Paul Auster is one of the most famous American writers – he has written more than 30 books that have been translated into around 40 languages. Almost all of them take place in New York and Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt. She announced via Instagram in the summer that Auster was suffering from cancer and was not out of the woods yet, but would still be publishing a “small novel” in November.
Brilliant start for Paul Auster’s title hero
Paul Auster opens his new novel with a great, fast-paced and almost slapstick-like scene. Its title character, the 70-year-old emeritus Princeton professor Sydney T. Baumgartner, is currently working on a monograph about the pseudonyms of the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard when an idea lures him away from his desk:
On the way downstairs to get the book, he remembers that he promised his sister that he would call her at ten this morning, and since it’s just before ten, he wants to go straight to the kitchen and make the call , before fetching the book from the living room. Suddenly he stops abruptly because an acrid smell hits him from the kitchen. Something is burning, he thinks.
Baumgartner pulls the red-hot pot from the stove and burns himself, but before he can cool the wound and finally call his sister, the UPS messenger Molly is at the door. A little later the phone rings and his cleaning lady’s little daughter tells him, distraught, that her father sawed off two of his fingers at work. Finally, an employee of the electricity supplier is standing at the front door and when Baumgartner tries to lead the young man to the meter, he falls down the basement stairs.
Paul Auster writes about age-related decline
Quickly, succinctly and with absurd comedy, Paul Auster draws you into the world of his protagonist, with whom he most likely has more than just his age and writing in common. We soon learn that Baumgartner has been a widower for ten years: his wife Anna, who was a translator and to whom he was happily married for more than 30 years, died in a swimming accident. Since then, Baumgartner has suffered from mental phantom pain, despite occasionally indulging in trivial affairs. After his cleaning lady Rosita’s husband loses two fingers on the circular saw, he is preoccupied with the tricky “body-mind puzzle”. He decides to write about it and only now realizes how much it has to do with himself.
But then Baumgartner falls in love with a film theorist who was also a friend of his wife, and a kind of late happiness seems possible. Above all, however, the phenomenologist surrenders to his perceptions and memories or analyzes with precise ruthlessness how mercilessly age-related decline progresses:
Years ago, in his forties and early fifties, he began to notice that many of his older friends and colleagues occasionally came out of the toilet with their pants open (…). At first these harmless mishaps had amused him. Then amused and sad at the same time. Then he felt sad and no longer amused at all, because by now he had seen enough of it to understand that the unzipped pants were the beginning of the end.
“Little novel” full of humor and wisdom
Paul Auster’s “little novel”, as his wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt, announced this text, is full of big, existential themes and feelings. A melancholic work about old age, one could say, which doesn’t for a moment seem like a maudlin work of old age. There is too much wit and wisdom in this “Baumgartner” and in its inventor, the great writer Paul Auster.
by Paul Auster
- Page number:
- 208 pages
- Additional info:
- Translated from the American language by Werner Schmitz
- Order number:
- 22 €
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