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In the Country of Last Things

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A dystopian epistolary novel. In the Country of Last Things takes the form of a letter from a young woman named Anna Blume to a childhood friend. Anna has ventured into an unnamed city that has collapsed into chaos and disorder. In this bleak environment, no industry takes place and most of the population collects garbage or scavenges for objects to resell. City governmen A dystopian epistolary novel. In the Country of Last Things takes the form of a letter from a young woman named Anna Blume to a childhood friend. Anna has ventured into an unnamed city that has collapsed into chaos and disorder. In this bleak environment, no industry takes place and most of the population collects garbage or scavenges for objects to resell. City governments are unstable and are concerned only with collecting human waste and corpses for fuel. Anna has entered the city to search for her brother William, a journalist, and it is suggested that the Blumes come from a world to the East which has not collapsed.

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A dystopian epistolary novel. In the Country of Last Things takes the form of a letter from a young woman named Anna Blume to a childhood friend. Anna has ventured into an unnamed city that has collapsed into chaos and disorder. In this bleak environment, no industry takes place and most of the population collects garbage or scavenges for objects to resell. City governmen A dystopian epistolary novel. In the Country of Last Things takes the form of a letter from a young woman named Anna Blume to a childhood friend. Anna has ventured into an unnamed city that has collapsed into chaos and disorder. In this bleak environment, no industry takes place and most of the population collects garbage or scavenges for objects to resell. City governments are unstable and are concerned only with collecting human waste and corpses for fuel. Anna has entered the city to search for her brother William, a journalist, and it is suggested that the Blumes come from a world to the East which has not collapsed.

30 review for In the Country of Last Things

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Post-Apocalyptic Apocrypha 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 wha Post-Apocalyptic Apocrypha 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." Nathaniel Hawthorne 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." Matthew 7:13-14 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. Sam hibernates: "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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I have friends who, when entering my library for the first time, see my collection of Auster novels and say, "Oh my God! You read Auster!" I have other friends who, when entering my library for the first time, see my collection of Auster novels and say, "Oh my God! You read Auster!?" One way spoken in surprise and delight, the other in surprise and derision. Yes, Auster polarizes. And I get why people don't like him. Many of his novels have a self-referential shtick that I can see as being off-pu I have friends who, when entering my library for the first time, see my collection of Auster novels and say, "Oh my God! You read Auster!" I have other friends who, when entering my library for the first time, see my collection of Auster novels and say, "Oh my God! You read Auster!?" One way spoken in surprise and delight, the other in surprise and derision. Yes, Auster polarizes. And I get why people don't like him. Many of his novels have a self-referential shtick that I can see as being off-putting to some readers. I once had dinner with a friend in L.A., a card carrying Austerhater, and I was trying to convince him of the merits of Leviathan. I kept coming at him in different ways, trying to sell my way around his objections, but no sale. At one point he actually said, "If you don't stop talking about that shit book I won't tell you about an amazing book I've just finished that I was going to recommend to you." This friend, despite his Auster issues, has really good recommendations (this is years before GR, mind you, his influence is waning thanks to my new chums) - I took the bait, dropped the Auster pitch and received the recommendation for The Fortress of Solitude. I was never going to convince this friend of Auster's merits, so I consider it a good trade. But after having completed this beautiful and haunting novel, I will go to the mat for Auster on this one. A fully imagined vision of hell, ItCoLT is a meticulously and beautifully written book of a dystopian country that is only a few shades of horrible away from life on any of Earth's locales. Auster's use of the first person narrator (penning her thoughts to a family she may never see again) leading the reader through a tale of horror in a nameless country works. We are invested in Anna Blume from the opening pages. Good and evil, right and wrong - they are worthless considerations in a land where humanity is an anachronism. Huxley opined, "Maybe this planet is another planet's hell." Auster takes that premise to the next place, our hell, and creates a setting that is so clear, so horrible, one can't help but feel like one's been there after reading Anna Blume's missive. I'm going to buy another copy of this book and give it to my Auster hating friend for his birthday. If he doesn't like it, I will revoke his literary friend status.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Violet wells

    The account in the form of a letter of a girl who has gone to look for her missing brother in a dystopian city where everything that provides a sense of self is vanishing. There’s a constant sense of an author discovering and enjoying his talent in this short novel. He doesn’t waste energy on making his world logically plausible or itemising how the apocalyptic disaster happened. We’re very much in an existential twilight zone world. The tone essentially is one of macabre playfulness. There’s lo The account in the form of a letter of a girl who has gone to look for her missing brother in a dystopian city where everything that provides a sense of self is vanishing. There’s a constant sense of an author discovering and enjoying his talent in this short novel. He doesn’t waste energy on making his world logically plausible or itemising how the apocalyptic disaster happened. We’re very much in an existential twilight zone world. The tone essentially is one of macabre playfulness. There’s lots of black humour as for example in the many cults (often of a suicidal nature) that have formed to deal with the growing hopelessness of the situation. My favourite were “The Runners”. The runners run as fast as they can, waving their arms about wildly until they simply drop dead. Like jogging taken to a whole new level in other words. There’s lots of parody of our contemporary world – every scavenger has a supermarket trolley, his or her most precious possession, tied to her waist like an umbilical cord. "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." But along with the humour there’s also a chilling evocation of the Nazi ghettos and concentration camps. Ann eventually finds herself in Woburn House, a privileged enclave which calls to mind the morally dubious benefits of belonging to the Jewish council in the ghetto. Auster’s prose, as ever, is sparse, almost beaurocratic in its conclusive rejection of the colour purple. In the Country of Last Things is an enjoyable thought provoking read though not on the level of the fabulous The New York Trilogy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maciek

