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Book Title: Son Şeyler Ülkesinde|
The author of the book: Paul Auster
Edition: Can Yayınları
Date of issue: January 2012
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 947 KB
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Reader ratings: 5.2
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I don’t normally seek out post-apocalyptic novels, but Paul Auster’s novel is one to treasure.
Even though it is an early work, I felt I was in the hands of a master.
It is both beautifully written and wise.
It’s easy to read, but it’s not so easily “readable” that I could read it without turning the telly off.
Although its style is sparse and economical, there’s a lot happening beneath the surface.
Still, Auster carefully manages exactly how much he wants us to know and what he wants to remain unclear or open for conjecture.
This transforms the reader into a literary detective, a sifter of clues and memories.
Anna’s Epistle to An Unnamed Friend
The story is told in the voice of 19 year old Anna Blume in the form of a long letter to a friend who isn’t identified (but might be a little sister or a childhhod friend).
The letter is a summary of her time in a post-apocalyptic city, written hurriedly in the last days before she expects to escape it illegally.
I’m not sure how appropriate or successful the epistolary format was.
There is only one long 190 page letter written in a blue notebook, not an exchange of correspondence.
We only get one point of view. It could just as readily have been a journal, apart from the fact that it’s addressed to one particular person.
A Letter Never Sent?
Was her letter ever sent?
It’s not clear whether the letter was ever delivered or read. It's quite possible that it wasn't.
This could be an inevitable consequence of the choice of epistolary format.
Normally, this format would dictate that the novel must work internally within the letter.
We can only assume that someone “found” or received it, even if it wasn’t the addressee for whom it was intended.
However, in the first few pages, there are some clues.
Phrases like ”she wrote” and “her letter continued” are interposed into the letter.
Perhaps, they are intended to suggest that somebody other than we readers might have found the letter and read it, if not necessarily the addressee.
However, ultimately, whether or not it was read by the right person, Auster implicitly makes the point that it was worth writing (if only because ultimately he wrote it!).
An Incomprehensible Apocalypse
As you would expect, Paul Auster doesn’t tell us a lot about the nature of the Apocalypse itself. It’s cloaked in mystery.
The novel is more concerned with its aftermath.
Anna Blume arrived in the city by foreign charity ship, 12 months after the Apocalypse occurred.
She comes from a different country to the east, possibly England.
There are opportunities to reveal where she comes from (presumably she has a foreign accent, but nobody comments on it; Victoria, one of the people she meets on the way, has sent her children to England to escape the Apocalypse, but they don't appear to discuss this common interest).
It seems strange that nothing is made of these opportunities to disclose her origins, although Anna might not have thought them important enough.
A Report Never Filed
Anna is looking for her older brother, William, a journalist who had previously come to report on the events for a newspaper, but has since gone missing.
It’s not clear how much reporting has got through to the rest of the world. Not much by the sound of it.
A Collapse of Epidemic Proportions
Only when Anna has been in the city for some time does she learn that:
"...some kind of epidemic had broken out there. The city government had come in, walled off the area, and burned everything down to the ground.
"Or so the story went. I have since learned not to take the things I am told too seriously.
"It’s not that people make a point of lying to you, it’s just that where the past is concerned, the truth tends to get obscured rather quickly.
“Legends crop up within a matter of hours, tall tales circulate, and the facts are soon buried under a mountain of outlandish theories."
It’s not clear whether the epidemic was the primary cause of the Apocalypse or whether it was an after-effect.
Auster refers to the Apocalypse occasionally as a “collapse”, which suggests that it might have been just as much a social phenomenon, as a natural or even man-made disaster, though there is some sense of past destruction and imminent war.
He also mentions “the Troubles”, which were violent political disputes, although it’s unclear whether they preceded or followed the Apocalypse.
Whatever the physical cause of the Apocalypse, it’s clear that not only have many buildings collapsed, but the social order of the city has collapsed into barely-controlled anarchy.
Like the surviving inhabitants, readers have to piece together the clues, and even then it isn’t clear how reliable they are.
The City of Destruction
Auster does not name the city in the novel, although many consider it to be New York.
It contains a National Library, but I doubt whether it is intended to be Washington, because it seems to be a port, and we learn that there is nothing on the same continent east of it.
