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In the Country of Last Things Paperback – May 2, 1988

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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library Journal Learn more
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Imagine an American city in the near future, populated almost wholly by street dwellers, squatters in ruined buildings, scavengers for subsistence. Suicide clubs offer interesting ways to die, for a fee, but the rich have fled with their jewels, and those who are left survive on what little cash trade-in centers will give them for the day's pickings. This enthralling, dreamlike fable about a peculiarly recognizable society, now in the throes of entropy, focuses on the plight of a young woman, Anna Blume. Anna has memories of a gentler life, but comes to the city in a "charity ship" to hunt for her missing brother. She first finds shelter with a madman and his wife and later experiences a brief idyll with a writer, Samuel Farr.Together they live in the deteriorating splendor of the marbled public library. Promise is ultimately rekindled when the survivors consider taking to the road as magiciansan action implying that art and illusion can save. Auster, an accomplished stylist, creates a tone that deftly combines matter-of-factness and estrangement. The eerie quality is heightened by the device of a narrator who learns everything from Anna's journal. Auster's The New York Trilogy is soon to be reissued in Penguin paperback.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In a book-length letter home, Anna Blume reports that her search for a long-lost brother has brought her to a vast, unnamed 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 exposureif they aren't murdered by other vagrants first. Government forces haul away the bodies, and licensed scavengers collect trash and precious human waste. Weird cults form around the most popular methods of suicide. Anna tries to help, but the charity group she joins quickly runs out of supplies and has to close its doors. A number of post-apocalyptic novels have been published recently; Auster's, one of the best, is distinguished by an uncanny grasp of the day-to-day realities of homelessness. This is a scary but highly relevant book. Edward B. St. John, Loyola Marymount Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 2, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140097058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140097054
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By RV on August 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
In The Country Of Last Things tells the story of a disintegrating, post apocalyptic unnamed city, as seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Anna Blume. Anna comes to the City in search of her brother, but soon realizes the hopelessness of her quest. Leaving the City appears to be impossible, and Anna finds herself in a day-to-day struggle for survival.
Generally speaking, this is a haunting and depressing novel, made even more so by the calm and unemotional style of narration Auster uses in describing the most horrifying situations.
The book reminds me of Orwell's 1984. But whereas the bleak future (or past) described by Orwell is a manmade oppressive government which takes over the lives of its citizens, the City's condition is one of irreversible and inescapable chaos. Whatever government exists in the City seems to have no power at all. Thus, while 1984 seems to offer some meager hope for political salvation, the City can only continue to disintegrate and things can only get worse.
Throughout the book Anna seems grow, improve and evolve as a human being, although she believes that the opposite is true. The letter she is writing to an unnamed friend or lover is the only successful act of creation in the entire book, and this single act of creation stands in marked contrast to the ubiquitous collapse of everyone and everything else in the book. When considered in this light, the book is about Anna's unintended and unnoticed triumph over the City.
I don't quite know how to feel about this book, but I know that it will stay with me for a long time to come. This is why Paul Auster is one of my favorite authors - regardless of whether you like his books, they always leave you with something to think about.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on January 26, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Auster creates for us a truly horrible reality; but a reality that is in fact imaginable. One where the central government is no longer in touch with the needs of the people, where local government is unable to raise enough money to keep basic services working and where each person `fends for themselves' in the streets, where ever they can find what they need to stay alive.

The description is beautifully constructed and while Auster never states this, the city has a feel of Manhattan, which would not be odd, as Auster lives in NYC and is intimately familiar with the City and all its nooks and crannies. But in this book, Auster leads the reader through the most terrible and heart rending human conditions; physical, emotional and psychological. And the descriptions of these pains are precise and concise.

Auster uses his usual tremendous power with words to convey the depth of all the darkest of the dark. But he does make a point of stating that these people are Alive! This is not some type of "Hell" but if anything: Purgatory! Here on Earth!

With truly artful metaphor, the story of Paul Auster is clear:

Man will try to go on, not matter how horrible his surroundings, no matter how painful it is to continue to live; until he is just no longer able to do so.

The book is high quality and uniquely created modern literature. It is an experience that all serious literary readers should not miss.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Grace on July 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Inherent in "In the Country of Last Things" is this: "Our lives are no more than the sum of manifold contingencies, and no matter how diverse they might be in their details, they all share an essential randomness in their design"(143-4). One such contingency occurs when the protagonist Anna Blume rediscovers a forgotten blue notebook accompanied by six yellow pencils. This is the catalyst for a letter that may as well be called "In the Country of Last Things". The letter comes across as an exaggerated account, an apocalyptic depiction of a city stripped of its humanity. Old laws that once held the society together have been supplanted by newer laws that will again be replaced by even more corrupt and venal ones.
Anna Blume is a girl who comes to the city in search of her brother, but, instead, finds disintegration, desperation, and hopelessness. She is really no different, only her story, from the other inhabitants of the city. In the city, everyone is searching for something or someone that has disappeared. For "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" (2). The immediate and never-ending concern is hunger: hunger in the literal sense, as food like everything else in the city, is in short supply; and hunger in the abstract, wherein people crave friendship, love, connection, and a shared understanding of language and meaning. The constant struggle is not to give up or lose hope, and thereby your life.
In the "Last Things," Paul Auster fills the pages with vivid accounts of a city in ruin, on the verge of complete collapse.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't know whether In the Country of Last Things is post-apocalyptic in the strict sense of the word. It describes no apocalyptic event, and what people recall of the past is unreliable, the stuff of legend. The unnamed (presumably American) city that is the novel's focus is in a state of decay, seemingly the result of entropy rather than a single disaster-inducing cause. As the narrator describes it, "the city seems to be consuming itself." Most inhabitants are homeless, scrounging for food or scraps of formerly useful objects that can be resold. Many are simply waiting to die, often actively pursuing death (sometimes in bizarre ways), a desire that has given birth to creative and lucrative new businesses. Absurd religions flourish. Armed invaders seize buildings, evicting tenants; ownership of realty is a concept that belongs to a forgotten past. Religious groups -- all of them -- are oppressed. Scholarship is all but dead. The social compact is in ruins and the corrupt government is useless except as a disposer of dead bodies.

In the Country of Last Things is written as a letter from Anna Blume, a young woman who has traveled overseas 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."

Paul Auster's novel explores (in Anna's words) "the most interesting question of all: to see what happens when there is nothing, and whether or not we will survive that too.
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