    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. Paul Auster's last novel, Sunset Park, opens with the main protagonist working for a south Florida realty company which deals with cleaning out reposessed homes; his name is Miles Heller, he's 28 and he takes photographs of abandoned things, the innumerabl 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. Paul Auster's last novel, Sunset Park, opens with the main protagonist working for a south Florida realty company which deals with cleaning out reposessed homes; his name is Miles Heller, he's 28 and he takes photographs of abandoned things, the innumerable things the previous homeowners left behind when they were evicted. Set in the recession of 2008 and taking place in Florida and New York, the novel features a cast of characters whose stories intervine as they strive to survive after the economic collapse. In The Country of Last Things is an earlier work, and one where the conditions are much more dire. Although the time period and the location are never specified, we can guess that the storyline is set in roughly contemporary times after something went wrong, and caused an unnamed City (which is most likely modeled after New York) to become a separate country, the Country of Last Things. The last things are the all things which keep disappearing one by one: whole streets and buildings implode or are destroyed, taking their inhabitants and their posessions with them. Babies are not born anymore, and human bodies and waste have become precious commodities which the officials use for generating energy; burial is treated as a serious crime. Although a government is in power it is never stable and does not hold power over the city, which is ruled by the underworld; on the streets the strong rule over the weak. Scavenging is common, but one must buy the license from a license from the underworld to become a legitimate scavenger, and not get assaulted by the "inspectors". People with shopping carts populate the streets, hunting for what is still there. A large percent of the population is homeless, but most homes are no better than the streets: stripped from furniture, without heating. Leaving the city seems to be impossible,with travel permits being ridiculously expensive and government officials hunting down those who want to exit illegally. Into this world comes Anna Blume, a woman looking for her brother, William. William has been sent to write a book on the city - but contact with him has vanished, and the man whom William's editors sent to find him has also disappeared. Desperate, Anna enters the city and as she tries to survive in a world where nothing is produced and everything is running out she realizes the hopelesness of her quests. Yet, Anna refuses to give up, and continues her search. The novel is a first person account written by her as a letter to an unspecified acquaintance, a friend from time before. She doesn't even know if the letter will ever be read, but she continues, refusing to give up and vanish, become yet another Last Thing. All of Paul Auster's fiction deals with the struggle of the Self against the absurd world ruled by chance and accident, the overwhelming effect the compilation of events has on the individual, the intensity with which his protagonists are affected by what they cannot control. These themes are prominent in in The Country of Last Things as well, which is arguably his darkest novel: set in a world literally ending, where individuality is almost completely eliminated and people are reduced to what they can scavenge. Throughout her journey through the City with its ever changing landscape, Anna will meet several quirky characters, each of which will serve a purpose in her journey and affect her in some way. Although some of Anna's observations about life border on banal, It's hard to not sympathize with her and root for her cause, however hopeless it may be. Paul Auster is a talented talespinner and his polished prose is elegant and flows smoothly. Although short in lenght, the novel is finely crafted and features a convincingly drawn post-apocalyptic environment, detailed enough to prevent the novel from sinking into the bog of run of the mill post-apocalyptic fiction. Like other dystopian works it can also be read as an allegory of contemporary world of here and now: opressive governments, shortage of money and food, eviction, suicide. Although it deals with these bleak themes, I felt that the ultimate message is the one of hope - even if it seems unreasonable and pointless; Anna's journal is a success of creation in a world of destruction. By reading the novel we feel that she has succeeded and her efforts were not in vain - her journal has been found and read, and will continue to be read. We pass it on, and it continues to exist, sendings its message and her in it ever onwards, never becoming a Last Thing, helping to keep Anna in our memory and thought and preventing her from disappearing into oblivion. This is the first novel I've read in 2013. A great way to start the year!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shovelmonkey1

