Timbuktu

Timbuktu

by Paul Auster

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312428945
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 489,840
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Paul Auster’s most recent novel, Timbuktu, was a national bestseller, as was I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Hometown:

Brooklyn, New York

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1947

Place of Birth:

Newark, New Jersey

Education:

B.A., M.A., Columbia University, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Timbuktu

A Novel


By Paul Auster

Picador

Copyright © 1999 Paul Auster
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0005-8


CHAPTER 1

Mr. Bones knew that Willy wasn't long for this world. The cough had been inside him for over six months, and by now there wasn't a chance in hell that he would ever get rid of it. Slowly and inexorably, without once taking a turn for the better, the thing had assumed a life of its own, advancing from a faint, phlegm-filled rattle in the lungs on February third to the wheezy sputum-jigs and gobby convulsions of high summer. All that was bad enough, but in the past two weeks a new tonality had crept into the bronchial music — something tight and flinty and percussive — and the attacks came so often now as to be almost constant. Every time one of them started, Mr. Bones half expected Willy's body to explode from the rockets of pressure bursting against his rib cage. He figured that blood would be the next step, and when that fatal moment finally occurred on Saturday afternoon, it was as if all the angels in heaven had opened their mouths and started to sing. Mr. Bones saw it happen with his own eyes, standing by the edge of the road between Washington and Baltimore as Willy hawked up a few miserable clots of red matter into his handkerchief, and right then and there he knew that every ounce of hope was gone. The smell of death had settled upon Willy G. Christmas, and as surely as the sun was a lamp in the clouds that went off and on every day, the end was drawing near.

What was a poor dog to do? Mr. Bones had been with Willy since his earliest days as a pup, and by now it was next to impossible for him to imagine a world that did not have his master in it. Every thought, every memory, every particle of the earth and air was saturated with Willy's presence. Habits die hard, and no doubt there's some truth to the adage about old dogs and new tricks, but it was more than just love or devotion that caused Mr. Bones to dread what was coming. It was pure ontological terror. Subtract Willy from the world, and the odds were that the world itself would cease to exist.

Such was the quandary Mr. Bones faced that August morning as he shuffled through the streets of Baltimore with his ailing master. A dog alone was no better than a dead dog, and once Willy breathed his last, he'd have nothing to look forward to but his own imminent demise. Willy had been cautioning him about this for many days now, and Mr. Bones knew the drill by heart: how to avoid the dogcatchers and constables, the paddy wagons and unmarked cars, the hypocrites from the so-called humane societies. No matter how sweetly they talked to you, the word shelter meant trouble. It would begin with nets and tranquilizer guns, devolve into a nightmare of cages and fluorescent lights, and end with a lethal injection or a dose of poison gas. If Mr. Bones had belonged to some recognizable breed, he might have stood a chance in the daily beauty contests for prospective owners, but Willy's sidekick was a hodgepodge of genetic strains — part collie, part Labrador, part spaniel, part canine puzzle — and to make matters worse, there were burrs protruding from his ragged coat, bad smells emanating from his mouth, and a perpetual bloodshot sadness lurking in his eyes. No one was going to want to rescue him. As the homeless bard was fond of putting it, the outcome was written in stone. Unless Mr. Bones found another master in one quick hurry, he was a pooch primed for oblivion.

"And if the stun guns don't get you," Willy continued, clinging to a lamppost that foggy morning in Baltimore to prevent himself from falling, "there's a thousand other things that will. I'm warning you, kemo sabe. You get yourself some new gig, or your days are numbered. Just look around this dreary burg. There's a Chinese restaurant on every block, and if you think mouths won't water when you come strolling by, then you don't know squat about Oriental cuisine. They prize the taste of dog, friend. The chefs round up strays and slaughter them in the alley right behind the kitchen — ten, twenty, thirty dogs a week. They might pass them off as ducks and pigs on the menu, but the in-crowd knows what's what, the gourmets aren't fooled for a second. Unless you want to wind up in a platter of moo goo gai pan, you'll think twice before you wag your tail in front of one of those Chink beaneries. Do you catch my drift, Mr. Bones? Know thine enemy — and then keep a wide berth."

