In Paradise: A Novel

In Paradise: A Novel

by Peter Matthiessen


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The bestselling final novel by a writer of incomparable range, power, and achievement, a three-time winner of the National Book Award.
Peter Matthiessen was a literary legend, the author of more than thirty acclaimed books. In this, his final novel, he confronts the legacy of evil, and our unquenchable desire to wrest good from it.
One week in late autumn of 1996, a group gathers at the site of a former death camp. They offer prayer at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform. They eat and sleep in the sparse quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews in this camp to their deaths. Clements Olin has joined them, in order to complete his research on the strange suicide of a survivor. As the days pass, tensions both political and personal surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to resolution or healing. Caught in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer’s role and to bear witness, not only to his family’s ambiguous history but to his own.
Profoundly thought-provoking, In Paradise is a fitting coda to the luminous career of a writer who was “for all readers. He was for the world” (National Geographic).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A Newsweek Best Book of 2014

Praise for Peter Matthiessen:

“You could well school yourself as a young American writer, in the early 21st century, by reading and then rereading the works of Peter Matthiessen. But of course he wasn't just a writer's writer; he was for all readers. He was for the world.” --National Geographic
“Matthiessen was unique in our literature, a descendant of Melville and Dostoyevsky who chronicled the heart of darkness at the center of the American fever dream. … The loss to American letters is immeasurable.” -- LA Review of Books

Praise for In Paradise:

“Matthiessen’s descriptions are poetic and scarifying…he creates indelible vignettes about what remains and what took place here. Like the rest of Matthiessen’s vast body of work, “In Paradise” leads us into questions that define our most profound mysteries.” –The Washington Post
“The beauty of [In Paradise] comes in [Matthiessen’s] powerful descriptions. With his command of the language, he can add something new and profound to that vast library of Holocaust literature. In Paradise allows Peter Matthiessen to once again demonstrate that he remains one of our most powerful writers.”–The Miami Herald

“The conflict between the drama of the self and its surrender in the shadow of the Holocaust is Matthiessen's bold subject...powerful.” –New York Review of Books

“Peter Matthiessen's In Paradise is a deeply intelligent study of Holocaust remembrance…bleakly funny… [and] eloquent” –The Wall Street Journal

“A fitting coda to [Matthiessen’s] career… Where better to look for some sort of human essence than in a landscape that embodies us at our worst?...This is the key message of Matthiessen’s life and writing -- that we are intricate, thorny, inconsistent, that the lines between good and bad blur within us, that we are capable of anything. The only choice is to remain conscious, to engage with openness.” –Los Angeles Times

“Written with a young man’s energy, In Paradise possesses an old man’s wisdom, which eschews the presumptions of age and the easy attainment of certitude." –The Daily Beast

In Paradise is a fitting final addition to Matthiessen's oeuvre, in that it combines moral seriousness and imagination grounded in the world with elegance of expression and a willingness to take risk.” – National Geographic
“[In Paradise] … provides rare insight into the dark magnetism of a brutal landmark. What drives a survivor to return? What inspires conflicted visitors to join hands in spontaneous dancing? Matthiessen’s courage and clarity in addressing this topic [were] signal virtues of his career.” –Newsday

“Underpinned by an ambitious, near audacious, storyline… Matthiessen proceeds to set out his fictional stall in deftly assured fashion….[He] combines tactical restraint with lucid, compelling yet almost conversational prose. He has an ability to render a character in a detail or two…All of this craft combines to make much of In Paradise read like a masterclass in fiction…stunning.” –The Irish Times

“Affecting and powerful… In Paradise gets at the heart of the defining tragic enigma of the 20th century… [a] complex and worthy adieu.” –Jane Smiley, The Guardian

“A moving valedictory for one of America’s most wide-ranging and poetical writers… Matthiessen’s novel embraces humanity’s endless capacity to heal and reinvent itself.” – Financial Times

In Paradise is…contemplative and moving, and in its haunting story of Holocaust survivors who revisit Auschwitz, we find one of the last century’s greatest authors penning a book worthy of his legacy.” –Grantland

“Matthiessen’s writing flexes the same kind of muscularity as others of his generation—Vonnegut, Styron, Doctorow—but his devotion to Zen Buddhism results in a spiritual journey that’s palatable even to the non-spiritual… [his characters] are fully realized people, and within them are the kernels of horror and joy shared by all of humanity” –A.V. Club

“Matthiessen can write with ecstatic beauty… In his new novel, In Paradise, he takes what may be his deepest look yet into the abyss…Profound and fiercely fresh.”–Tampa Bay Times

"An ambitious tale that tries to do nothing less than achieve some understanding of 20th century Europe’s defining event, the Holocaust.”–Buffalo News

“An eloquently written and thought-provoking novel… In Paradise demonstrates that Peter Matthiessen remained a vital part of America’s contemporary literary scene, an unflinching original who continued to write provocative narratives.” –Counterpunch

“Short and austere… Clements’ story and those of the others are anguished inquiries, harrowing reassessments and attempts — emotional, artistic and spiritual — to grasp the ungraspable.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[In Paradise] deftly and ruthlessly pursues the battles that we face, both individually and also in dialogue with others, when we try to engage with horrors that can never be named.”–The Jewish Book Council

“An earnest, informed, often insightful and…subtle novel.” –Christian Science Monitor 