    Ok people, the world is going to shit. Falling apart at the seams. Imploding into a fiery ball of people fuelled insanity. So what are you going to do about it? Do you... a. PANIC! Scream and run around in circles waving your arms above your head. b. Start hoarding toilet roll. You have it on good authority that it might become the currency of the realm. c. Emulate Michael Douglas in popular 80s yuppie-fest, "Falling Down" and shoot everyone before they get you first. After all it is only a matter o Ok people, the world is going to shit. Falling apart at the seams. Imploding into a fiery ball of people fuelled insanity. So what are you going to do about it? Do you... a. PANIC! Scream and run around in circles waving your arms above your head. b. Start hoarding toilet roll. You have it on good authority that it might become the currency of the realm. c. Emulate Michael Douglas in popular 80s yuppie-fest, "Falling Down" and shoot everyone before they get you first. After all it is only a matter of time. d. Write a very long letter. You chose d of course? What else will the keyboard clatter monkeys at Goodreads be doing when the shit hits the fan - we'll all be getting in one last seminal review, right? Ok kidding, I'll be out on the street shanking people for toilet roll with the rest of you. Anna Blume has chose option D although in her defence, when we are introduced to her as the narrator in The Country of Last Things, the world has already imploded and things are about to get worse. Well, I say the world because Auster never quite quantifies or qualifies the full geographic extent of his dystopian vision (aside from intimating that it has not reached England - yay). But based on the descriptions of the bleak and bitter landscape through which Anna Blume wanders, it is pretty likely that good old New York is the epicentre of the end of days. Why is New York the epicentre? No idea about that either, as Auster gives no clues, but it is probably something to do with politics. Anna Blume has entered a sort of dead zone in order to find her brother, journalist William Blume. Clutching only a photograph of his associate, Sam Farr, and a limited number of possessions she quickly realises that she has made a terrible mistake entering a world where the normal laws of society are long forgotten and the only placebo to this is that if you can't face surviving in the such total moral and physival dereliction then there is at least one way out. Numerous cults and groups have sprung up which encourage suicide in various novel fashions; the leapers the runners and the crawlers. Running yourself to death anyone? Nope, thought not. This is not a scary dystopian vision despite the fact that it features suicide, attempted rape, murder, theft and cannibalism. The lack of scare factor is mainly attributable to the fact that as the apocalypse seems to be fairly localised there is always the hope of escape. A bit like Mad Max trying to get beyond the Thunder Dome. Anna Blume's last testament is an epistle to her family, one which she anticipates will never be read. It is the one sided nature of this account which makes it work because we only ever get to hear Anna's voice and that single voice is what fuels the notion of loneliness and isolation. Despite all the negative connotations however, she still manages to find love, friendship, solace and shelter and it even ends on a positive note. Perhaps there is life beyond the Thunder Dome after all.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Existential tale of a woman, Anna, who moves to an unnamed country to find her brother and ends up in a quest for survival in an economically-collapsed urban dystopia. As with a fairy tale, everything is boiled down to bare essentials, rendered in the compelling voice that evolves in Anna's journal. But there is richness in the spareness, and I couldn't help but be drawn into rooting for her as some kind of advocate for humanity. As with McCarthy's The Road, written over 20 years later, we don't Existential tale of a woman, Anna, who moves to an unnamed country to find her brother and ends up in a quest for survival in an economically-collapsed urban dystopia. As with a fairy tale, everything is boiled down to bare essentials, rendered in the compelling voice that evolves in Anna's journal. But there is richness in the spareness, and I couldn't help but be drawn into rooting for her as some kind of advocate for humanity. As with McCarthy's The Road, written over 20 years later, we don't know what caused civilization to end or how pervasive it is, and here the reader also gets focused on what essence of human nature can live on in the ruins as some kind of beacon against the darkness. Anna's progression from scavenger of discarded objects ("last things"), to a supporter of a journalist recording people's stories, and finally to a key contributor to a hopeless respite effort for the homeless seems some sort of allegory of cultural response to disasters. One piquant response of one character to the situation is to escape into building ever tinier ships in bottles, which possibly stands in for a satirical take of the poverty of art to make up for loss. As Anna begins to run out of space in the journal, she is reminded of this when she is forced to write in tinier letters in order to complete her story.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    In the Country of Paul Auster A major difference I noticed between mature/literary and immature/entertainment dystopias is that the second type always seeks to provide an acceptable explanation of why the dystopian world has emerged and very often they just turn into common thrillers placed in those altered worlds. Although I am not that well-versed in either, I can tell from the pieces of literary-fiction dystopias I read recently that they evade this trap. Instead, they focus on the human aspec In the Country of Paul Auster A major difference I noticed between mature/literary and immature/entertainment dystopias is that the second type always seeks to provide an acceptable explanation of why the dystopian world has emerged and very often they just turn into common thrillers placed in those altered worlds. Although I am not that well-versed in either, I can tell from the pieces of literary-fiction dystopias I read recently that they evade this trap. Instead, they focus on the human aspect, on how the calamity changes (or not) the identity of humans or the world itself, on the possibilities of maintaining one's human identity in such a world. On a side note, the same applies to fantasy literature, as well. This dystopia, too, captures the emotional and human dimensions very effectively. Using the epistolary form was a clever move for this purpose. In a straightforward third-person narrative, this degree of emotional impact and the level of degradation shown here could easily become too much and too sentimental and therefore too unbelievable for the reader. But presented in letters, which is a subjective dimension par excellence, such a world can be painted without jeopardizing literary value; indeed a letter-writer is entitled to be as subjectively dark as possible. We have here a book that reads like a narrative of current time, if somewhat on the bleak side. For a strange reason, to me all of Auster's novels read like dystopias. Auster, like he always does, is in no haste when it comes to exploring images and ideas in disturbing paragraphs that are nothing less than accurate diagnoses of existential ailments: Whatever you see has the potential to wound you, to make you less than you are, as if merely by seeing a thing some part of yourself were taken away from you. Often, you feel it will be dangerous to look, and there is a tendency to avert your eyes, or even to shut them. Because of that, it is easy to get confused, to be unsure that you are really seeing the thing you think you are looking at. It could be that you are imagining it, or mixing it up with something else, or remembering something you have seen before - or perhaps imagined before. [...] That is what I mean by being wounded: you cannot merely see, for each thing somehow belongs to you, is part of the story unfolding inside you. What is this: All around you one change follows another, each day produces a new upheaval, the old assumptions are so much air and emptiness, if not a disturbingly accurate description of what we experience every day in our lives and relationships? The various sects differentiated according to their attitude towards life and the world surrounding them or the form of death chosen (Runners, Leapers) are eerily reminiscent of our own world today: our differences come from the various and often conflicting ways we understand life and death. Although it is often mentioned together with Cormac McCarthy's The Road, there are some essential differences. The Road confines itself to describing the physical world and omits almost all mentions of emotions, as if life were emptied of anything beyond the tangible dimension of physical survival - and therein lies its effectiveness. Auster, on the other hand, focuses more on the inside world, on how a physical world vacated by all purpose affects the inner world of the living. Despite these virtues, it has lost stars from me for two reasons. First, the useless scenes (view spoiler)[Victoria and Anna's intercourse (hide spoiler)] that are taken from what I call 'the arsenal of the politically correct writer', a moral allergen for me that automatically leads to fewer stars on my scale. The second reason for down-rating it was that this book was too short. This is a typical example of a novel that could have benefited from more pages. Depth and scope were not in the perfect harmony that characterizes masterpieces.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I am ridiculously impressed with this book thus far - post-apocalyptic fiction is absolutely my favorite genre, and this is such a different take on it that I haven't been able to stop reading. Typically, nearly the entire population is already dead or dying, whereas Auster has entire cities still squabbling and struggling to survive. Far more plausible. Of course, more and more people would die as fresh water becomes scarce, food unavailable in markets, sewage systems cease to function, etc. An I am ridiculously impressed with this book thus far - post-apocalyptic fiction is absolutely my favorite genre, and this is such a different take on it that I haven't been able to stop reading. Typically, nearly the entire population is already dead or dying, whereas Auster has entire cities still squabbling and struggling to survive. Far more plausible. Of course, more and more people would die as fresh water becomes scarce, food unavailable in markets, sewage systems cease to function, etc. And what would you do to survive at that point? I am absolutely enthralled. Best book I've read in months - will definitely be looking for more by him after I've finished. Post-read... Basically said it all while I was still reading it. I never thought that I would actually feel anything but excitement and awe, given the narrative subject, but the death, corruption, and depravity of the novel are overwhelming. This is quite possibly one of the greatest novels I have ever read. I'm disappointed to see other readers comparing this so closely to Cormac McCarthy's The Road being as the timelines are so ridiculously divergent, the worlds absolutely dissimilar, and the main characters completely irrelevent to each other. Moreover, what the fuck? What does it matter? It's a theme that has been common to science fiction and fantasy for well over fifty years now - probably even prior to the advent of the atomic bomb. It's the dystopian element that is fascinating, not the similarity to other novels. Fucking ridiculous. I hate to say it, but I can't stand it when stuff like this goes mainstream, and suddenly all the hipsters and Oprah are experts on the genre, the authors, the motivations, etc. People need to read more.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Harry Collier IV