Mr. Bones understood. He always understood what Willy said to him. This had been the case for as long as he could remember, and by now his grasp of Ingloosh was as good as any other immigrant who had spent seven years on American soil. It was his second language, of course, and quite different from the one his mother had taught him, but even though his pronunciation left something to be desired, he had thoroughly mastered the ins and outs of its syntax and grammar. None of this should be seen as strange or unusual for an animal of Mr. Bones's intelligence. Most dogs acquire a good working knowledge of two-legged speech, but in Mr. Bones's case there was the advantage of being blessed with a master who did not treat him as an inferior. They had been boon companions from the start, and when you added in the fact that Mr. Bones was not just Willy's best friend but his only friend, and then further considered that Willy was a man in love with the sound of his own voice, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool logomaniac who scarcely stopped talking from the instant he opened his eyes in the morning until he passed out drunk at night, it made perfect sense that Mr. Bones should have felt so at home in the native lingo. When all was said and done, the only surprise was that he hadn't learned to talk better himself. It wasn't for lack of earnest effort, but biology was against him, and what with the configuration of muzzle, teeth, and tongue that fate had saddled him with, the best he could do was emit a series of yaps and yawns and yowls, a mooning, muddled sort of discourse. He was painfully aware of how far from fluency these noises fell, but Willy always let him have his say, and in the end that was all that mattered. Mr. Bones was free to put in his two cents, and whenever he did so his master would give him his full attention, and to look at Willy's face as he watched his friend struggle to make like a member of the human tribe, you would have sworn that he was hanging on every word.

That gloomy Sunday in Baltimore, however, Mr. Bones kept his mouth shut. They were down to their last days together, perhaps even their last hours, and this was no time to indulge in long speeches and loopy contortions, no time for the old shenanigans. Certain situations called for tact and discipline, and in their present dire straits it would be far better to hold his tongue and behave like a good, loyal dog. He let Willy snap the leash onto his collar without protest. He didn't whine about not having eaten in the past thirty-six hours; he didn't sniff the air for female scents; he didn't stop to pee on every lamppost and fire hydrant. He simply ambled along beside Willy, following his master as they searched the empty avenues for 316 Calvert Street.

Mr. Bones had nothing against Baltimore per se. It smelled no worse than any other city they'd camped in over the years, but even though he understood the purpose of the trip, it grieved him to think that a man could choose to spend his last moments on earth in a place he'd never been to before. A dog would never commit such a blunder. He would make his peace with the world and then see to it that he gave up the ghost on familiar ground. But Willy still had two things to accomplish before he died, and with characteristic stubbornness he'd gotten it into his head that there was only one person who could help him. The name of that person was Bea Swanson, and since said Bea Swanson was last known to be living in Baltimore, they had come to Baltimore to find her. All well and good, but unless Willy's plan did what it was supposed to do, Mr. Bones would be marooned in this city of crab cakes and marble steps, and what was he going to do then? A phone call would have done the job in half a minute, but Willy had a philosophical aversion to using the telephone for important business. He would rather walk for days on end than pick up one of those contraptions and talk to someone he couldn't see. So here they were two hundred miles later, wandering around the streets of Baltimore without a map, looking for an address that might or might not exist.

Of the two things Willy still hoped to accomplish before he died, neither one took precedence over the other. Each was all-important to him, and since time had grown too short to think of tackling them separately, he had come up with what he referred to as the Chesapeake Gambit: an eleventh-hour ploy to kill both birds with one stone. The first has already been discussed in the previous paragraphs: to find new digs for his furry companion. The second was to wrap up his own affairs and make sure that his manuscripts were left in good hands. At that moment, his life's work was crammed into a rental locker at the Greyhound bus terminal on Fayette Street, two and a half blocks north of where he and Mr. Bones were standing. The key was in his pocket, and unless he found someone worthy enough to entrust with that key, every word he had ever written would be destroyed, disposed of as so much unclaimed baggage.

In the twenty-three years since he'd taken on the surname of Christmas, Willy had filled the pages of seventy-four notebooks with his writings. These included poems, stories, essays, diary entries, epigrams, autobiographical musings, and the first eighteen hundred lines of an epic-in-progress, Vagabond Days. The majority of these works had been composed at the kitchen table of his mother's apartment in Brooklyn, but since her death four years ago he'd been forced to write in the open air, often battling the elements in public parks and dusty alleyways as he struggled to get his thoughts down on paper. In his secret heart of hearts, Willy had no delusions about himself. He knew that he was a troubled soul and not fit for this world, but he also knew that much good work was buried in those notebooks, and on that score at least he could hold his head high. Maybe if he had been more scrupulous about taking his medication, or maybe if his body had been a bit stronger, or maybe if he hadn't been so fond of malts and spirits and the hubbub of bars, he might have done even more good work. That was perfectly possible, but it was too late to dwell on regrets and errors now. Willy had written the last sentence he would ever write, and there were no more than a few ticks left in the clock. The words in the locker were all he had to show for himself. If the words vanished, it would be as if he had never lived.

