Category Archives: henry holt and co

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

4-3-2-1-by-paul-auster Title: 4 3 2 1
Author: Paul Auster
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
ISBN: 978-1627794466
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 880
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I started reading Auster in 2000 I think. It has been 17 years and time sure does fly. I remember how I felt when I finished reading my first Auster – it was The New York Trilogy and I was a convert. I wanted to shout out loud from every rooftop and tell people to read this book. I wanted more people to read him. I wanted more readers to understand his worlds. Let me also tell you that reading Paul Auster isn’t easy. Why do people read him then? Well, it is only because of how he writes. I can’t think of any other writer who writes like him. Not a single one comes to mind.

Now coming to the review of this book. While I was reading “4 3 2 1”, I knew this would be difficult. It is not going to be easy to talk about this book – because there is so much to talk about. I mean I could go on and on and on but I shall keep it short and simple. “4 3 2 1” to me was a coming-of-age book really – but with a twist, as all his books are. It is 880 pages long and that takes a lot from a reader, but once you dive into it, you are hooked.

“4 3 2 1” is about four different lives of one person – Ferguson and how all our lives play out. The intentions of the writer are huge, sprawling even – to take this concept and turn it into an epic saga, so to speak. I can only imagine what the editing must’ve been like. Four lives run parallel and Ferguson is living in all four worlds. Four people who are identical, but different, same set of parents, same bodies and same genetic make-up, but each living in different houses, different towns with his own set of situations. That is the beauty of this book – the way Auster builds these worlds and you see some similarities but these are just few and that’s where it ends and begins all over again.

When you begin the book though, be prepared to be a little confused where the plot is concerned, however do not let that deter you. Please go beyond fifty pages and you will see the magic of Auster’s writing unravel itself. The choices of each Ferguson are different and you will notice that as you move along – it is the story of the 20th century – starting from March 3, 1947 when all Fergusons are born and carrying through the end and how each Ferguson’s life turns out.

I love this book by Auster the most. His writing is stunning and to be the ardent reader, what was most refreshing was that I could not compare it to any of his other books. The journey of each Ferguson is moving, extraordinary even in the most ordinary circumstances and full of emotion as worlds are navigated back and forth from. “4 3 2 1” is an experience not to be missed.

Book Review: The Hunger Angel by Herta Müller

Title: The Hunger Angel
Author: Herta Müller
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9301-8
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 290
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Herta Müller writes about a time and place that has long been gone; however it could still come back with roaring vengeance. She should not be read because she is a Nobel Laureate. She should be read because she knows her skill – her hunted and most gutted style of tearing of human emotions and exposing them for what they are – raw and without feeling.

I remember the first time when I read, “The Appointment”. I was taken in by that book to a large extent. The Appointment is set in the totalitarian era and mostly reminded me of “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Herta Müller’s books are bleak and speak of what is real – oppression and the slow death of human dreams and hopes. So if the reader is willing to digest this, then reading her is a feast that you will not forget.

“The Hunger Angel” is about a seventeen-year old boy, his life and times in a camp in Soviet Union, starting on an icy morning in January 1945, when the patrol comes for him. Leo Auberg spends the next five years in conditions unimaginable. He spends the years shoveling coal, lugging bricks, mixing mortar and battling the pangs of hunger that governs the labour camp, which is 1 shovel load = 1 gram of bread.

The book is a close look at the labour camp. You feel as though Ms. Müller has led this life that she can write with such precision about it. The Hunger Angel is all about description. The scenes are poetic, smooth and real. The battle is always on between Leo and his Hunger and that is at the core of the book. The blows that hunger lashes at Leo and he in the face of an adversary like none other.

Only after reading this book, did I think to myself: What if my hunger was dependent on a shovel and the amount of coal, sand and cement? Would I be able to survive? In all probability, the answer is no. I don’t think we could have and that is at the core of this book.

Leo’s character is poetic. He hallucinates (that is where he dreams about his hunger angel). He strives. He learns to desensitize himself, which is again only a consequence of his conditions and emerges a different person. Ms. Müller does not paint a pretty picture, and rightly so – considering the scenario is not pretty at all.

The translation by Philip Boehm seems flawless as everything is conjured perfectly (not that I would know considering I have not read the book in Romanian). However, the reader can gauge given the detailing required for this kind of a book. The writing as I mentioned is ruthless and brutal. Herta Müller writes with urgency that I have not seen in any other writer. I recommend this book to people who can stomach reality and comprehend it. For me, it was an eye-opening read.