    Paul Auster is known as one of the masters of metafiction, or bringing one's own experience into a story and thus adding a level of meaning, and so I have decided to bring my own experience of Auster into this review in order to try and figure out what it is all about. This book was the second thing by Auster I have read. Last Christmas, I received a lovely Folio Society edition of The New York Triology and read the first story "City of Glass." Since the books were originally written as three se Paul Auster is known as one of the masters of metafiction, or bringing one's own experience into a story and thus adding a level of meaning, and so I have decided to bring my own experience of Auster into this review in order to try and figure out what it is all about. This book was the second thing by Auster I have read. Last Christmas, I received a lovely Folio Society edition of The New York Triology and read the first story "City of Glass." Since the books were originally written as three separate stories I wanted to take a break between them in order to experience them as such. I have not gotten back to "Ghosts" or "The Locked Room" yet. Recently, I was in Lithuania on business and came across Auster's book "4 3 2 1" in the Academy Bookshop. Recognizing the name from "The New York Trilogy," I picked it up and read the first page. When he explains how the grandfather became known as Ichabod Fergusson I experienced the rare moment of laughing out loud in a quiet bookshop. Buying this book (12 Euro) would severely cut into my food budget and I wasn't sure if I had the space in my suitcase but I didn't care. I needed this book. I had made a deal with my wife that we would both read Thomas Pynchon's "V" while away and so could not start on "4 3 2 1" straight away. On my last day in Vilnius I was still very far from the end of "V" but I had inadvertently packed it deep into my luggage and wasn't going to look for it. Over breakfast at my hostel I saw a few books in the window and among worn out copies of "Harry Potter" and "Neverwhere" was a pristine copy of "In the Country of Last Things." Again seeing Auster's name and that this book was short (188 pages) I swiped it from the hostel and began reading it at the airport. At first the story did not grab me. It just felt so amateurish the way he laid out the city in pure exposition. It took 44 pages before any sort of story began and then it grabbed me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to explore this world and find out more about the inhabitants that lived there. For all the setup Auster did, none of it - not one single piece of information- ever really came back to be useful. The story did not rely on any of it. The story itself was great and made me care about the charatcers. Then Auster just abandons the whole thing and it is over. Mid-story it is finished. Why did he waste so much space on the setup and then not continue the story to the end? I am sure there is something deeper going on here. Some universal truth that I am missing. I know that if I studied it and reread it I could maybe walk away thinking that this book was worth my time. Nothing in this book makes me want to do that though. I will still read more Auster but this one is a lost cause for me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Juliet

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In the Country of Last Things is not a particularly well-structured book. The narrative often takes dramatic shifts with no warning, diluting the emotional poignancy of moments that ought to be compelling and tragic. For instance, within a handful of pages, the protagonist develops a relationship so passionate she writes "I love you so much I want to die" and then leaves this lover with minimal qualms for the man she loved before. It's tempting to say that such shifts are intentional, but instea In the Country of Last Things is not a particularly well-structured book. The narrative often takes dramatic shifts with no warning, diluting the emotional poignancy of moments that ought to be compelling and tragic. For instance, within a handful of pages, the protagonist develops a relationship so passionate she writes "I love you so much I want to die" and then leaves this lover with minimal qualms for the man she loved before. It's tempting to say that such shifts are intentional, but instead they just come off as poor characterizations and/or plot. As a coherent narrative, In the Country of Last Things is, unfortunately, lackluster. Fortunately, though, it compensates elsewhere. I appreciated this book more as a series of portraits than a moralistic tale. And, indeed, the haphazard plots lends itself to such a reading. So many dystopian novels are written as moral tales. Somewhere inside most of them, one can find political commentary or searing analyses of what's left of humanity when everything else is gone. Whether it's an oppressive government in 1984, gender politics in The Handmaid's Tale, or the enduring bond of love in The Road, there is a driving lesson, a "this is what we could be if we're not careful" or "this is what we'll be when we're not careful." In the Country of Last Things is different. There are no causes for the disasters Anna describes, no rationality or explanation that could at least frame some order over the chaos. They simply are. The "Existential Threat" made manifest. And that makes the novel a distinctly different animal. In fact, what Anna's emotional state reminded me of most was that of a person abused: afraid and wary of everything, worried that all things will hurt, buffeted without reason from all sides unceasingly. And even as she's continually assaulted, she struggles on. She makes do. She survives. And that is the entirety of the narrative. That's not to say it wasn't interesting; I found myself reading briskly to find where Anna would be led. But I wasn't really invested; Anna or Auster, intentionally or not, don't let you get invested. The characters, including Anna, often seem flat. But there are moments, sentences, paragraphs that scream with poetic resonance. There are wonderful elaborations upon the compromises and small deaths one endures to persist in the face of such torture. And, truly, one wonders why *all* of the novel can't be like this. I wanted more. I wanted this book to be better. I wanted raw humanity. And instead, I got quixotic restraint. But there are moments where the humanity briefly shines through; and it's those passages, not the novel, that make the reading worthwhile.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heidi Ward