That was where Bea Swanson entered the picture. Willy knew it was a stab in the dark, but if and when he managed to find her, he was convinced that she would move heaven and earth to help him. Once upon a time, back when the world was still young, Mrs. Swanson had been his high school English teacher, and if not for her it was doubtful that he ever would have found the courage to think of himself as a writer. He was still William Gurevitch in those days, a scrawny sixteen-year-old boy with a passion for books and beebop jazz, and she had taken him under her wing and lavished his early work with praise that was so excessive, so far out of proportion to its true merit, that he began to think of himself as the next great hope of American literature. Whether she was right or wrong to do so is not the question, for results are less important at that stage than promise, and Mrs. Swanson had recognized his talent, she'd seen the spark in his fledgling soul, and no one can ever amount to anything in this life without someone else to believe in him. That's a proven fact, and while the rest of the junior class at Midwood High saw Mrs. Swanson as a squat, fortyish woman with blubbery arms that bounced and wiggled whenever she wrote on the blackboard, Willy thought she was beautiful, an angel who had come down from heaven and taken on a human form.

By the time school started again in the fall, however, Mrs. Swanson was gone. Her husband had been offered a new job in Baltimore, and since Mrs. Swanson was not only a teacher but a wife, what choice did she have but to leave Brooklyn and go where Mr. Swanson went? It was a tough blow for Willy to absorb, but it could have been worse, for even though his mentor was far away, she did not forget him. Over the next several years, Mrs. Swanson kept up a lively correspondence with her young friend, continuing to read and comment on the manuscripts he sent her, to remember his birthday with gifts of old Charlie Parker records, and to suggest little magazines where he could begin submitting his work. The gushing, rhapsodic letter of recommendation she wrote for him in his senior year helped clinch a full scholarship for Willy at Columbia. Mrs. Swanson was his muse, his protector, and good-luck charm all rolled into one, and at that point in Willy's life, the sky was definitely the limit. But then came the schizo flip-out of 1968, the mad fandango of truth or consequences on a high-voltage tension wire. They shut him up in a hospital, and after six months of shock treatment and psychopharmacological therapy, he was never quite the same again. Willy had joined the ranks of the walking wounded, and even though he continued to churn out his poems and stories, to go on writing in both sickness and in health, he rarely got around to answering Mrs. Swanson's letters. The reasons were unimportant. Perhaps Willy was embarrassed to stay in touch with her. Perhaps he was distracted, preoccupied with other business. Perhaps he had lost faith in the U.S. Postal Service and no longer trusted the mail carriers not to snoop inside the letters they delivered. One way or the other, his once voluminous exchanges with Mrs. Swanson dwindled to almost nothing. For a year or two, they consisted of the odd, desultory postcard, then the store-bought Christmas greeting, and then, by 1976, they had stopped altogether. Since that time, not one syllable of communication had passed between them.

Mr. Bones knew all this, and that was precisely what worried him. Seventeen years had gone by. Gerald Ford had been president back then, for Chrissakes, and he himself would not be whelped for another decade. Who was Willy trying to kid? Think of all the things that can happen in that time. Think of the changes that can occur in seventeen hours or seventeen minutes — let alone in seventeen years. At the very least, Mrs. Swanson had probably moved to another address. The old girl would be pushing seventy by now, and if she wasn't senile or living in a trailer park in Florida, there was a better than even chance that she was dead. Willy had admitted as much when they hit the streets of Baltimore that morning, but what the fuck, he'd said, it was their one and only shot, and since life was a gamble anyway, why not go for broke?

Ah, Willy. He had told so many stories, had talked in so many different voices, had spoken out of so many sides of his mouth at once, that Mr. Bones had no idea what to believe anymore. What was true, what was false? It was difficult to know when dealing with a character as complex and fanciful as Willy G. Christmas. Mr. Bones could vouch for the things he'd seen with his own eyes, the events he'd experienced in his own flesh, but he and Willy had been together for only seven years, and the facts concerning the previous thirty eight were more or less up for grabs. If Mr. Bones hadn't spent his puppyhood living under the same roof with Willy's mother, the whole story would have been shrouded in darkness, but by listening to Mrs. Gurevitch and measuring her statements against her son's, Mr. Bones had managed to stitch together a reasonably coherent portrait of what Willy's world had looked like before he came into it. A thousand details were lacking. A thousand others were muddled in confusion, but Mr. Bones had a sense of the drift, a feeling for what its shape both was and wasn't.