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Book Review: Partitions by Amit Majmudar

Title: Partitions
Author: Amit Majmudar
Publisher: Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Co)
ISBN: 978-0805093957
Genre: Fiction
PP: 224 pages
Price: $25.00
Source: Publisher via
Rating: 5/5

My grandmother used to tell me stories about the partition, about how they left their homeland Pakistan and were evicted to India in August 1947. I used to hear these stories with enthrallment, not knowing the hardships she and my grandfather went through to build a new life. How could I have known? I was but a child at that time. However, as I grew up, I started being more perceptive of the event and it made me see things differently – keeping in mind both countries – India and Pakistan and what its citizens experienced when partition was announced.

A lot of writers have written about the Partition – from Salman Rushdie to Bhisham Sahni to Khushwant Singh and each one of them have depicted the state of affairs in a different way. Amidst these stalwarts, comes a new book entitled, Partitions by Amit Majmudar.

I had the opportunity of reading this vividly written book and I must say that I was mesmerized by the prose.

Partitions centers around four individuals from both sides of the border and how their lives converge throughout the book. Shankar and Keshav, two Hindu Boys, have lost sight of their mother at a train station and don’t know where they belong or where to go to. Simran Kaur, a young Sikh girl, has run away from her father, who would rather see her dead than dishonored. Ibrahim Masud, an elderly Muslim doctor is driven away from India towards the new Muslim State of Pakistan.

The book is about the meeting of these four characters and how they come together ironically enough, defying every political thought and viewpoint. The writing is lyrical – it is almost like the sentences dance on the page and you are transported to another time and place. The main theme of the book, hope, comes across strongly and evokes a sense of belonging and what does it take for a bond to form amongst strangers.

I would highly recommend this book because of its plot, the heart-felt writing and the possibilities that exist in our world and are brilliantly portrayed by writers such as Mr. Majmudar through the medium of writing.

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Book Review: My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

Title: My Korean Deli
Author: Ben Ryder Howe
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9343-8
Genre: Non-Fiction
PP: 320 pages
Price: $25.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To me, the best memoirs begin with the author thinking and acting one way and through the course of the book, changes and comes out, if not a better person, at least a different person. Ben Ryder Howe seems to have done this very thing and he writes beautifully about it in “My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store”.

Ben, a WASP from many generations of Bostonians settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, married his college girlfriend, Gab Pak. Ben is from a laid-back family but Gab, a lawyer by training, is the child of first generation Korean immigrants who have come to this country with a fierce can-do attitude. Nothing is impossible in this golden land of opportunity if you work hard enough. The Paks, Kay and Edward, have raised and educated three children, through the ethic of hard work. Ben and Gab, together for ten years when the book opens right after 9/11, have moved in with the Paks – in their basement on Staten Island – and are considering buying Kay Pac a deli she can manage, as a sort of “thank you” for raising Gab. Ben is an editor at the “Paris Review” and Gab has a job at a law firm, working long hours. They see the deli as a way of working together and making enough money to move out from their basement dwelling.

I don’t suppose you could find two societal opposites than the offices of the “Paris Review” and a Korean deli. It would be like going from the equator to the North Pole, yet both exist in today’s New York City. Ben straddles the two worlds – WASP and ethnic – for the three years he and his in-laws own and operate the deli they buy in Brooklyn. As Ben bounces from one place – and one life – to the other on a daily basis, he learns about himself and his possibilities in a very visceral way. But learning to accept the can-do immigrant spirit does not make him turn away from his own family and their values. He has learned to balance them by the end of the book.

Ben Howe is a marvelously fluent writer. There’s rarely a wasted sentence or thought. He introduces the reader to some very, um, “amusing” characters – from both worlds, yet he is never condescending in his treatment of a drinker, be it his boss at the “Paris Review”, George Plimpton, or the store’s employee, Dwayne. There’s not a mean-spirited thought in this book, but despite the charity given to most of the characters, they are still shown as real people.

Howe nails the difficulties of owning your own small business- the strain it puts on a marriage, the constant money worries- it’s a 24/7 responsibility, much like having a child, which Ben and Gab are also struggling to do. His tales of the deli, what it means to the neighborhood, to his family, and eventually to him, give the reader a real appreciation of small business owners. I loved his story of Gab trying to get from Queens to Brooklyn during a horrible snowstorm, and of keeping the store open during the big blackout. Howe is a gifted writer, and this book is one I would highly recommend. It’s a great American story.

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Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Reading a Paul Auster novel is something like listening to a well-orchestrated, multi-layered musical composition where certain melodies and motifs recur with substantial elaboration and variation. He is one of our very best writers and his newest, Sunset Park, like many of his books, reflects back to us a great deal about how we live today. It is “up-to-the-moment” current, the protagonist, Miles Heller, being employed by a South Florida realty company (for part of the novel) as a “trash-out” worker who cleans out repossessed homes that are usually left in awful shape by their former inhabitants. Miles has a somewhat fetishistic compulsion to photograph the forgotten possessions, the abandoned things that have been left behind, and his large collection of digital photos of these objects comprise one of the many lists of contemporary artifacts that Auster constructs throughout the book. It includes pictures of “books, shoes, and oil paintings, pianos and toasters, dolls, tea sets and dirty socks, televisions and board games, party dresses and tennis racquets, sofas, silk lingerie, caulking guns, thumbtacks, plastic action figures, tubes of lipstick, rifles, discolored mattresses, knives and forks, poker chips, a stamp collection, and a dead canary lying at the bottom of its cage.”