None of the street names are recognisable, although “Circus Street” might just be Broadway.
Even though Anna comes from a place that has been unaffected, she lacks knowledge about the continent that the city is on.
Again, she has to rely on what she has been told:
"This country is enormous, you understand, and there’s no telling where he might have gone. Beyond the agricultural zone to the west, there are supposedly several hundred miles of desert. Beyond that, however, one hears talk of more cities, of mountain ranges, of mines and factories, of vast territories stretching all the way to a second ocean."
Whether or not this is America, why doesn’t she seem to have greater knowledge of the continent? Has the knowledge of the rest of the world been affected as well?
Wide is the Gate and Broad is the Road
Some clues as to the scope and design of the novel can be found in the epigram:
"Not a great while ago, passing through the gate of dreams, I visited that region of earth in which lies the famous City of Destruction."
This quotation comes from Hawthorne’s short story, “The Celestial Railroad”, which is an allegory about the people of a city who try to build a shortcut between their own city and Heaven, between “The City of Destruction” and “The Celestial City”.
Hawthorne based his story on John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the full title of which is “The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come”.
Both works are concerned with the proper way to get to Heaven, which is itself described in the Bible:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
A Secular Pilgrim's Progress
The novel isn’t overtly Christian or religious (even though Anna describes herself as Jewish). However, there is an underlying morality at work.
Without any obvious clues, there’s a sense that the city was doing something "wrong", that it had started to step out too confidently and aggressively for its own good, that it deserved to decline and fall, and therefore that it had it coming to it.
Perhaps, it’s been punished for being immoral, greedy and inconsiderate, if not necessarily being irreligious.
In the wake of the Apocalypse, there’s a sense in which humanity has to reconstruct itself without the aid of institutional religion.
After her arrival, Anna is quickly reduced to the level of a local inhabitant.
She has to make her way back to virtue, happiness and fulfilment, and her letter describes a secular pilgrimage of sorts.
The Getting of Wisdom
Anna has to piece together every resource available to her, whether spiritual or worldly, to survive.
In the process, she gains some awareness, knowledge and wisdom, even if it could be taken away from her at any moment.
She starts by describing issues of subsistence, the hunger from which everyone suffers:
"You must get used to doing with as little as you can. By wanting less, you are content with less, and the less you need, the better off you are.
"That is what the city does to you. It turns your thoughts inside out. It makes you want to live, and at the same time it tries to take your life away from you."
Out of Order
Then she describes the social structures that have emerged to fill the void left by the Apocalypse: Runners, Leapers, Smilers, Crawlers, Dreamers, Fecalists, Resurrection Agents, Vultures, Tollists.
Where there is no longer any authority, there is now desperate tribalism, bare aggression and raw power.
Sickness prevails. Death is everywhere.
Even within the confines of the Library, many of the books have been stolen for fuel.
Those that remain have been scattered all over the floor.
They are "out of order" and therefore useless.
Like everybody else, Anna is left to her own devices. Or almost.
Populating the City
Having set the scene, Anna introduces the people she has allowed into her life in the city.
She makes friends and loses them, whether to death or fate or circumstance.
Still, the company of others gives her both love and hope, if only temporarily.
Every act of friendship is more valuable, given the circumstances in which it occurs.
At times, it seems that the novel is an allegory about the Holocaust, where even in the worst and most evil of conditions the beauty of humanity can still shine through.
Eventually, her band of accomplices resolves itself down to the comforting Sam Farr (who she had hoped would lead her to William), the charitable Victoria Woburn (who maintains a hospital in memory of her father) and the eccentric Boris Stepanovich.
A Persona of Indifference Becomes a Persona of Benevolence
Anna and Sam start a relationship, only to be parted, without knowing whether the other is alive.
"I gave up trying to be anyone. The object of my life was to remove myself from my surroundings, to live in a place where nothing could hurt me anymore. One by one, I tried to abandon my attachments, to let go of all the things I ever cared about. The idea was to achieve indifference, an indifference so powerful and sublime that it would protect me from further assault. I said good-bye to you, Anna..."
Yet one day, he stumbles into Victoria’s hospital where Anna is now working.