It wasn't rich, for example, and it wasn't cheerful, and more often than not the air in the apartment had been tinged with sourness and desperation. Considering what the family had been through before it landed in America, it was probably a miracle that David Gurevitch and Ida Perlmutter managed to produce a son in the first place. Of the seven children born to Willy's grandparents in Warsaw and Lodz between 1910 and 1921, they were the only two to survive the war. They alone did not have numbers tattooed on their forearms, they alone were granted the luck to escape. But that didn't mean they had an easy time of it, and Mr. Bones had heard enough stories to make his fur tingle. There were the ten days they spent hiding in an attic crawl space in Warsaw. There was the monthlong walk from Paris to the Free Zone in the south, sleeping in haylofts and stealing eggs to stay alive. There was the refugee internment camp in Mende, the money spent on bribes for safe conducts, the four months of bureaucratic hell in Marseille as they waited for their Spanish transit visas. Then came the long coma of immobility in Lisbon, the stillborn son Ida delivered in 1944, the two years of looking out at the Atlantic as the war dragged on and their money ebbed away. By the time Willy's parents arrived in Brooklyn in 1946, it wasn't a new life they were starting so much as a posthumous life, an interval between two deaths. Willy's father, once a clever young lawyer in Poland, begged a job from a distant cousin and spent the next thirteen years riding the Seventh Avenue IRT to a button-manufacturing firm on West Twenty-eighth Street. For the first year, Willy's mother supplemented their income by giving piano lessons to young Jewish brats in the apartment, but that ended one morning in November of 1947 when Willy poked his little face out from between her legs and unexpectedly refused to stop breathing.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Timbuktu by Paul Auster. Copyright © 1999 Paul Auster. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Interviews

On Wednesday, May 26th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Paul Auster to discuss TIMBUKTU.


Moderator: Welcome, Paul Auster! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening to discuss your new book, TIMBUKTU. How are you doing tonight?

Paul Auster: Not too bad. Sitting in my living room in a chair. It's fairly comfortable.


Ginger Farland from Alexandria: How long did it take you to write TIMBUKTU?

Paul Auster: It took me five years to write it. From the first sentence to the last sentence. But I was involved in other things as well during that time. That's why the book is set in 1993, because it was actually started in 1993.


Jurjen from Amsterdam: Hi, Paul. My friend Pasja is a great fan of yours. About three weeks ago, on a reasonably sunny Sunday afternoon, we were roller-blading through the Vondelpark and addressing all the dogs we met (a lot, believe me!) as Mr. Bones. While people probably considered us as a mad bunch, we had some serious conversations with the dogs, too. That, of course, was a hilarious thing to do. Pasja just moved apartments and has no email for the moment, but he would probably like to know how you came up with the idea to use a dog (and his views) as the protagonist of TIMBUKTU.

Paul Auster: I never made a conscious decision to write from a dog's point of view. One day, Willy and Mr. Bones were there. They hadn't been there the day before, but now they were there. My original plan for the book was to use Mr. Bones and Willy as minor characters in a much larger story. But as I started writing the opening passages of the book, I fell in love with these two and decided to abandon my big plan and make a book entirely about these two characters. Of course Mr. Bones is a dog, but he also is a character in a book, and even through he's confined to a dog's body, he probably thinks more like a man than a canine. If anything, 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.


Ann from New York City: Your characters are often outsiders to the American dream and writers/scholars. Like Willy G. Christmas, they're also often a bit wacko. Where does your fascination with insanity and obsession come from?

Paul Auster: It's not a choice. These characters choose me. I can't say exactly why they do, but I know for certain that I can't write about anything or anyone who doesn't fascinate me and keep me on my toes. Often, by standing outside of things, you get a much better view of what you are looking at. And by telling my stories through these characters, maybe I'm helping to clarify the world to myself.


H. S. Wright from Washington, D.C.: I saw your excellent film "Lulu on the Bridge" during a trip to Paris in October. It's now almost June, and it still hasn't come out in the USA. Is there any hope that it will find a distributor? I thought it was very moving, the best film of 1998, and it seems a shame that no one in this country will be able to see it.

Paul Auster: Thank you for your very kind words. Yes, we do have an American distributor, but alas, it looks as though the American release will be confined to video. As far as I know, it's been scheduled for September. Perhaps at that point we'll be able to arrange for a small theatrical release, but nothing is sure yet.


Roland from Germany: Paul: I'm always surprised by the twists and turns in your works. What is the secret of your creativeness, and how do you always come up with such great new ideas?

Paul Auster: You're too kind to me. If I knew where these things came from and what they meant, I probably wouldn't feel the need to do them. It's a great mystery to me. I often feel as though I am not actually responsible for the works I create but simply the instrument for expressing them.


