In the Country of Last Things

( 6 )

Overview

In a distant and unsettling future, Anna Blume is on a mission in an unnamed city of chaos and disaster. Its destitute inhabitants scavenge garbage for food and shelter, no industry exists, and an elusive government provides nothing but corruption. Anna wades through the filth to find her long-lost brother, a one-time journalist who may or may not be alive.

New York Times-bestselling author Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy) shows us a disturbing Hobbesian society in this ...

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In the Country of Last Things

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Overview

In a distant and unsettling future, Anna Blume is on a mission in an unnamed city of chaos and disaster. Its destitute inhabitants scavenge garbage for food and shelter, no industry exists, and an elusive government provides nothing but corruption. Anna wades through the filth to find her long-lost brother, a one-time journalist who may or may not be alive.

New York Times-bestselling author Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy) shows us a disturbing Hobbesian society in this dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel.

"Powerful, original, imaginative... ."--Washington Post

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
Powerful, original, imaginative... .
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Imagine an American city in the near future, populated almost wholly by street dwellers, squatters in ruined buildings, scavengers for subsistence. Suicide clubs offer interesting ways to die, for a fee, but the rich have fled with their jewels, and those who are left survive on what little cash trade-in centers will give them for the day's pickings. This enthralling, dreamlike fable about a peculiarly recognizable society, now in the throes of entropy, focuses on the plight of a young woman, Anna Blume. Anna has memories of a gentler life, but comes to the city in a ``charity ship'' to hunt for her missing brother. She first finds shelter with a madman and his wife and later experiences a brief idyll with a writer, Samuel Farr.Together they live in the deteriorating splendor of the marbled public library. Promise is ultimately rekindled when the survivors consider taking to the road as magiciansan action implying that art and illusion can save. Auster, an accomplished stylist, creates a tone that deftly combines matter-of-factness and estrangement. The eerie quality is heightened by the device of a narrator who learns everything from Anna's journal.
Library Journal
In a book-length letter home, Anna Blume reports that her search for a long-lost brother has brought her to a vast, unnamed city that is undergoing a catastrophic economic decline. Buildings collapse daily, driving huge numbers of citizens into the streets, where they starve or die of exposureif they aren't murdered by other vagrants first. Government forces haul away the bodies, and licensed scavengers collect trash and precious human waste. Weird cults form around the most popular methods of suicide. Anna tries to help, but the charity group she joins quickly runs out of supplies and has to close its doors. A number of post-apocalyptic novels have been published recently; Auster's, one of the best, is distinguished by an uncanny grasp of the day-to-day realities of homelessness. This is a scary but highly relevant book. Edward B. St. John, Loyola Marymount Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Washington Post
Powerful, original, imaginative... .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140097054
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/28/1988
  • Series: Contemporary American Fiction Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 781,519
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of The New York Trilogy and many other critically acclaimed novels. He was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in 2006. His work has been translated into more than forty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences.

This sentence from the opening of Paul Auster's first novel, City of Glass, could also serve as a template for the author's career, both in circumstance and theme. City of Glass is perhaps the best known of Auster's postmodern detective New York Trilogy, which is rounded out by Ghosts and The Locked Room. Though the novels nominally involve cases to be solved, at base they are about the mystery of identity and how easily it can be lost or altered. In City of Glass, a mystery writer mistakenly receives a phone call for detective Paul Auster and assumes his identity, becoming embroiled in a case. The trilogy was a welcome breath of fresh air for both detective stories and postmodernist writing, and it put Auster on the publishing map.

Setting out to write his subsequent novel, Auster kept in mind the subtitle "Anna Blume Walks Through the 20th Century." The result was a woman's post-apocalyptic urban journey, In the Country of Last Things. Subsequent works such as Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, Leviathan, and Mr. Vertigo offered heroes caught up in strange worlds, playing out their stories over existential subtexts. The Music of Chance carries references from Beckett's Waiting for Godot in its story about a drifter who ends up teaming with a card player named Jack Pozzi to hustle two wealthy eccentrics in a fateful poker game. In Mr. Vertigo, a boy who has the ability to levitate goes on the road in the 1920s as "the Wonder Boy," moving through a panorama of pre-Depression America.

Auster's ability to blur the line between fantasy and reality has resulted in unique stories that never operate solely as good yarns. The New York Times wrote of Leviathan -- a dead man's coincidence-ridden story, as narrated by his friend -- "Thus in the literary looking glass of Leviathan, in which things are not always what they seem, our pleasure in reading the story is enhanced by the challenge of making other connections." Auster's fondness for allegory has earned him both praise for his cleverness and criticism from reviewers who, even as they praise his talent, occasionally find him heavy-handed.