Reunited at last, he takes on the role of doctor, and the patients start to trust him with their problems:
"It was like being a confessor, he said, and little by little he began to appreciate the good that comes when people are allowed to unburden themselves – the salutary effect of speaking words, of releasing words that tell the story of what happened to them."
So Sam transitions from non-attachment to engagement with life and, by doing so, he reinvigorates Anna as well.
An Escape Never Made?
At the end of the novel, Anna’s unlikely "bande a part" is poised to escape the city.
So Anna writes her letter in the days leading up to their departure.
We never know whether they succeeded or what happened to them subsequently.
A Collection of Last Things
While there might be a tragedy inherent in this story, it also says something about the role of story-telling and writing.
Life is ephemeral. It happens, and once it has happened, it moves into the past and ceases to be:
"These are the last things, she wrote. One by one they disappear and never come back...When you live in the city, you learn to take nothing for granted. Close your eyes for a moment, turn around to look at something else, and the thing that was before you is suddenly gone. Nothing lasts, you see, not even the thoughts inside you. And you mustn’t waste your time looking for them. Once a thing is gone, that is the end of it."
If thoughts can’t survive, then neither can memories.
Memories require a human to maintain and transmit them.
Absent people, the memories die, and the reality that once was is no more.
Just as people deny the Holocaust, once the memories cease, people start to forget or deny the underlying factuality.
A Recollection of Lasting Things
Still, Anna feels the compulsion to write, to preserve these memories, to create an amulet:
"I am not sure why I am writing to you now...But suddenly, after all this time, I feel there is something to say, and if I don’t quickly write it down, my head will burst. It doesn’t matter if you read it. It doesn’t even matter if I send it – assuming that could be done. Perhaps it comes down to this. I am writing to you because you know nothing. Because you are far away from me and know nothing."
Towards the end, Anna pictures her letter as “one last thing to remember me by”.
The notebook could end up as a thing sitting on a shelf above a bed, one last thing that might last.
Boris the Chameleon
Anna owes some of this change of approach to the flamboyant, charlatan-like Boris Stepanovich.
At first, she is captivated by, but sceptical about, his tale-telling and his constant metamorphosis:
"One by one, he took on the roles of clown and scoundrel and philosopher."
Unlike anyone else she has met, his character shifts:
"A man must live from moment to moment, and who cares what you were last month if you know who you are today?"
Yet Boris is a sentimentalist at heart, if a wily one.
Without words and memories, who would know what they are today anyway?
He says of a precious tea cup:
"The set has suffered the fate of the years…and yet, for all of that, a single remnant has survived, a final link to the past. Treat it gently, my friend. You are holding my memories in your hand."
Hats Off to Boris
Anna gets another clue from Boris' love of ornate hats:
”Boris explained that he liked to wear hats because they kept his thoughts from flying out of his head. If we both wore them while we drank our tea, then we were bound to have more intelligent and stimulating conversations.”
Equally, perhaps, society needs memories, to be truly civilized.
Civilisation is what separates us from mere subsistence, whether in a ghetto or a garret.
So, ultimately, Boris too revitalises Anna:
"We became dear friends, and I owe Boris a debt for his compassion, for the devious and persistent attack he launched on the strongholds of my sadness."
Likewise, Boris becomes the inspiration for the escape plan:
"Make plans. Consider the possibilities. Act."
Humanity must not just embrace contemplation, it must embrace action to survive.
Promise to Write
Anna promises to write to her friend when they get out of the city of destruction.
We never find out whether she got out safely, or survived, or posted her letter, or ever wrote again.
Hear Me Calling You
Still, we are lucky to have read her epistle of engagement and action and persistence and humanity.
She did not just call out into the blankness, or scream into a vast and terrible void.
She did not just create one of the last things that will disappear, she created something that will last.
She did not write in vain.
The "you" she was writing to has become the "we" who have read Paul Auster's novel.
It is we who have heard her call.
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Read information about the authorPaul Auster is the bestselling author of Report from the Interior, Winter Journal, Sunset Park, Invisible, The Book of Illusions, and The New York Trilogy, among many other works. He has been awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature, the Prix Médicis Étranger, the Independent Spirit Award, and the Premio Napoli. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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