Laurent Sagalovitsch from Vancouver (after Paris...): You often declared in the past that you were writing the novels you dreamed of as a teenager. What about TIMBUKTU? Did you dream about it as a young man? P.S. Do you remember me? We used to write to each other a few years ago...since then I had two novels published by Actes Sud.

Paul Auster: Yes, of course I remember you. How are you doing, and what are you doing in Vancouver? This book is a product of my middle age and was dreamed of and written between the years 1993 and 1998. P.S. Good luck with your work.


Jennifer J. from the East Village: I find your writing nothing short of brilliant. I must admit, however, that I'm more drawn to your darker, complex works like THE NEW YORK TRILOGY, LEVIATHAN, THE MUSIC OF CHANCE, et cetera, as opposed to MR. VERTIGO. I haven't had a chance to look at TIMBUKTU, but I'm wondering if this work is in the lighter vein of MR. VERTIGO. If so, is this a new trend for you? Do you feel you've grown beyond your former vision? Do you think the fact that your writing is more lucrative has given you a lighter view of the world?

Paul Auster: Money has nothing to do with it. You write at any given moment what you are capable of writing, what you need to write. As for TIMBUKTU, I don't know what category this book falls into. It feels like a new departure to me, but I felt this about every book I've ever written. When I come to the end of a book, I always think I'll never be able to write again. And if I do find the strength to start something else, I always have the feeling that I'm starting all over again from the beginning, reinventing myself with every word.


David Corts from France: You quote once again this peculiar person, Don Quixote. What do you find so fascinating in that character?

Paul Auster: For me, DON QUIXOTE is the novel of novels. It's one of the earliest works of fiction, as we define it today, and also one of the richest, most complex -- the one that asked all the questions that people are still asking today. The idea of a man immersed in the fictional world of books thrashing out into the world to try to make the world a better place, completely bewitched by his own delusions, is to me the very essence of what all stories are about. Don Quixote is the quintessential fictional character because he is all of us, in each one of us.


Keyle from L.A.: You wrote that one can gain a better view "by standing outside of things"...practically speaking, how does this work when you are writing? And you say your characters "choose" you.... How does that happen? They -- pardon the pun -- hound you until you write about/through them?

Paul Auster: I'm always looking for ways not to write something. A lot of ideas pass through my head, and I try not to pay any attention to them. But if an idea or character or situation keeps returning to me, then I begin to look at it a little more carefully. I do everything I can to belittle it and undermine it and find its weaknesses. And if I still can't destroy it and it keeps coming back to me, especially at moments when I'm least expecting to find it, then I begin to realize that the only way to get rid of it is to begin writing. By standing outside, I mean this: that if you're inside something, you literally can't see it. For example, when I was a young person in my early 20s, I moved away from America for a few years and lived abroad. But I wasn't running away from America so much as trying to find another way of looking at it. And by being away from the place where I lived, I think I began to understand it better -- to see it in more objective terms. I had a similar experience when I was writing my first prose book, THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE. The second part, the book of memory, is an intensely autobiographical and personal narrative, and yet I couldn't find a way to write it until I decided to do it in the third person. In order to see myself, I had to step back from myself and give myself a little room.


John from Madison, WI: Before your literary and cinematic stars really found a place in the North American sky, you were already much revered in Europe and particularly France, where you're a recognized literary celebrity/sensation. What do you think it is about your writing that speaks to a European sensibility?

Paul Auster: I have no idea. It's the only honest answer I can give.


Greg Potter from Darien, CT: I recently read a quote in The New York Times from your wife, describing how you first met. If you don't mind my asking, what's next for your wife, Siri Hustvedt? When does she have another book coming out? What is it like to live with another novelist -- are you more understanding of one another; does it ever get competitive?

Paul Auster: Last year, Siri published a book of essays entitled YONDER, which didn't get much attention in the press and not many reviews, but to my mind is an extraordinary book about art, literature, and other important subjects. For the past four years or so, she's been working on a new novel, the pages of which have grown at an alarming rate, and she tells me that she hopes to finish it by the end of the year. I can't wait to read it. Living with another writer has been a pure joy for me. It's never competitive, and I think we both are glad to have someone who understands us and supports us. This might sound corny, but it's absolutely true.


Sarah from Buffalo, NY: Periodically throughout your novels the character Daniel Quinn (introduced in CITY OF GLASS) appears or is mentioned. Similarly, Anna Blume, introduced in IN THE COUNTRY OF LAST THINGS, later is mentioned in MOON PALACE. What is the thematic significance of this, and is it meant to tie these novels together as one continuity?

