By Peter Matthiessen
(Riverhead Books, Hardcover, 9781594633171, 256pp.)
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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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).
Peter Matthiessen was a three-time National Book Award winner (twice in two nonfiction categories for The Snow Leopard, published in 1978, and again in fiction in 2008 for Shadow Country) and the author of more than thirty books, as well as a world renowned naturalist, explorer, and activist. A cofounder of the Paris Review, he was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of its William Dean Howells Award, a State Author of New York, and a recipient of the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, among many other honors. A longtime student of Zen Buddhism, Matthiessen eventually became a priest of the White Plum Asanga. He lived for more than 60 years on the South Fork of Long Island, where he worked as a commercial fisherman in his twenties and died on April 5, 2014.
The late Peter Matthiessen's last novel follows a fractious group of attendees at an Auschwitz memorial conference as they bear witness to one of history's greatest atrocities. More at NPR.org
Fresh Air listens back to our 1989 interview with Snow Leopard author and Paris Review co-founder Peter Matthiessen, who died Saturday at age 86. His new novel In Paradise comes out Tuesday. More at NPR.org
At 86, Matthiessen has written what he says "may be his last word." In Paradise, a novel about a visit to a Nazi extermination camp, caps a career spanning six decades and 33 books. More at NPR.org
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