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In the Land of the Living: A Novel Hardcover – March 12, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books (March 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316206091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316206099
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,549,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The pursuit of happiness in America has moved from being just an aspiration to a founding mythology. In Ratner’s novel, mythology is often a compelling but shackling inheritance. The narrative spans generations but focuses on Leo, the son of Isidore, whose success has taken on mythological proportions, and who was the son of the equally mythological Ezer, a Jewish immigrant, absusive father, and professional curmudgeon. Leo, like the men before him, lives in the shadow of his sire. When he embarks on a cross-country voyage with his brother, Leo broods on the fickleness of happiness that results in both tragedy and comedy (but mostly tragedy). Part rumination, part fairy tale, and part road narrative, Ratner’s book paints a picture of the terrible weight of history, self-created or otherwise, that presses down on future generations. The key lesson? It takes hard work to achieve happiness, but the true work lies in maintaining it. Ratner challenges his characters to rise to the occasion. Despite a stacked deck, the glimpses stolen are worth the read. --James Orbesen



"In the Land of the Living made me laugh out loud, and it also left me deeply moved. Part vaudeville and part tragic opera, it dances and rages with uncommon wisdom, conveying the pain, comedy, and beauty of familial love across the generations."—John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road and Northwest Corner

Customer Reviews

This author is brilliant.
Jackie P
The story is filled with the frustrations which haunt the young and the scars of losses which persist forever and shape the adult.
Jackie Ponsky
From the moment I began reading Leo's journey, I found myself engrossed and unable to put the book down!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In The Land Of the Living is a wonderfully written coming of age story-- actually two of them, the father and then the son, shot through with raw truths and real life. Ratner brings to this work the dark gallows humor that was the understated strength of his first novel, The Jump Artist, but adds to the mix a healthy dose of light humor, sometimes charmingly vulgar, that leavens the tragedy at the heart of the story. Few authors have as deft a hand with the tragedy in comedy and comedy in tragedy that Ratner nails throughout the book.

Ratner's unusual ability to give his characters life beyond the page with just a few words or sentences-- and his grounding of the story in specific places and times-- gives the novel an almost tactile sense of real-ness. But the momentum of the story of a tragedy foretold and then survived, and the universality of its themes of coming to terms in a messy way with the messiness of life, gives In the Land of the Living broad appeal because of, not despite, its lack of cheap and easy resolutions.

What has stuck with me most is the book's unflinching honesty and the hard earned sentimentality I feel about characters not always portrayed in a sympathetic light. The people who populate this story are not all one thing or another thing-- they are not caricatures, but humans with their strengths and weaknesses, whether facing life, death, awkward groping kisses, medical school, or clownishly intrusive street performers. You will root for them. In the Land of the Living: A Novel
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Format: Hardcover
After reading Austin Ratner's debut novel this reviewer wrote the following, repeated here because it pertains to this new second novel: `Austin Ratner joins the ranks of physicians-turned-writers (Rabelais, Keats, Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Carlos Williams, Michael Crichton, Khaled Hosseini, etc) in this very impressive debut novel THE JUMP ARTIST, a 'fictionalized biographical novel' of Philippe Halsman, considered to be one of the world's top 10 photographers. Ratner proves himself to be not only a fine investigative historian, but also a writer adept at exploring several languages and countries and enhancing the character perception of some very famous people. And he accomplishes this with a gift for story telling that promises he will be around for a significant new career!'

Transfer that praise and magnify it a bit for this his second novel - IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING - and begin to accept the fact that we have a genuinely gifted writer in our midst. His new novel really defies condensation for a review: the special joy (or one of the many special joys) is growing into the novel in the manner in which Ratner writes. Continuing along the lines of the unique relationship dynamics of fathers and sons, the author explores not only present and the past but also throws enough magical realism into the mix ( a new and valid direction for this young writer) that he demands we stay abreast of his at times meaningfully meandering lines of relating this story - a family saga, a coming of age tale - that centers around the confusions and pain of two sons, Isidore and Leo, who both suffer the loss of their fathers, either by neglect or death. The men are beaten up by their own delusions of grandeur, shame, sense of entitlement and Jewish self-hatred.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne on March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In the Land of Living captures the essence of multiple stages of life by poignantly articulating the language of both the little child and the coming of age of the adolescent. From the moment I began reading Leo's journey, I found myself engrossed and unable to put the book down! Ratner vividly captures the feelings of not just Leo but all the people in his world. I entered in to the private life of Leo and found myself truly understanding the challenges presented by early loss. But, I also laughed out loud as I recognized the conflicts that everyone faces in becoming an adult. The book is a brilliant work and deserves a wide audience.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. Paris on March 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is brilliantly written, brilliantly conceived. It is a page turner on one hand- a family saga and a coming of age story- and on the other, a deeply expressive and psychological rendering of loss and the life one lives after. Ratner's ability to convey the feelings of every generation in a way that is strikingly true, nuanced and surprising puts this in the realm of great literature. The prose is beautiful- economical at times, poetic and swooping at others. There is nothing predictable about the story, yet it touches on the deepest, most essential, and most universal aspects of being human. As a child psychotherapist, I can speak to how completely the author understands the inner world of childhood, the struggles of adolescence, and the power of central relationships. And in addition, there were times when I laughed out loud- the comedy is the sort that's full of human frailty and human strength. I can't think of a piece of current fiction that has affected me more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In The Land of the Living is a fascinating look at three generations of the Auberon family. It starts with Ezer, a tyrant to his three sons. When their mother dies at an early age from stomach cancer, Ezer farms them out to foster homes where they are treated better than he ever treated the. He especially did not like one of his sons and would hit him on the head an body with heavy objects. Isadore, the middle son, turned out quite well. He attended Harvard and became a doctor of renown. He met a woman named Laura and married her, finding in her family the love and acceptance that he did not have in his family of origin. Sadly, his father-in-law dies shortly after Isadore's marriage to Laura and Isadore dies shortly after that of lymphoma, leaving two sons - Leo and Mack.

Leo is an intense and focused boy who knows from an early age that he wants to be a doctor. He constantly thinks of what his father would want of him and how he can please him. Though dead, Isadore's life is much alive in Leo's heart. Mack is distant from Leo and does not have much to do with him. He is the younger brother and Isadore dies without his ever knowing him. Laura marries Phillip who adopts the two boys and becomes their father. Leo always thinks of Isadore and what he can do to please him and earn his approval. He tries his hardest at school and to please his mother. Mack is not interested in Leo and does not attend his birthday or high school graduation. For all intents and purposes, once Leo finishes medical school, he and Mack have been estranged for eight years.

Mack is moving from L.A. to Ohio, their ancestral home, and invites Leo to drive with him from California to Ohio. This trip is their way to coalesce and build up their relationship.
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More About the Author

Austin Ratner's debut novel, The Jump Artist, received the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and was featured in Publishers Weekly as one of ten promising debuts of 2009. Before turning his focus to creative writing, Ratner received his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-authored the textbook Concepts in Medical Physiology. He is the recipient of a 2011 Sun Valley Writers' Conference Fellowship and his work has been honored with the Missouri Review Editors' Prize in Fiction. Ratner grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, has attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two sons. Visit his web site:

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