    In the small but powerful book In The Country of Last Things Paul Auster evokes a distressingly plausible dystopia. Nothing catastrophic seems to have occurred -- just a general collapse of public services, utilities, education, government, military, industry, the environment . . . basically all that represents "civilization" as we know it has ground to a Dark Ages crawl. Our narrator Anna came to the city (which could be Manhattan, or D.C., really any major metropolis) from somewhere better. She In the small but powerful book In The Country of Last Things Paul Auster evokes a distressingly plausible dystopia. Nothing catastrophic seems to have occurred -- just a general collapse of public services, utilities, education, government, military, industry, the environment . . . basically all that represents "civilization" as we know it has ground to a Dark Ages crawl. Our narrator Anna came to the city (which could be Manhattan, or D.C., really any major metropolis) from somewhere better. She came, stubbornly, searching for her brother, an investigative reporter gone missing. Finding her lead less than useless in the chaos, but unwilling to give up, Anna soon becomes caught in the maw of the city. Like the majority of people there, Anna is homeless. She stuffs her clothes with rags and newspaper against the cold and works as an "object hunter," combing the skeletons of the city for useful items to sell or barter for necessities. There are some semblance of systems -- waste and corpse disposal operate, and food does make its way in. But graft, theft, forced eviction, murder, and worse are the order of the day, and hope is a luxury nobody has time for. Life is putting one foot in front of the other, minute to minute. This is how Anna's story begins, and we follow her struggle to survive in the form of a letter/journal she writes to those she left behind, and as a kind of comfort to herself. Anna is an everyperson: she could quite easily be you or me. She's also an eloquent and empathetic narrator, even in the extremes of her duress. Obviously, this can be rather depressing, given the realism of her situation. (I live in a big city, and I see lots of things that look like the leading edge here. Not a big leap.) So let's just say it's not exactly a feel-good book. (Here's a quick test: did you find The Road engaging? If so, proceed.) But really, as we drown in a sea of dystopian novels, Auster's writing is what should compel you to read this one. I marked at least a dozen brilliantly turned phrases in In The Country of Last Things; as grueling as Anna's story gets at times, it pays off in gorgeous craft and emotional resonance. A modern master, Auster has written a brutally prescient, absolutely relatable tale about the extremes of hope and hopelessness and the difference between surviving and actually living. His is a dystopia unbearably easy to believe in, likely to give me nightmares. A must-read for any connoisseur of the genre.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    I love Paul Auster's books. I've read mostly all of his fiction and now finally this one that's been eluding me for quite some time and was finally acquired through an interlibrary loan. Well worth the wait, well worth a read...all of these platitudes are terribly inadequate when it comes to describing In the Country of Last Things. But I do think it might be a masterpiece, a classic of dystopian fiction that be shelved right next to Brave New World, 1984 and the like. Presented as one long lett I love Paul Auster's books. I've read mostly all of his fiction and now finally this one that's been eluding me for quite some time and was finally acquired through an interlibrary loan. Well worth the wait, well worth a read...all of these platitudes are terribly inadequate when it comes to describing In the Country of Last Things. But I do think it might be a masterpiece, a classic of dystopian fiction that be shelved right next to Brave New World, 1984 and the like. Presented as one long letter of a young woman trapped in a city where life as we know it failed completely and the remaining denizens struggle to survive in unimaginably and increasingly horrid conditions, while the ever changing powers that be provide no help, this epistolary slender epic (is there such a thing? do epics need to weigh a ton? this is certainly epic in theme and range) recounts Anna Blume's journey that starts off as a quest to find her older brother and ends up a tale of survival against impossible odds. Auster's writing has never been better, it's sparse, economic, vivid, poignant and incredibly moving. As dark and bleak as this book was, it was nearly impossible to put down. The fact that neither the city nor the country, not even the era are named, it gives the book a certain timeless presence, the mind can place it anywhere, any nation that has experienced a great strife. To me it brought to mind a World War 2 torn European capital. This is as much of an ode to human spirit as it is a study of human condition. Disconsolate yet not without hope. Wildly imagined yet horrifyingly realistic. This is not merely a great book, this is an important one. A cautionary tale of a future to avoid or a past that mustn't be forgotten. It deserves the highest recommendation.