The director Philip Haas adapted The Music of Chance for the 1993 film starring James Spader and Mandy Patinkin. But it was Wayne Wang who drew Auster to the movie business in earnest, convincing him to write the screenplay for 1995's Smoke, which was adapted from the short story "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story." The film did well enough to get producer Miramax on board for a sequel bringing back star Harvey Keitel, Blue in the Face. This time, Auster not only wrote the script but co-directed with Wang; he later went full-fledged auteur with the 1998 film (also starring Keitel) Lulu on the Bridge.

In 1999, Auster made the unconventional choice of writing from a canine's point of view in Timbuktu -- although as Auster noted in the Guardian, Mr. Bones "is and isn't a dog." In telling the story of himself and his owner, a homeless "outlaw poet" named Willy G. Christmas, Mr. Bones offers a meditation on mortality, human relationships, and dreams. "If anything," Auster said in a chat with Barnes & Noble.com readers, "I thought of Willy and Mr. Bones as a rather screwball, nutty, latter-day version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the befuddled knight-errant and his loyal squire." The New York Times called Timbuktu his "most touching, most emotionally accessible book."

Auster earned some of his best reviews with his tenth novel The Book of Illusions, about a widower who develops an obsession with an obscure silent-film star and is surprised with an invitation to meet the presumed-dead actor. Book magazine called it "certainly his best...the book [has] the drive and dazzle reminiscent of the classic hardboiled yarns of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett."

Auster is an author who, in both his fiction and his nonfiction, rekindles hope for the romantic, the coincidental, and the magical in everyday life. He does this not with fantastic story lines but by heightening the significance of twists and coincidences that happen to us all the time -- if we approach things in a certain light, our lives become like movies. Auster spins the projector.

Good To Know

Auster's wife Siri Hustvedt, whom he met in 1981, is also a novelist and essayist; writing about her novel The Blindfold, the Village Voice Literary Supplement called Hustvedt "a writer of strong, sometimes astonishing gifts." Auster's first wife was writer Lydia Davis.

Desperately poor in the late '70s and working unhappily as a French translator to make ends meet, Auster wrote a detective novel called Squeeze Play to make some money. He also invented a card game called Action Baseball that he tried to sell to game manufacturers. However, Squeeze Play is "not a legitimate book," he told the Guardian; it was published under a pseudonym. Later, an inheritance from his father allowed Auster the financial freedom to focus more on his writing.

Auster has enjoyed a remarkably international following, even in the days before his Hollywood projects raised his profile; his novels have been translated into several languages, and web sites from Germany to Japan pay him homage.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Paul Benjamin
    2. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 3, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., M.A., Columbia University, 1970

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2013

    One of the few novels Ive read mutiple times....

    And one that I keep coming back to and consistently recommend. It was my first Auster and I keep hoping that he will write something else like this. The landscape he paints is unique ad wonderful. Myself, being both a scavenger and a "re-user" of abandoned items I loved best the description of life outside and how each type of person coped (or didnt).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    A controversial novel.

    Anna Blume, a young woman, is searching for her brother who disappeared ( a letter is the last sign of life from her brother ). It brings her to a country unknown and without a name. Apparently terrible things happened not so long ago. The people there have to live in poverty and hardship with a never ending struggle with all sorts of criminals. At first sight this book has some things in common with a SF novel. Something very bad happened, civilization is almost gone. But is Paul Auster really a writer to use science-fiction ? He writes about coincidence, about the intertwining of fiction and reality and about individuals in relation to their relatives ( as is the case with Anna Blume ). The ( coincidental ) meeting with the father is one of the most returning subjects. Why would such a writer use science fiction ? Who knows better than Paul Auster himself ? In an interview with L.McCaffery and S.Gregory ( The Red Notebook and other writings - edition Faber & Faber - London ) he says (about The Country of Last Things) that there are specific references to the Warsaw ghetto but also to events taking place in the Third World today and that New York is turning into a Third World city ( again: according to Paul Auster ). As far as I'm concerned I think that everyone has the right to interpret this novel as he/she wants. I like this novel because Anna Blume is a brave and touching character in search for her brother.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2005

    Was It My City?

    Auster's country of last things seems eerie but so familiar. New York has a cult novella to use as a guide. Amazing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2002

    nice,but...

    I think people tend to take Auster too seriously. Auster writes nice, interesting books, but he never was or will be a great writer. This I say despite the fact that he tries to portray himself as so ¿ using intertextuality, complex narration, brooding and "deep" imagery - and this is his problem ¿ he does it as an amateur. It seems to me that Auster made his homework and read the masters, however, not hard enough. He doesn't have what they have, or have so little of it, yet he approaches writing as if he was one, and the result is dissatisfying. He is simply not Kafka, or Henry James, or even Salman Rushdie or Coetzee. For those of you who have some background, reading serious stuff ¿ and those who've done it know what I'm talking about ¿ stay away or you'll be disappointed. For others, who would like to enjoy more than average level of writing ¿ enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2000

    This was a great book.

    I personally believe this was a wonderful book. Paul Auster is a genius. I've read other books by him and every time I leave feeling as though I've learned something. I definitely recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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