Paul Auster: The problem is, I can't get rid of these characters. A part of me feels that everything I've written is connected and that it would be possible to map out a very complex and elaborate family tree that would link all these people together in some gigantic encyclopedia of my imagination.


Moderator: Is there anything that you are looking forward to reading this summer? Any books that you would recommend?

Paul Auster: I've mostly been looking forward to reading books I've read before. Reacquainting myself with books that meant great deal to me. This summer I was planning to reread the essays of Montaigne and as many plays of Shakespeare as I can.


Clayton from Chicago: Which authors have inspired you most in your writing career?

Paul Auster: There's so many I barely know where to begin. Poets, novelists, philosophers...the list is inexhaustible. If I had to confine it to just a few names, I would begin with these: Poe and Hawthorne, Melville and Thoreau, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Beckett, Shakespeare, and Cervantes.


Lew from Yardley, PA: I loved the section of THE LOCKED ROOM, Chapter 3, when you took Sophie to dinner and eventually ran home only to wake up with the TV on and a Marco Polo movie. I identified with the scene completely. Did this actually happen, or, as others have asked, where did this come from?

Paul Auster: You say "you," but I am not the nameless narrator of the book. And the novel is not autobiographical. The only bit in THE LOCKED ROOM drawn directly from my own life is the utterly bizarre story the narrator tells about working as a census taker in 1970. But I should add that I called the character Sophie in homage to Hawthorne's wife, Sophia. Three years after writing the book, my wife and I had a daughter, and we named her Sophie as an homage to the character in THE LOCKED ROOM.


Tim Dobson from Brighton, England: To what extent do you consider yourself a postmodern writer?

Paul Auster: To tell you the truth, I don't fully understand what the term "postmodernist" means. I know people have called me that and even a post-postmodernist and many other things as well, both good and bad. It reminds me of a story I once heard about James Joyce. He was apparently at a party somewhere one night, and a woman gushing with enthusiasm came up to him and asked if she could shake the hands that wrote ULYSSES. And Joyce, looking down at his right hand with a whimsical expression on his face, said to her, "Let me remind you Madam, that this hand has done many other things as well."


Donna from Northampton: Hello, Mr. Auster. I'm hoping you could tell me if you have a dog and if that was the inspiration for TIMBUKTU. Thanks.

Paul Auster: Yes, I do have a dog, but I started writing the book before I got him. But I must say that he was very helpful for me in doing research for the book.


Joshua from Owings Mills: I've just started TIMBUKTU, and Willy is in search of his teacher, Bea Swanson. Do you have a teacher or professor that you remember -- that encouraged you at all? Teachers can have such a huge effect on our lives -- although I realize TIMBUKTU is not autobiographical, I am wondering if teachers or school was a memory you recently connected with.

Paul Auster: There was an English teacher I had in high school who encouraged me to write, and I think it made a big difference. The influence of teachers is enormous, and the good ones stay with us for the rest of our lives. Other teachers, particularly in college, were very important to me, but when you are 15 or 16 years old, the impact of a good teacher in high school is immeasurable.


Moderator: Thank you, Paul Auster, and best of luck with TIMBUKTU. Before you leave, do you have any parting thoughts for the online audience?

Paul Auster: I just want to thank you for inviting me to do this. It's a very strange experience talking to people you can't see. But I know you're out there and thank you for listening in.