  13. 4 out of 5

    ياسر أحمد

    Imagine an unknown city in the near future, populated almost wholly by street dwellers. 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 exposure if they aren't murdered by other vagrants first. Auster (my beloved author) uses his usual tremendous power with words to convey the depth of all the darkest of the dark. “Nothing lasts, you see, not even the thoughts inside you. And you must Imagine an unknown city in the near future, populated almost wholly by street dwellers. 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 exposure if they aren't murdered by other vagrants first. Auster (my beloved author) uses his usual tremendous power with words to convey the depth of all the darkest of the dark. “Nothing lasts, you see, not even the thoughts inside you. And you must not waste your time looking for them. Once a thing is gone, that is the end of it.” In the Country of Last Things is written as a letter from Anna, a young woman who has travelled to visit the city in search of her brother, a journalist who has not contacted his editor in nine months. Writing the letter, Anna feels she is "screaming into a vast and terrible blackness." Through all her hardships and struggles, her encounters with multiple sinners and occasional saints, Anna adapts and endures. Tragedy follows tragedy, interspersed with random acts of kindness. Ultimately, her life is reduced to a desire "to live one more day." One of my best reads ever!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    Auster plunges us into a dystopian nightmare in which love, dignity and compassion are still possible. His simple, clear prose unerringly trace his characters' inner logic—despite the seemingly fortuitous unfolding of events. (I'm assuming it is an early work.) Afterwards, I found myself sitting very quietly, the way you do when something momentous has passed.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cam Roberts

    Set in an emaciated world, Auster offers us a bleak tale of memory, loss, and the endurance of the human spirit in the face of total and complete erasure.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Misha

    In this novel, Paul Auster has painted a brutally beautiful portrait of a society in collapse, and the ways humanity finds ways not only to go on in the face of horrific desolation, but to retain its soul. There's a "dark fairy tale meets Dickensian social realism" vibe to this novel. I could easily picture this adapted into a film by Terry Gilliam -- he and Auster seem to share a particular post-apocalyptic aesthetic of the bizarre and the grotesque. (view spoiler)[The story follows privileged In this novel, Paul Auster has painted a brutally beautiful portrait of a society in collapse, and the ways humanity finds ways not only to go on in the face of horrific desolation, but to retain its soul. There's a "dark fairy tale meets Dickensian social realism" vibe to this novel. I could easily picture this adapted into a film by Terry Gilliam -- he and Auster seem to share a particular post-apocalyptic aesthetic of the bizarre and the grotesque. (view spoiler)[The story follows privileged young woman Anna Blume as she journeys into a place known only as the City in search of her missing journalist brother. Anna is filled with a 19-year-old's arrogance and dumb belief that venturing into this broken foreign world will be simple, but she quickly learns that nothing is simple in the City. Life here is harsh, where governments rise and fall faster than the seasons change, and the only true authority is chaos. Auster only hints at what happened in this nameless place. The apocalypse seems to have been economic, with allusions to a government ill-equipped to battle rising tides of homelessness and joblessness that eventually overwhelmed the place and led to its downfall -- a scenario that feels eerily possible nearly 25 years after the book's 1987 publication date, as economists speculate about the United States' possible slide into a depression, and the only thing our elected leaders can seem to accomplish is to squabble. Work is scarce in the City. The only traditional jobs seem to be with the government of the day, but getting those jobs takes money and connections. Anna has some money, but no connections, and so she instead chooses to support herself by joining the legions of people who make their living picking through the city's decaying detritus looking for objects of any use or value. The city no longer has manufacturing or industry, and so even broken items can be of value. As Anna points out, even something broken may yet have a working part. Perhaps that works as a metaphor for the City itself -- a place that's broken, but that has pockets of civilization remaining. The narrative itself is epistolary -- the entire story is Anna's letter to a friend back home, first describing the City itself and the bizarre groups and factions that have formed -- like the Runners, people who have decided death is better than the life the City offers and so literally run until they collapse. Auster's writing is vivid enough, and the world he creates is intriguing enough, to carry the reader through these initial pages until Anna's story really starts around page 39 with her remembrance of her naive encounter with her brother's newspaper editor back home (we're never told where that is) that leads her to the City. Soon after this scene, Anna rescues a woman named Isabel from being run over and begins the first of a series of episodes that mark her time in the city. After having spent months on the City's streets, she goes to live with Isabel and Isabel's shiftless husband Ferdinand, who is obsessed with building smaller and smaller ships inside bottles. Isabel is kind and treats Anna like a daughter, and Anna find her first true home since arriving in the City. Of course, anything good is ephemeral, and the Anna's period of contentment is marred by an attempted rape, a murder and then Isabel's death from a wasting disease. She'll repeat this pattern of rise and fall twice more (which I found very reminiscent of Dickens and other Victorian novels -- she even encounters a Victorian-style reformer along the way), with Anna finding and losing love, facing the horrorific depths to which humanity can sink when civilization collapses (of course, there's cannabilism), but also seeing the beauty that remains in those weary souls trying to preserve culture, dignity and compassion. Auster finishes the book on a note that is both hopeful and bittersweet as Anna and the makeshift family she has found in the City finally set out on a journey away from the place that has nearly consumed them all. It's no accident of the narrative that the book ends during the first blushes of spring, when winter is just beginning to melt away. The ending is like that first green shoot in the mud that you know will bloom into a daffodil if you just hold on a little longer and wait out the cold. And I think that's what the novel does well -- it's grim, but Auster's view of humanity retains a sense of hope and grace that I like to believe will be there should we ever face such dark days ourselves. (hide spoiler)]

