Underdogs - By Markus Zusak


I guess there aren’t too many writers who can say their career started with a horror trip to the dentist — but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you take your good luck however you get it. For me, it was a trigger-happy dental surgeon. It was several fillings, hundreds of dollars paid in cash, and one small thought of revenge: What if two brothers tried to rob the dentist?

That’s how became a writer.

Of course, I’m not telling the whole truth. I left out my first embarrassing attempt at a book when I was sixteen (all eight pages of it), and the seven years of failed attempts that followed. For the better part of a decade, I’d been trying to write something very serious, but suddenly I knew what my next project would be. It was those brothers and their farcical holdup. They would use a baseball bat and a cricket bat as their weapons. They would get there and be immediately bewitched by the beautiful dental nurse behind the desk … and they would end up getting checkups instead — the beginning of The Underdog.

All up, The Underdog took me a few months to write and edit. When I thought about publication, I held little hope. After all, three other manuscripts had already been rejected over the last seven years, and this was the one I had worked on least.

Around this period was also the first time I ever went overseas. I left the manuscript under my bed with fifty dollars attached, for my brother to mail for me while I was away. When I rang to ask him to send it off, he did what any self-respecting older brother would do. He paid the eight dollars to mail it and kept the forty-two dollars change — and I started waiting for the rejection that never came.

To this day, I remember it very clearly.

I was woken at 2:20 a.m. in Vienna, where I was staying with my dad’s best friend. The phone was ringing, and strange as it sounds, I knew. It was the book. They were going to publish the book. I never went back to bed after that.

Upon hearing the news from my father, I immediately called my two sisters, the first of whom told me she nearly hit the ceiling when she heard. The second one cried and told me she was so proud of me.

Then I called my brother.

My brother, in typical fashion, said, “Yeah. Pretty good.”

This, to be fair, was most people’s version of screaming congratulations from a rooftop. It’s about as animated as my brother gets, and I knew he was happy.

Since then, twelve years have passed, and it’s a real thrill for me that The Underdog is being released in America for the first time as part of this omnibus. When I think about these three books, I realize that the first one was my great fluke. The second was a slightly steadier step in the direction of where I wanted to go. The third brought with it the realization that it was time to move on again and rise to newer writing challenges.

In the end, it’s like finding an old photo of yourself; you hope for as little embarrassment as possible. Of course, there are so many things I’d love to change, but I also look back with a lot of happiness. After twelve years, the doubts and fears subside — they loom larger over the work I’m doing now. For Cameron and Ruben, twelve years is enough time to just let them be, I think.

All my best,


Sydney, Australia

September 2010


For my family


We were watching the telly when we decided to rob the dentist.

“The dentist?” I asked my brother.

“Sure, why not?” was his reply. “Do you know how much money goes through a dental surgery in a day? It’s obscene. If the prime minister was a dentist, the country wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now, I can tell you. There’d be no unemployment, no racism, no sexism. Just money.”


I agreed with my brother Ruben only to keep him happy. The truth was that he was just grandstanding again. It was one of his worst habits.

That was the first truth, of two.

The second was that even though we had decided to knock over our local dentist, we were never going to do it. So far this year we’d promised to rob the bakery, the fruit shop, the hardware, the fish ‘n’ chip shop,