- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oneworld Publications (24 April 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1780745559
- ISBN-13: 978-1780745558
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.2 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 752,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
In Paradise Hardcover – 24 Apr 2014
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‘The fiction of Peter Matthiessen is the reason a lot of people in my generation decided to be writers.’
'His writing does every justice to the blood and fury of his themes.'(Don DeLillo)
‘Darkly humorous… [In Paradise] gives no hint of the writer’s age or declining physical powers. The maturity of its insights, and its emotional restraint, are the only signs the author is not a youth’(The Herald)
‘A moving valedictory for one of America’s most wide-ranging and poetical writers… compelling… vivid… hypnotic’(Financial Times)
‘Skilful… affecting and powerful… In Paradise gets at the heart of the defining tragic enigma of the 20th century… [It] is Matthiessen's complex and worthy adieu’(Jane Smiley, Guardian)
‘The best passages here are beautifully observed evocations of the place… There is much to meditate on and many reasons to read this novel’(The Times)
‘A dark but thoroughly testing, ambitious and thought-provoking novel’(Curious Animal)
‘Powerfully lyrical and atmospheric’(Observer)
‘A curious, risky novel’(Literary Review)
‘Lucid, compelling… A masterclass in fiction… Stunning’(Irish Times)
About the Author
Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories, in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A co-founder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer and activist, he died in April 2014.
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Top Customer Reviews
Peter Matthiessen died earlier this month. His NYT obituary makes a point about his practice of Zen meditation. "In Paradise" is about a Zen retreat in the mid-1990's to the Auschwitz/Birkenau Concentration Camp outside Crakow. The main character, a professor named D Clements Olin, is participating in the retreat, though he doesn't appear to practice Zen. Neither do a number of other retreat participants; the group is a mix of Germans, Buddhists, Jews, Catholic Poles, and other assorted people. Everybody in the group seem to be there for different reasons, most of the reasons known only to each participant. Clements Olin is there to write about and...search a bit for his own past. He is Polish by birth, and was sent to live in safety in the United States right after his birth in the late 1930's. His mother was left behind in Osweisem and was never heard from again. He had been raised by his father and grandparents in Boston.
Clements Olin is by this time of his life at sixes and sevens. Not successful in love, he is respected by his teaching colleagues, but he has very little personal life. Is he hoping to find some clue to his identity by trying to find what happened to his mother? Possibly, probably. (Certainly another man attending was trying to find out his own real name; having separated from his family at a young age, this old man searching and searching...Read more ›
Olin convinces himself that he came to Auschwitz to gather material for a book, but this is only a formal reason. The protagonist himself is not sure who he is and what he wants from his pilgrimage. Not sure and the rest of group. Every day they are gathering to pray, inspect dilapidated buildings, railroad tracks, ovens and gas chambers, talk about themselves and their stories, which led to the retreat.
The participants discuss a variety of topics, from religion and patriotism to Jews and Nazism. Every day some new topic is raised that leads to bitter disputes and discussions, considering how different the audience gathered at the camp site is.
In Paradise is an uncomfortable novel. It’s uncomfortable for everyone, the reader, and the heroes of the novel. Holocaust requires sensitivity. Holocaust does not recognize the hypocrisy, but tearful and compassionate feelings are also irrelevant.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So, you’re forewarned about all that. The strengths of the book, it seems to me, remain Matthiessen’s fearless, virtuosic writing and what to me is the pith of the novel, encapsulated in Anna Akhmatova’s poem which serves as the epigraph to the book which ends::
“- something not known to anyone at all
But wild in our breast for centuries.”
Neither the poet nor Clements Olin can give this thing a name, but it has to do with something deep in the heart of man, something to do with falling in love, something so akin to to despair, that it might be called despair’s obverse side. But this meditation on human heartbreak and loss, on all the genocides which have happened, which are happening and which shall happen in mankind’s sojourn on the Earth is not for the sappy nor for those who have some Manichean view of the universe. If you’re absolutely sure that you’re in the right, this book will flay you alive.
I don’t think I’m giving anything away by apprising the would-be reader that the book does not end on a cheerful note, but rather a heartbroken one. Still...in the penultimate scene, Clements visits a Polish cathedral, famed for its stained glass, and is alone in it during a thunderstorm:
“In the high windows, ice blues of the firmament pierce wild red cells; all Heaven has been murdered, set afire. The winter sunlight comes and goes, shadows sweep past; the burning panes are lashed by sheets of rain. In that instant, as a sun shaft reignites the colors, the fire blood, the organ shriek, bind his mortal senses hard and tight as a pennant whipped by wind round its pole.”
We have this splendour of prose which, though it leave you feeling as a pennant whipped by wind round its pole, will also leave you in awe that we still have a writer of Matthiessen’s scope and prescience under the sun.
IN PARADISE finds Matthiessen’s talents turned to the Holocaust and the result is a powerful, morally ambiguous examination of our responses to the Shoah. D. Clements Olin is the putative protagonist of the novel, the son of a Polish calvary officer who fled, along with his landed and titled parents, before Germany’s invasion of Poland in the years that preceded World War II. Olin’s mother…well, let’s leave that to the book.