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Dietzel

    If Sartre's No Exit is the epitome of an existentialist hell, this book is the epitome of what hell would be like if it were every day life in a city. Auster's story focuses on a country that has deteriorated into almost complete anarchy. Starvation and theft are so rampant no one really cares about them anymore. Everyone is suffering until they eventually die. In some ways this was my favorite Auster book, and in some ways it was my least favorite. I loved the setting he establishes--a city in If Sartre's No Exit is the epitome of an existentialist hell, this book is the epitome of what hell would be like if it were every day life in a city. Auster's story focuses on a country that has deteriorated into almost complete anarchy. Starvation and theft are so rampant no one really cares about them anymore. Everyone is suffering until they eventually die. In some ways this was my favorite Auster book, and in some ways it was my least favorite. I loved the setting he establishes--a city in utter chaos. But this world building takes up almost all of every page at the expense of character development and the delivery of a moral.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hayden

    http://haydenwritesthings.wordpress.c... I finished this book on the train yesterday and, like all of Auster’s books, I wanted to immediately turn the book over and start again. But I didn’t, and maybe that says something about this particular book. Moon Palace I must have read over five times now, and The New York Trilogy has been read at least four times - I’ve turned these books over in my hands on the same day, reaching the end only to start at the beginning again. This didn’t happen with In T http://haydenwritesthings.wordpress.c... I finished this book on the train yesterday and, like all of Auster’s books, I wanted to immediately turn the book over and start again. But I didn’t, and maybe that says something about this particular book. Moon Palace I must have read over five times now, and The New York Trilogy has been read at least four times - I’ve turned these books over in my hands on the same day, reaching the end only to start at the beginning again. This didn’t happen with In The Country of Last Things. Perhaps this is due to the plot itself. It’s a very different novel for Auster, it’s been described as a dystopian novel by most and yet it’s disturbingly contemporary in nature. I’m not sure if I could call it a dystopian novel myself, as it seems to me more an allegory of the ‘now’, of the land we find ourselves in today (albeit a cynical, dark and more twisted society than our own). The novel is written in the form of a letter from a young woman called Anna Blume who has travelled to an unnamed city to find her brother. The city itself seems steeped in mystery to those outside of it; those who go there very often don’t come back and it is implied that not a lot is known about the city other than that it is a dangerous place. The narrative is essentially exploratory which then grows into a more personal account of survival, of relationships and of friendships which, in combination, explore the human condition in relation to the city these people find themselves in. It’s a very dark novel. The city is in ruins. Buildings have collapsed or are nearing collapse, their interiors are often absent of furniture, no heating, no electricity (often), and a large percent of the population are homeless. If you are lucky enough to have a home you are also unlucky, those that own property’s tend to charge large amounts of money for rent and can, at any time, bully you out of the house with their hired mercenaries – if a member of the household dies and you struggle to pay the rent then the bullyboys come round, if the landlord chooses to the up the rent to a level you can’t afford then you’re thrown out on the streets. As such, there are numerous buildings that are vacant because not many can afford to stay in them – and if you attempt squatting you’ll find yourself in a prison camp, or dead, or both in sequence. To survive people either collect rubbish or collect objects, the rubbish is collected and thrown into large furnaces to provide energy for those buildings that still have heating and electricity, and also for producing food. Objects, however, can be used again. They collect higher prices on the market but tend to be harder to find. Object collectors push shopping trolleys around the city looking for intact or semi-intact objects, but, though their job seems far from hazardous, they are often targets for Vultures – object collectors gone bad – or just more general thieves. Getting enough money to provide food for a week is enormously difficult, so every is forced to live moment to moment – unable to plan, or to be sure, of anything . The most thriving industry in the city seems to be that of death. There are Euthanasia Clinics dotted around the city where people pay large amounts of money to be tucked into bed with a warm dinner (perhaps the only warm dinner they’ve had for years) and put to sleep. There are various levels of euthanasia – the more you pay, the more pleasure you get; prostitutes, feasts, hallucinogenics, a luxury room - there is a great deal of money in the Euthanasia Clinics. There are the Runners; those who learn to run and run and run until their body becomes completely exhausted and destroys itself. The Assassins Guild who kill those that add their name to the assassination register, it is described as an alternative to the difficult decision that is taking your own life. If you manage to kill your assassin you are invited to become part of the assassins guild and are paid to assassinate others. There seems to be no way out of the city once you are in it. People die everyday on the streets and, the following morning, the government sends trucks out to clean the city of the dead. Mugging, murder, rape, and suicide are commonplace. Wow. Now, Paul Auster’s not new to dark territory. His novels are constantly deconstructing the idea of ‘self’, of struggling against the absurdity of the world, or/and of being overwhelmed, but The Country of Last Things is almost a hyper intense novel of his other novels. It’s not as conceptually difficult as The New York Trilogy; in that NYT was quite a difficult read. Instead Last Things is an easier read but explores many of the difficulties found (often metaphorically) in his other works. We see Absurdism, we see elements of Baudrillard, even a personification of Post-modernism makes an appearance, and so in a weird way its like a summary of Auster by Auster – the theoretical seems more apparent in this novel than in his others, but at the same time the novel itself is not so tied up within its theory, not in the way that New York Trilogy or Pynchon’s Lot 49 become their theory in that the writing itself can be seen as a metaphor. It doesn’t feel as playful as other Auster texts, but it is just as polished as any of his better known works. It is more approachable to the average reader (I would say) and a very enjoyable read (as enjoyable as a dystopian novel can be!). I think the novel shines when we begin to feel comfortable in the city and learn more about Anna and her involvement with other human beings. Here we begin to see the city through human interaction as opposed to a more general overview; it becomes more specific, closer to us, and then we begin to live it along with the characters as opposed to just seeing or witnessing it. The city comes alive at this point, and we can share in it because there is something human (human in a very loose way) to it. Anna never gives up, she never stops loving, and sometimes I found myself wanting to push my hands into the book and shake her, shake her and say, ‘give up! Give up now!’ because it seemed to become so hard, so beyond anything we could imagine a human being put through, that I almost couldn’t imagine someone lasting. I guess my error was that occasionally I realised the book was a book, I divorced myself from the world at these points and suddenly couldn’t fathom it, I realised that it was a fiction – but that fiction was also a fiction of now: of homelessness, of loan sharks, of suicide, of objects, of governments we didnt hope for… I loved it, and I will read it again. It is a very emotional/moving novel. It makes you think – and that’s what’s most important.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I love a good dystopian novel and this is a good dsytopian novel. It's fascinating and sad.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    The most brilliant book. Exactly why I love Auster and absolutely why I should read his work much more often than I have. Those words...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Bleak. I think that pretty much sums this up!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    I close the covers of this book with a sense of foreboding and uncertainty. The narrative is a kissing cousin to Dhalgren , and is a city only a little less shifty than Bellona. It isn't per se dystopian (too anarchic?), nor is it really "apocalyptic" (there's been no obvious end of the world) but it's disturbed and disturbing and turned upside down. It's an epistolary novel, and as such conjures up comparisons with The Handmaid's Tale , but less linear. It's harder to guess where this goes ne I close the covers of this book with a sense of foreboding and uncertainty. The narrative is a kissing cousin to Dhalgren , and is a city only a little less shifty than Bellona. It isn't per se dystopian (too anarchic?), nor is it really "apocalyptic" (there's been no obvious end of the world) but it's disturbed and disturbing and turned upside down. It's an epistolary novel, and as such conjures up comparisons with The Handmaid's Tale , but less linear. It's harder to guess where this goes next. It's lyrical, and beautifully written. I'll need to re-read it, I think. --- See also: • The Best (or Worst) of Apocalyptic Books (via HuffPo, via LA Review of Books)

