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The Brooklyn Follies: A Novel Hardcover – December 27, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 144 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Nathan Glass, a retired life insurance salesman estranged from his family and facing an iffy cancer prognosis, is "looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn." What he finds, though, in this ebullient novel by Brooklyn bard Auster (Oracle Night), is a vital, big-hearted borough brimming with great characters. These include Nathan's nephew, Tom, a grad student turned spiritually questing cab driver; Tom's serenely silent nine-year-old niece, who shows up on Tom's doorstep without her unstable mom; and a flamboyant book dealer hatching a scheme to sell a fraudulent manuscript of The Scarlet Letter. As Nathan recovers his soul through immersion in their lives, Auster meditates on the theme of sanctuary in American literature, from Hawthorne to Poe to Thoreau, infusing the novel's picaresque with touches of romanticism, Southern gothic and utopian yearning. But the book's presiding spirit is Brooklyn's first bard, Walt Whitman, as Auster embraces the borough's multitudes—neighborhood characters, drag queens, intellectuals manqué, greasy-spoon waitresses, urbane bourgeoisie—while singing odes to moonrise over the Brooklyn Bridge. Auster's graceful, offhand storytelling carries readers along, with enough shadow to keep the tale this side of schmaltz. The result is an affectionate portrait of the city as the ultimate refuge of the human spirit. (Jan.)
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From The New Yorker

After a "sad and ridiculous life" in the suburbs, Nathan Glass retires, gets divorced, and moves to Brooklyn to die. To pass the time, he decides to write an account of mishaps and mistakes, beginning with his own—"The Book of Human Folly." "The tone would be light and farcical throughout," he says, "and my only purpose was to keep myself entertained." Auster seems to have had a similar intent. A chance encounter with a long-lost nephew leads Nathan into an unlikely second act, involving a longer-lost niece, her runaway daughter, and a host of lively Brooklyn caricatures—a gay used-bookstore owner, a tough widow, an H.I.V.-positive drag queen—all in the midst of unlikely second acts themselves. Nathan narrates increasingly absurd events with persistent cheer, a tone mirrored by the blinkered optimism and liberal conviction of pre-9/11 Park Slope; it's a combination that soon seems less hopeful than hollow, and profoundly disengaged.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 2286016909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805077148
  • ASIN: 0805077146
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,151,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Nathan is a retired life insurance salesman who has lung cancer that has gone into remission. Recently divorced, the assets split amicably, he decides to go back to his roots and live the rest of his life in Brooklyn. He rents a flat in his old neighbourhood and slowly settles into what seems to be a quiet retirement. Nathan has also started to write a book of sorts, "The Book of Human Folly", an account of every blunder, embarrassment, idiocy and inane act he has committed and experienced throughout his long life. These tales of life's absurdities are also about other people, revealing the pure folly of the human condition. The narrative for the most part centres on Nathan's nephew, Tom, a failed academic who has given up on life, where they coincidentally meet in Brooklyn, and grow to be good friends. This short summary may appear boring, a book about normal people living mundane lives, but that's what makes this novel so good, the mundane becomes the miraculous, the ordinary the extraordinary.

Paul Auster is arguably one of the greatest living American writers working today. Reading his novel's is a captivating journey into the extraordinary, a glimpse at possibilities, an opportunity to view the world from a different perspective, and in some cases, one changes and sees life differently, a sometimes for the better.

I'll never forget my first Auster novel, "A New York Trilogy" becoming totally submerged in a world so alien, so odd and so fascinating, that it was astounding to discover an author with such talent and erudition. This writer had something special happening, thus I read everything I could get my hands on: "Moon Palace", "The Music of Chance", "Leviathan" and "Mr.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book, Auster gives us a slight variation on his usual style. This book is more jovial, more amusing and less intellectual than most of his prior work, but with no less impact. Perhaps the jovial authorial style is relative to the fact that Auster is trying to point out that our lives are fun, sadness and Folly.

Our protagonist is a 59 year old retired insurance salesman who decides after a bout with cancer to get divorced and to move back to Brooklyn, the home of his youth. During his first several months as a returning resident of Brooklyn, Nathan engages in writing a book called "Human Follies." In fact, it is much of his own folly he tries to prepare to put in his book. And yet, through the process of living in Brooklyn and meeting people he knew and did not know, Auster elucidates their lives as seen by Nathan and Nathan interprets for us how the events are both folly and serious.

While the story is based on a family in crisis, it is also based on Brooklyn, morality, politics, sex and love; it is also based on the follies of the human mind. Auster shows that folly is a part of all people's lives, and that so is the business of living. The characters in this book are involved with many messy life mistakes, but the book is also about redemption. Those who have thrown their lives to the winds of Folly, can at some point, reclaim their lives and go on. Perhaps the goal is to be happy, no matter what one's life and Follies represent. If one is happy, then what more can one really and truly ask of life?

The book is recommended for all readers who are observers of life and its various vicissitudes. It is intense in its observations, but easy to read and absorb. Once again, Auster has created a true masterpiece of modern literature.
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Format: Hardcover
The Brooklyn Follies is ultimately an optimistic novel, which makes it quite different from the dark early work which made me an Auster fan. Sure, there is sadness and despair, but they are defeated in the end - all but one of the characters manages to regain their lives and to find a kind of happiness. (The one who doesn't dies, but his death is the catalyst for others' redemption.) Auster's native Brooklyn is painted with an affection which manages not to be sentimental, and the characters, despite their quirks and weaknesses, are likeable because they are human and because they can change for the better. The book advocates community and humanity as positive forces. It ends minutes before the attack on the World Trade Centre and one is left with the strong feeling that even this awful event will not undo the transformations and renewed lives we have just read about. New Yorkers (and indeed Americans generally) refused to be cowed by 9/11 and perhaps this book tells us why - because beneath the grime of politics and commerce lies something altogether more worthwhile that can perhaps change America for the better.

I liked The Brooklyn Follies, but not for the same reasons that I liked The New York Trilogy or Moon Palace or The Book of Illusions. It's a gentler novel than any of those, without the hard edge, without the dark, slightly surreal veil. Read it to cheer yourself up, or to inspire you to re-engage with the world. It's a book to be enjoyed, so enjoy it.
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Format: Hardcover
The year 2005 seems to have been an unusually "out of genre" year among established fiction writers. Cormac McCarthy abandoned his cowboy roots for a serial killer (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), Amy Tan ran to Myanmar for her "ghost-written" SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING, Kazuo Ishiguro dabbled at the edges of science fiction (NEVER LET ME GO), and even the great Garcia Marquez left the realms of magical realism to write his own Lolita tale in MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES. Early 2006 brings THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES, Paul Auster's departure from his usual haunts.

Nathan Glass (no apparent relation to the Salinger Glasses), divorced, alone, and having battled his cancer into remission, chooses Brooklyn over Florida as the place he will live out his remaining years. "I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn,..." Nathan reports in one of the more memorable opening lines of recent years. As it turns out, Brooklyn is anything but quiet for him, and rather than dying, he finds his own fountain of youth there.

Nathan retires to Brooklyn expecting to do little more than scribble out amusing anecdotes for his never-to-be-published Book of Human Folly, but events conspire quickly against his plans. First, he stumbles upon his cousin Tom, a former Ph.D. candidate now working in the neighborhood used and rare bookstore of Harry Brightman. Tom's own niece, nine-year-old Lucy, appears next, parentless, intentionally mute, and hailing from what she refers to as Carolina, Carolina. A trip to Vermont ensues in an effort to deliver Lucy to Tom's reluctant stepsister, Pamela, but that plan is interrupted by a sudden death back in Brooklyn.
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