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In Paradise: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2014: Peter Matthiessen, three-time National Book Award winner and esteemed author of both fiction and nonfiction, has never backed away from writing about difficult subjects. In his new novel In Paradise, he sets his story in the mid-'90s at a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz. The novel centers around Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish decent who has traveled to the concentration camp for reasons both spiritual and personal. While Olin makes his own journey, dealing with the bouts of sadness, horror, and absurdity--and even occasional joy--that accompany such a retreat, we are introduced to a group of characters all experiencing their own version of observance and remembrance. The result is a novel that is as profound as anything that Matthiessen has written before. --Chris Schluep

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

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

“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

"Not a mere recounting but a persuasive meditation on Auschwitz’s history and mythology...Matthiessen uses scenes of confrontation, recollection, bitterness, and selfexamination 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

From Booklist

*Starred Review* After participating in three Zen retreats at Auschwitz, Matthiessen addresses that experience with what, at 86, may very well be his final novel. With In Paradise, the two-time National Book Award–winner doesn’t shy away from boldly tackling the most profound of subjects. And as protagonist Clements Olin wonders, what “fresh insights into the horror of the camps” remain to be had, especially from someone without direct experience of the camp? Olin, a Polish-born American scholar and “Holocaust authority,” joins an ecumenical group that includes Germans, Poles, Israelis, Jews, Catholic nuns, and Zen Buddhists at the death camp for “a fortnight of homage, prayer, and silent meditation . . . to bear witness lest the world forget man’s depthless capacity for evil.” Some attend to alleviate shame or guilt, while others are tourists and Holocaust voyeurs and still others are looking for some sort of closure or healing. But earnestness is overrun with grievances as, Olin observes, “behind all the good will, there are so many old hates.” Arguments, accusations, and old resentments erupt, disrupting any silent meditation. Olin’s motivations for attending are initially obscure, but we learn that his family might not all have escaped to the U.S. when the Nazis came to power in Poland. Matthiessen expertly raises the challenges and the difficulties inherent in addressing this subject matter, proving, as the muralist Malan says, 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.” HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The world-renowned naturalist and author Peter Matthiessen, in his first work of fiction since the 2008 National Book Award winner, Shadow Country, pens what may be the 86-year-old author’s “last word” in this powerful novel about the Holocaust. --Ben Segedin

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594633177
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594633171
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (178 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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234 of 239 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It’s a more than daunting task to review this work by Peter Matthiessen, whom I and many others regard as one of the two or three finest living American writers: A work set in Auschwitz during the 1990s whose main character, Clements Olin, an alter ego of the author himself, who comes, primarily, as it turns out, to see if he can discover anything about the woman who was his mother. But that’s not what makes it hard to review. Everyone who attends this gathering to “bear witness” is spiritually stripped bare during the novel and taken to task for sentimentality, lies and sloppy thinking, including: American Jews, Israeli Jews, Poles, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Auschwitz survivors and, not least, Zen adherents such as Clements Olin himself. The very term “bear witness” is taken to task as rank hypocrisy and sentimentalism, mainly by the character known through most of the book as Earwig. Every participant has his or her perversities, hatreds, deep character flaws. There is an entire chapter entitled “Dancing At Auschwitz” concerning a dance held by some of the participants in the “bear witness” gathering and the repercussions and recriminations that follow it. The very title of the chapter is bound to throw many off, never mind the contents. About these things, all I can do is let the prospective reader know what to expect. Pray, don’t approach the book with a cocksure attitude towards the Holocaust, save that it happened. The only ones - and none of them are at the gathering - who come across as thoroughly in the wrong are those who deny that the genocide took place.

So, you’re forewarned about all that.
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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Jim Tenuto VINE VOICE on March 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you read Peter Matthiessen you must have wondered if his obsession with E.J. Watson would ever wane. His decades long examination into the life and death of one of Florida’s most colorful scoundrels and visionaries spanned thousands of pages.

IN PARADISE finds Matthiessen’s talents turned to the Holocaust and the result is a powerful, morally ambiguous examination of our responses to the Shoah. D. Clements Olin is the putative protagonist of the novel, the son of a Polish calvary officer who fled, along with his landed and titled parents, before Germany’s invasion of Poland in the years that preceded World War II. Olin’s mother…well, let’s leave that to the book.

Olin searches for family and emotions. He is a near affectless man, unsuccessful in marriage, marginally competent in his career, which, of course, is academia. Ostensibly he is examining the life of Tadeusz Borowski, a Polish poet who survived the camps only to commit suicide in 1951 three days after the birth of his daughter.

He joins a disparate group that visits Auschwitz and Birkenau. Germans who want to expiate a national guilt, Catholic clergy who bristle at the Church’s blind eye during the Final Solution, Poles who steadfastly claim ignorance of what occurred under their very eyes, and Jews—survivors and others—who return to confirm man’s capacity for evil.

Yet even the survivors are challenged. In surviving the camps many are asked what they had to do to live through the horror. “Reading Borowski was Olin’s first exposure to the swarming scene of terror on this platform, the howls of lost children running everywhere and nowhere ‘like wild dogs,’ the young mother so frantic to be spared that she forsakes the little boy calling Mama! Mama! Who runs behind here (‘Oh no, sir!
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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Dillingham VINE VOICE on March 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Readers familiar with Peter Matthiessen's earlier novels will find some qualities that they already value, but in many ways this is a new direction for Matthiessen, an uncompromising and occasionally fierce exploration of the ways human evil flourishes, as well as the bewilderment, even despair, those who try to oppose evil may experience at their repeated failures. Matthiessen quotes a poem by Anna Akhmatova as an epigraph--it begins "Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,/Death's black wing scrapes the air," and that is fair warning. A visit to Auschwitz--the most notorious in some ways of the Nazi death camps--is not an opportunity to salve one's personal guilt, nor to plump up one's easy conscience and self-esteem, as the central character, Prof. Clements Olin, discovers, to his pain but also, perhaps, toward his enlightenment.

There is nothing simple about this narrative, though the situation can sound simple: Prof. Olin, a student of modern Slavic literature with a special interest in the works that emerged from the Holocaust, arrives in Poland on his way to Auschwitz, where he is to join (more as an observer than participant, or so he thinks) an ecumenical religious group planning to spend days on the selection ramp, meditating and witnessing on behalf of the murdered millions. Olin (whose family name has a history as that of an aristocratic family, Olinsky, who held property in the vicinity of Oswiecim) is also, secretly, in search of information about his mother, who did not leave for America when Olin's father and grandparents fled.
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