  23. 4 out of 5

    S.

    translater and expat Paul Auster suddenly at age 35 releases his father-son memoir 'Invention of Solitude' and then at age 40 releases the acclaimed New York Trilogy as well as this slim, dystopian volume. drawing comparisons most closely with '1984,' "The Country of Last Things" is faintly allegorical (poverty?), post-disaster, Roadesque (but the Road is 2006 and this is 1987), a city novel, a poverty novel, a hunger novel, an examination of societal breakdown as well as incident, idealism, and translater and expat Paul Auster suddenly at age 35 releases his father-son memoir 'Invention of Solitude' and then at age 40 releases the acclaimed New York Trilogy as well as this slim, dystopian volume. drawing comparisons most closely with '1984,' "The Country of Last Things" is faintly allegorical (poverty?), post-disaster, Roadesque (but the Road is 2006 and this is 1987), a city novel, a poverty novel, a hunger novel, an examination of societal breakdown as well as incident, idealism, and mood/tone. this tiny book, although deceptively simple, offers a long epistle capturing the experiences of a recent arrival to the city who is caught up in the cycle of poverty and crime, experiencing slow degradation of circumstance. misses the 5 due to length and absolute heftiness (a similar assessment is possible for the Road), Country is a fast read, and the two most popular reviews on this entry do a strong job and cover much of what needs be said.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I can't say this is the best Auster novel I've read, and maybe I'm a victim of my own expectations. I had assumed this would be some sort of post-modern detective novel that I've come to expect like New York trilogy, Leviathan, etc etc, but instead, he has written a post-apocalyptic novel that surprised me. There are times where I was completely enthralled by the book, but also times where I felt the novel was wandering in a not-so-interesting manner. I will say that the scenario is highly imagi I can't say this is the best Auster novel I've read, and maybe I'm a victim of my own expectations. I had assumed this would be some sort of post-modern detective novel that I've come to expect like New York trilogy, Leviathan, etc etc, but instead, he has written a post-apocalyptic novel that surprised me. There are times where I was completely enthralled by the book, but also times where I felt the novel was wandering in a not-so-interesting manner. I will say that the scenario is highly imaginative and it leaves me with more questions that answers (a trait that I enjoy in fiction), but overall, I'm not sure I'd recommend this to someone wanting to read Auster for the first time. It just wasn't compelling enough of a novel for my tastes.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zuberino

    Early Auster - this was only his second novel - but already the prose is fluent (or glib) in a very Austerian way. Ultimately though, Anna Blume's extended tale of woe in the nameless dystopian city fails to strike much of a chord within, and so more than anything else the novel ends up feeling like an exercise in style, a prose experiment that doesn't move the reader much nor delivers any profound insights into the nature of dystopia or the transience of human civilizations, etc etc. I thought Early Auster - this was only his second novel - but already the prose is fluent (or glib) in a very Austerian way. Ultimately though, Anna Blume's extended tale of woe in the nameless dystopian city fails to strike much of a chord within, and so more than anything else the novel ends up feeling like an exercise in style, a prose experiment that doesn't move the reader much nor delivers any profound insights into the nature of dystopia or the transience of human civilizations, etc etc. I thought of the word "arid" as I was reading the book, the LitRev reviewer from back in 1988 called it "derivative", and that about seems to sum up the novel for me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Henrik

    I found this atypical post-apocalyptic novel intelligent, intriguing and well-composed. With a suitable dark tone permeating everything, from the opening lines' mysterious hints to the ending's uncertainty. Why only 3 stars, then? Well... The protagonist is a woman, okay? First person perspective. Yet it all read to me like a woman as seen through the eyes of a man. Annoyed me, broke the illusion. Other than that: Still recommendable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stevie O'Connor

    This was the first Paul Auster book that I ever read and I remember it burning a fierce imprint onto my mind, I followed his career ever since. Auster is a whimsical story-teller, yet is ferocious and uncompromising in tone, highly recommended reading.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Okay as far as Paul Auster goes. Not nearly as good as The New York Trilogy or Moon Palace, but not nearly as bad as Travels in the Scriptorium.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jake Berlin

    gripping and terrifying, auster creates a compelling dystopian cityscape and then somehow pulls the subtlety of the human spirit from it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Did Paul Auster wrote this pretentious drivel? Kinda hard to belive.

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