Olin searches for family and emotions. He is a near affectless man, unsuccessful in marriage, marginally competent in his career, which, of course, is academia. Ostensibly he is examining the life of Tadeusz Borowski, a Polish poet who survived the camps only to commit suicide in 1951 three days after the birth of his daughter.
He joins a disparate group that visits Auschwitz and Birkenau. Germans who want to expiate a national guilt, Catholic clergy who bristle at the Church’s blind eye during the Final Solution, Poles who steadfastly claim ignorance of what occurred under their very eyes, and Jews—survivors and others—who return to confirm man’s capacity for evil.
Yet even the survivors are challenged. In surviving the camps many are asked what they had to do to live through the horror. “Reading Borowski was Olin’s first exposure to the swarming scene of terror on this platform, the howls of lost children running everywhere and nowhere ‘like wild dogs,’ the young mother so frantic to be spared that she forsakes the little boy calling Mama! Mama! Who runs behind here (‘Oh no, sir! He’s not mine!’), casting away the last of her humanity for a few more hours of excruciating life.”
The most intriguing character is G. Earwig, an improbably name, “unattached” pilgrim, whose caustic outbursts and outrageous comments, ecumenically directed at everyone, make him the pariah of the group.
The writing about the camps is spare, wintry, a landscape devoid of life. In one of the preserved barracks “a wistful child has scrawled on the wall: ‘No butterflies live here.’” This poignant image is somehow more powerful than the hill of empty shoes or the piles of human hair.
Set in 1996, amidst the turmoil and renewed genocide in Eastern Europe, IN PARADISE offers a bleak, hopeless view of man.
There is nothing simple about this narrative, though the situation can sound simple: Prof. Olin, a student of modern Slavic literature with a special interest in the works that emerged from the Holocaust, arrives in Poland on his way to Auschwitz, where he is to join (more as an observer than participant, or so he thinks) an ecumenical religious group planning to spend days on the selection ramp, meditating and witnessing on behalf of the murdered millions. Olin (whose family name has a history as that of an aristocratic family, Olinsky, who held property in the vicinity of Oswiecim) is also, secretly, in search of information about his mother, who did not leave for America when Olin's father and grandparents fled.
Olin encounters a wide variety of people--a "Nordic-Jew" as his roommate; a group of Zen meditators; Jewish groups from Israel and America, German descendants of SS officers, a Polish priest, a pair of novices aspiring to be nuns, a defrocked monk, and more. The uneasy interactions among these disparate people, occasionally bursting into heated argument as their stereotypic assumptions and prejudices emerge to contradict the official reasons for their presence--to atone for the sins of the Holocaust and to forge unity among the various religious and social views they bring with them. In the cold and oppressive environment of the remains of the death camp, the psychological impact of the memories--both stimulated by documentary films and museum exhibits and also evoked by the feelings of the "presence" of the millions of dead--is heavy and unsettling. Olin, who expects to be engaged at a scholarly or academic level, even in approaching his search for evidence of his mother's fate, undergoes strong challenges to his sense of his self--more than just "identity crisis," the near collapse of his sense of who he is and why he continues to live.
Matthiessen has presented intense and powerful characters in earlier works--Far Tortuga, Killing Mr. Watson, especially--but here he is probing deeper and more painfully into the fundamental questions of the relation between our "selves" and our responsibility for behavior--both our own behavior and that which we witness and either condone or try to ignore or, under some circumstances, stand up, oppose, resist, even attempt to prevent or stop altogether. Part of the testing of those human characteristics in this novel comes from the presence of a Mr. G. Earwig (an assumed name, of course) who purposely separates himself from all the others, mocking, reprimanding, denouncing, deeply insulting the others, calling into question all of their values and characters and assumptions. He is, in this way, a person in the mold of Thersites, the mocking cynic and nihilist who appears in Homer's Iliad, but also, even more destructively, in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. He becomes the dark side of Olin as the narrative progresses, and his presence, and then his life story (which may or may not be true) serve as catalysts for Olin's own crisis of identity.
There are other elements of Olin's story that are better left for the reader to discover. But as my title for this review indicates, there are no easy ways out of the moral challenges and dilemmas these characters face, and no simple resolution. This novel leaves this reader shaken and impressed. Yes, some parts of it are open to question or criticism, but the quibbles are unworthy of mention. Yes, Olin himself reminds us that many have felt that there is an impropriety, an inauthenticity, even an outright dishonesty in writing about the Holocaust by anyone who did not experience and survive it. From that perspective, all others should be silent. But Matthiessen makes a powerful case for the honest and wrenching effort to confront that history, even as one who comes at it from a position of privileged distance, comfort, abstraction and analysis. Certainly this is a novel worth reading, and more than once.
by accident or assignment, eventually writing a major paper for a graduate degree in philosophy. Now, occasionally, I am drawn to attempt a
better, by no means complete, understanding of complex human decisions, sacrifices, descendants, meaning, and primarily, strength and belief.
his last novel is a masterpiece.