears to be reflective of the more important issue of the deep and abiding love they share, and of their memory of a loving mother who educated them in the best of the ancient Greek values, of loyalty, goodness, and generosity, all in the face of almost constant threats of disaster. This is a long story, and is one that needs concentration to build its place in time, and yet it is utterly captivating. It is hard to put down, to let the boys go when the end comes, but we leave them with a deep feeling of gratitude that although we have spent so much time with them, we are sad that the narrative has ended. It is hard to believe that this is not a true story, and it is likely that we might well posit its essential truths as pertinent to our being human, and be all the better as people for having read this wonderful novel.
Bridge of Clay is suitable for adolescent and adult reading.