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Timbuktu 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
kpsquirrel More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has psychological insight, a love for animals and is prone to abstract thinking will put this on their top shelf for life. I read this book and gave it someone at the dog park...a long while later it made it's way back to me as a recommendation from someone else at the park. Of course, I circulated the book, but kept an extra copy for myself. It became others favorites as well, who then purchased their own copies to keep. I will definately reread someday, when I am ready for another tearjerker.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great writing, great imagination, if you have ever loved an animal you will love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for the nice price of $3.98 on bn.com but it is a priceless treasure. This was an outstanding, heartfelt novel. Mr. Bones is a hero and a devoted friend. It provokes you to stop and ponder about life and realize that your life isn't that bad. Especially if you have a place to sleep and eat. This book also inspired me to buy groceries and dog food for this homeless man and his puppy in the 7 station on 42nd St. I loved it and would recommened it highly!
fingerpost on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is the story of Mr Bones, a dog. I really liked the book, but can't give it more than 3 stars because of the first 50 pages. The first 50 pages (and the book only has 180 total) were slow, and focused not on Mr Bones, the real protagonist of the book, but on Willy Christmas, his owner. Willy is an eccentric bum, and eccentric to the point of absurdity. For the most part, his eccentricities don't seem to contribute anything to the real story. Worst of all, several times we have to read page after page of nonsensical ramblings from the verbose Willy. That said, once you get past that first quarter of the book, the rest is really good. Told in the third person, but very much from the dog's point of view. The rest of the book is heartwarming, sad, and surprisingly realistic.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This might have made a good short story. Told from a dog's point of view, but not by any means narrated by the dog. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. Almost too obviously, it had a beginning, a middle and an end. Short as it was (181 pages) it went on too long, and there just didn't seem to be any point to it. I hate to disagree with Salmon Rushdie, who apparently loved it, but I don't see this as anything extraordinary. I already know what things look like from a dog's perspective, and so does anyone else who has lived with and loved one. I think Auster might have been capitalizing on his name with this one.
CK25_00 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
There¿s a reason I don¿t like books written from the point of view of animals (with an obvious exception of Animal Farm). The action tends to unfold from the supposed simplicity of the animal narrator, leading either to uninspired action or weird anthropomorphic desires I can¿t quite (or don¿t want to) grasp. Having been thoroughly turned off to Paul Auster after taking in his latest book squandering (Sunset Park¿or Pretty White People With Problems), I wasn¿t sure if I was ready to jump into any of his other entries, though seeing as how they had been ordered and were just collecting dust, waiting to be read, I decided to pick up the book with the shortest page length. Timbuktu is what that was.The novella follows Mr. Bones and his master, Willy G Christmas, who leaves his mother¿s home in Brooklyn to amble up towards Baltimore, taking in whatever sights the journey lends. The two appear comfortable with their squalor so long as man and dog are still together, but by the time they arrive in Baltimore (Christmas seemingly inspired to track down a former teacher) Mr. Bones finds himself without his master and spends the remainder questioning and following his doggy desires¿in grassy fields and forlorn, school-aged children. A great deal of time is spent by Mr. Bones ruminating on the specifics of Timbuktu, a supposed afterlife concocted by Christmas, but there¿s hardly any spiritual aspect here that makes up for what this story seems to concern itself with¿a search for identity in a cruel, unforgiving world.This one should¿ve been a short story.
cmwilson101 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Beautiful story told from the perspective of a dog, Mr Bones, whose master is homeless. Raises thought-provoking questions about love, loyalty, society, mental illness, personal value, and homelessness. This gorgeous story which will undoubtedly stick with me for a long time.
sanddancer on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A must-read for anyone who loves dogs. Auster perfectly captures the very essence of a dog's nature in the main character, the wonderfully named, Mr Bones. He is a loyal companion and intelligent, but very much a canine creation, driven by impulses based on hunger and smells and frustrated by his inabilty to communicate properly with humans.Mr Bones' orginal owner is the erratic poet wanderer Willie G Christmas, a truly original character. He is responible for much of the sadness in the book, but also the wit, in particular his musings about teaching dogs to read was pure genius.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Dog lovers must read this poignant, humorous, and devoutly canine novel by Paul Auster. Meet Willie Christmas, a homeless man who prepares his dog for the trials he will face upon Willie's death, such as, the dog pound if he is not careful. Meet Polly, who institutes her own set of rules for her beloved dog. Above all, meet Mr. Bones, who shares with us his and Willie's conception of the afterlife, better known in this book as "Timbuktu". Read it and weep!
amaryann21 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Heartwrenching and beautiful... I love the perspective. Quick read and well worth it.
msl521 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Definitely an odd and style-defining work. This book is written from the dog's perspective. It is a unique and intriguing insight into the story that would otherwise be banal.
ireed110 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Willy G Christmas (a surname he took on following a revelation) and Mr Bones travel together, with occasional wintertime respites at Mama-Sans apartment . It's an interesting life, and Mr Bones can't imagine anything better. Willy has never denied him the opportunity to savor an interesting smell and has never treated him anything less than equal. What a sweet and tender book this was. Anyone who has ever loved a dog will be thrilled to learn that our best friends understand Ingloosh, are blessed with prescience, and never, ever, forget us. I cried like a little baby when it ended, but this is a far cry from the token sentimentality of "Marley and Me." Here you have a tough life as seen by the dog who lives it. It's a wonderful concept, and a book that has changed the way I see my own dog, one that I will think about for a long time to come.
maggieball on LibraryThing 8 months ago
For those used to the almost psychedelic complexity of Auster¿s novels, Timbuktu will come as something of a shock. It¿s short, sweet, and utterly simple: a lovely and moving story of a dog that loses his master. The story is told in omniscient third person, but it takes the dog¿s point of view and never wavers from it. There are no subtexts, few literary allusions, and even the idea of a dog capable of serious thought comes across as completely straight and oddly believable. The book is clean, and suitable for young adult readers. The protagonist is Mr Bones, the dog whose thoughts drive the narrative. As the book opens, Mr Bones¿ master, Willy G Christmas, is dying, and is on a mission to find Mr Bones a new home before that happens. But homeless himself, schizophrenic, and on his last legs, Willy isn¿t particularly successful. Mr Bones¿ journey as he tries to come to terms with the loss of a master he had come to love, while looking after his own increasingly desperate welfare forms the plotline of the book.