“Contains some of the most frightening and passionate writing of Matthiessen’s long career … With In Paradise, Peter Matthiessen has created philosophical and moral cacophony of lasting worth and, indeed, of a strange power. It belongs on the shelf beside At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Far Tortuga, and Shadow Country. Of how many books can that be said?”–Open Letters Monthly

“The two-time National Book Award–winner doesn’t shy away from boldly tackling the most profound of subjects… Matthiessen expertly raises the challenges and the difficulties inherent in addressing this subject matter, proving…that the creation of art “is the only path that might lead toward the apprehension of that ultimate evil . . . [that] the only way to understand such evil is to reimagine it.” –Booklist (starred review)

"Not a mere recounting but a persuasive meditation on Auschwitz’s history and mythology...Matthiessen uses scenes of confrontation, recollection, bitterness, and self-examination to trace aspects of culture that led to the Holocaust and that still reverberate today."
Library Journal (starred review)

"Matthiessen…ponders Auschwitz decades after the Holocaust, in a novel that’s philosophical, mordant and surprisingly romantic…An admirable…study of the meaning of survivorship." –Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Early in this novel by Matthiessen (Shadow Country), which follows a meditative retreat at Auschwitz, main character Clements Olin thinks, “Nobody knows whom to be angry with in such a place.” Indeed, the story centers on the search for understanding on the part of the retreaters, and their attempt to spiritually confront the evil that occurred at the site. What makes Matthiessen’s latest stand out from the scores of other Holocaust books is that Olin, a non-Jewish academic of Polish descent, is aware of the vast Holocaust literature (“You got some new angle on mass murder, maybe, that ain’t been written up yet in maybe ten thousand fucking books?” someone asks him)—and feels self-doubt to the point of defeat about what he’s doing in Auschwitz in the first place. More concretely, Olin is there for two reasons: one is “personal” and “too sentimental” and isn’t revealed until later in the book; the other is to figure out why Polish author Tadeusz Borowski, who survived the death camp, later committed suicide at the peak of his fame, three days after the birth of his daughter. The strongest sections relate to these more concrete missions—passages about Olin’s family history, in particular, stand out. But the novel focuses mainly on the abstract: what it feels like to spend days on end at the death camp—the frustration, alienation, and otherworldliness of it. Throughout, there’s a hum of absurdity underneath (“Who sets out winter food for little birds in such a place?”), and at times it comes to the surface in the form of directionless bickering among the retreaters, only to fade back again into the landscape, which, it seems to Olin, is always in winter. Agent: Neil Olson, Donadio & Olson, Inc. (Apr.)

Library Journal

★ 03/15/2014
Attending a multidenominational retreat at the site of the Auschwitz concentration and death camp in 1996, American scholar Clements Olin plans to research poet Tadeusz Borowski's connection to the camp while also rediscovering his own Polish gentile roots. A large group composed of many nationalities, including German gentiles, has gathered to bear witness, make personal statements, and explore other avenues for attempting to come to grips with the horrifying reality behind the dreary and forbidding ruin they see. As spiritual leader, Ben Lama gently guides and occasionally soothes members when accusations fly as Olin becomes attracted physically and emotionally to a young nun participating in the event. Away from the group, he explores the surrounding area and gradually learns unsettling truths about his family. Facts and uncertainties about the camp and the nature of the genocide are woven into the story, and the role of the Catholic Church during the war is also examined. VERDICT Not a mere recounting but a persuasive meditation on Auschwitz's history and mythology, this novel from three-time National Book Award winner Matthiessen uses scenes of confrontation, recollection, bitterness, and self-examination to trace aspects of culture that led to the Holocaust and that still reverberate today. [See Prepub Alert, 10/4/13.]—Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.

Kirkus Reviews

The peripatetic Matthiessen (Shadow Country, 2008, etc.) ponders Auschwitz decades after the Holocaust, in a novel that's philosophical, mordant and surprisingly romantic. Clements Olin is a 55-year-old professor of Slavic literature with a specialty in works by Holocaust survivors. That interest has been an abstraction for him for much of his career, but as he visits the Nazi camp for a two-week spiritual retreat in 1996, his understanding becomes more emotionally concrete. Clements is one of 140 pilgrims there, and the agenda includes a mix of tourism, meditation, and evening dinner discussions that inevitably turn into heated arguments about God, anti-Semitism, patriotism and man's capacity for evil. Chief among the instigators is Earwig, who rains contempt upon the visitors, whom he considers "soft and runny as one-minute eggs." Clements is tolerant of the man's profane reprimands—he's the necessary point of entry for Matthiessen's musings, after all—but the professor has other things on his mind. First of these is learning what happened to his mother, who lived near the camps and may have been sent there; second is Sister Catherine, a young nun whose spiritual unsteadiness serves as a magnet for Clements' own spiritual and romantic anxieties. Matthiessen handles these threads gracefully and without a studious reverence for his novel's difficult subject; Earwig is the book's comic relief as well as its angry id. Even so, In Paradise as a whole feels overly formal; the framing device of the retreat makes the philosophizing feel potted (today, the perils of patriotism, tomorrow, the complicity of the Catholic Church, and so on) and Clements' emotional longings, constricted. A burst of spontaneous dancing on the retreat gives the book a similarly surprising lift, but it's quickly back to hand-wringing and self-loathing. An admirable, if muted, minor-key study of the meaning of survivorship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594633522
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,246,851
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.66(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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