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In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

One of the great American writers who should have been much better known in his lifetime, this

contemplative, darkly funny, fascinating book was his last. Set during a zen retreat to Auschwitz

(which is based on an experience Matthiessen himself had) it sets about to explore feelings about and attitudes towards the Holocaust, half a century on. Clements Olin is an American scholar, descended from Polish aristocracy who is attending ostensibly to learn more about the strange suicide of an Auschwitz survivor. Inevitably he discovers things about himself, his family and the horror of what happened that he never expected to. A beautiful, challenging but extremely satisfying book.

If you like Peter Matthiessen you might also like to read books by Martin Amis, Howard Jacobson and Richard Ford.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. In 1996, Olin goes on a Zen retreat on the grounds of the death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, ostensibly to do research on the suicide of a survivor. But what was the real reason for his trip? His connections to Poland and the holocaust emerge and we discover the painful truth behind Olin’s trip. This complex tale, Matthiessen’s last novel before his death earlier this year, looks at the 20th-century nightmare of the holocaust and examines many uncomfortable issues in this hugely powerful and moving tale of a period of history that the author cannot let go of.
~ Caroline White

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In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen

In Paradise tells the story of a group of men and women who come together for a weeklong meditation retreat at the site of a World War II concentration camp, and the grief, rage and upsetting revelations that surface during their time together. Even as it probes the suffering, conflicts, and longings of these diverse characters, In Paradise raises provocative and unanswerable metaphysical questions: what responsibility comes with bearing witness to such cruelty and tragedy; and what insights into the nature of good and evil may be lost in the next decade or two, as the last survivors of - and witnesses to - the death camps pass away. Having participated in three Zen retreats at Auschwitz beginning in the 1990s, Matthiessen had long wished to comment on the ongoing fallout of last century's global catastrophe, but 'as a non-Jewish American journalist, I felt unqualified to do so, I felt I had no right. But approaching it as fiction - as a novelist, an artist - I eventually decided that I did. Only fiction would allow me to probe from a variety of viewpoints the great strangeness of what I had felt.'


'The fiction of Peter Matthiessen is the reason a lot of people in my generation decided to be writers.'
Richard Ford

'His writing does every justice to the blood and fury of his themes.'
Don DeLillo

'Darkly humorous... [In Paradise] gives no hint of the writer's age or declining physical powers. The maturity of its insights, and its emotional restraint, are the only signs the author is not a youth'
The Herald

'A moving valedictory for one of America's most wide-ranging and poetical writers... compelling... vivid... hypnotic'
Financial Times

'Skilful... affecting and powerful... In Paradise gets at the heart of the defining tragic enigma of the 20th century... [It] is Matthiessen's complex and worthy adieu'
Jane Smiley, Guardian

'The best passages here are beautifully observed evocations of the place... There is much to meditate on and many reasons to read this novel'
The Times

'A dark but thoroughly testing, ambitious and thought-provoking novel'
Curious Animal

'Powerfully lyrical and atmospheric'

'A curious, risky novel'
Literary Review

'Lucid, compelling... A masterclass in fiction... Stunning'
Irish Times

About the Author

Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories, in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A co-founder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer and activist, he died in April 2014.

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Book Info

Publication date

6th November 2014


Peter Matthiessen

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Oneworld Publications


256 pages


Historical Fiction
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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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