Of course there are aspects of this book which can be read as metaphor. Mr Bones¿ struggle to find food and shelter while remaining true to the memory of his owner, provide a poignant reminder of the all too common difficulties of human homelessness. The prejudices that Willy and Mr Bones encounter are those that most people reading the book will recognise in themselves. But Mr Bones is more than metaphoric, and Timbuktu provides the reader with more than simply a case of anthropomorphism. Mr Bones is a character that readers will identify with and like simply for his own dogginess: his integrity and honesty. Mr Bones is unusually intelligent, and his knowledge of English is due in part to Willy¿s constant chatter: ¿a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool logomaniac who scarcely stopped talking from the instant he opened his eyes in the morning unti he passed out drunk at night¿(6). But Mr Bones¿ hungers and desires are very much dog ones, and his perception of the human character is as much of interest as his situation. His perspective, however deep it sometimes gets, is not without humour.

The book follows Mr Bones¿ struggle to survive on his own, moving through a succession of homes and realities and come to terms with his own identity. He does all sorts of normal doggy things such as chasing pigeons, chasing female dogs, and attaching himself to kind children in exchange for food and affection. But Mr Bones¿ attachment to Willy runs deep, and his love for that crazy wordsmith, and his implicit acceptance of the picture of heaven that Willy provides him with override even a warm bed. Mr Bones struggles with his conflicting desires for freedom and comfort, and as we follow him, we are reminded that this dogged journey is also a human one.

Timbuktu is a delicately presented, beautifully written book which will appeal to children as well as adults. Mr Bones¿ quizzical look at the human race makes perfect sense, and the book reads quickly and easily. The overriding desire for meaning beyond this short life is one which infuses the book, but Auster never allows a human narrative voice to interfere with Mr Bones¿ perspective. Clever, funny, lighthearted and serious all at the same time, this is a stylistic departure for Paul Auster which nonetheless makes full use of his gifts.
amyfaerie on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Not my favorite Auster. Not a fan of books written from the POV of a dog? Then don't read this one.
akritz on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Not my favorite by Auster. Timbuktu is told from the point of view of a homeless man's dog. Mr. Bones telling the story is refreshing in that we don't get the story from the human that squandered his money. So the reader has to fill in a lot of the information.
Replay on LibraryThing 10 months ago
OK...not quite convinced by this story. Auster did not pit all his heart in this easy-reading novel. Poor dog, he lives, eats, thinks, stinks and barks like humans do. This no dog life!By far the "Austeriest" end ever.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Would I recommend it? Definitely!The main character of the story is a dog named Mr. Bones, a companion to Willy Christmas. Willy was born William Gurevitch, but changed his name after he was watching television one night and Santa Claus started speaking to him about the joys of giving. Of course, this was after Willy had had a kind of psychotic break and ended up in a mental hospital, and following his release staying at his mother's apartment. As the story opens Mr. Bones and Willy are on the road to Baltimore, because Willy is dying and believes he must find his old English teacher Bea Swanson, who he knows is the perfect person to take charge of his many notebooks full of his writings after his death. Willy has given away all of his inheritance and he and Mr. Bones are wanderers -- homeless, often hungry and with no permanence in their lifestyle. Mr. Bones doesn't really mind; Willy is his best friend and Mr. Bones is Willy's confidant, the audience for Willy's musings and brief verbal essays on life. Willy and Mr. Bones reach Baltimore, and Willy collapses outside the home of Edgar Allan Poe - an ambulance picks him up and delivers him to the hospital where he dies, leaving Mr. Bones alone. Now on his own, Mr. Bones must find a way to survive until he is reunited with Willy in that place you go after you die, Timbuktu, which Willy has described as "an oasis of spirits."The story is easy to read, but packs a wallop. It's not a cartoonish story in the least - very thought provoking. I would definitely recommend it.
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gsl13 More than 1 year ago
Well-written and humorous in places. I especially loved the dog perspective. Nothing prepared me for the ending.
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