Sunset Park is a different type of story, and in some ways it felt more like an intense character study. Its central character is Miles Heller, age 28, an intelligent, but directionless, Brown University dropout, who has been estranged from his family for a number of years. Miles has been harboring guilt over his part in an accident which took the life of his step-brother, Bobby, and which has torn his family apart. Miles father owns a struggling book publishing company in New York, his step-mother is an English professor, and his mother, an actress in the city. In Florida, Miles has been getting by odd jobs in Florida cleaning up foreclosed homes during the housing crisis, while trying to keep his relationship with Pilar, a quiet under-aged teenager.

Soon after tempers flare with the family of his girlfriend, Miles hears from his old friend, Bing Nathan in New York. Miles boards a bus and heads back to Brooklyn. Bing is a man who detests technology and runs a shop called “The Hospital of Broken Things”, where forgotten things of the past, like broken manual typewriters, old radios etc. get repaired. When Bing invites Miles to become a squatter in an empty apartment in the Sunset park section of Brooklyn, he joins him along with two women: Alice Bergstrom, who works part-time while working on her dissertation, and Ellen Brice, a unsuccessful real-estate agent, obsessed with the human body, who wants to be an artist.

Art and Literature bind Auster’s characters into a subset of Americana adrift and in search of moorings. As each character — mother, father, son, underage lover, coconspirator, childhood paramour — moves through dilemmas and confrontations — questions of self worth, gender, sexuality, ambition, procreation, death, global politics, and so on — to arrive at moments of clarity, compassion, self awareness and self liberation, armed for the good fight in the face of whatever the future might deliver next.

Auster loosely integrates these individual narratives into a fluid mythic context: Hollywood, in the form of William Wyler’s sentimental 1946 “The Best Years of Our Lives” which follows three World War II veterans return home to discover that they and their families (not to mention their nation 60 years later) have been irreparably changed. (Jung’s myth of the returning hero gone awry.) Auster’s contemporary characters engage the film and live out post-war angst, and post-cold war decline, into a state of lingering ennui at the end of empire today.

There’s a deeper mythology at work in Sunset Park, the exhausted spiritual state of existential reality as Samuel Beckett explored it, before the rest of us were even “born into it”. Auster’s lead character’s estranged mother, for example, is a successful aging film actress returned to the city to appear in the role of her career as Winnie in a new production of Beckett’s stark and challenging “Happy Days.” Sunset Park’s mythic context sifts through the last half century from the failed returning hero, into Beckett’s post-apocalyptic landscape of endless contemplation and anxiety, armed with nothing but logic, cunning, and language. Another contextual level is the everyday mythology of baseball heroes, discussed endlessly between generations, as well as food and popular celebrity which provide connective tissue to hold contemporary culture at least conversationally in place.

Like, “The Hospital for Broken Things”, the characters in Sunset Part are a collection of “broken souls” struggling to find a place in this world, haunted in some way by their damaged past. At times the story seemed conveniently, contrived, and the narrative without direction, yet the characters and their issues seemed very genuine. I thought the contemporary post-recession time frame was perfect as well. In the end, some things were left unresolved, leaving me with unanswered questions, and curious as to whether this was unintentional or whether Auster has a sequel in the works.

Sunset Park is a coming-of-age story. It shows young men and women struggling to cope with and grow up from the wounds of early life, to take a hint from one of the novel’s early passages. For though Miles is its main protagonist, the story revolves from one of the squat’s inhabitants to another and, skipping a difficult-to-bridge gap, to the generation above. But Auster’s latest novel also is about recession America. Waste and reclamation are everywhere present, from Miles’s job at the beginning of the story, to Bing’s store for repairing broken typewriters and record-players, to the house in Sunset Park itself. The constant need for money, the need to deal with bare essentials, are of course favourite Auster tricks to highlight, by contrast, his characters’ dilemmas.

But this novel is also the closest Auster has come to making a statement about America in the present, rather than in the abstract sense. Sunset Park is an American novel as well as the more typical metaphysical rumination. And this makes it something new to the Auster collection. Even if old themes such as homelessness (Moon Palace, City of Glass, The Music of Chance) remain present in Sunset Park, its cautious optimism, its preparedness to see light as well as dark, its greater realism make it something different. This is both a classic Auster novel and a new, intriguing departure.

Sunset Park; Auster, Paul; Henry Holt and Co; $25.00