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4321 by Paul Auster

April 2017, no. 390

4321 by Paul Auster

Faber & Faber $32.99 pb, 866 pp, 9780571324637

4321 by Paul Auster

April 2017, no. 390

The American critic Adam Gopnik writes: ‘Nothing is more American than our will to make the enormous do the work of the excellent. We have googly eyes for gargantuan statements.’ Paul Auster’s long-awaited novel, 4321, is a gargantuan statement. At almost 900 pages, the sheer physical heft of it is impossible to ignore. When a novel is as thick as it is tall, size is assumed to be a corollary for ambition. The question is whether 4321, seven years in the making, is excellent or simply enormous.

In the administrative fluster of Ellis Island, a Russian Jew is comically renamed in the immigration queue. His grandson, known simply as Ferguson, is born into a postwar America ripe with possibility, so ripe that a single lifetime will not suffice. Rather, Ferguson will live out four parallel lives – a quartet of Bildungsromans: ‘Four different boys with the same parents, the same bodies, and the same genetic material, but each one living in a different house in a different town with his own set of circumstances.’ As Auster’s title menacingly hints, only one will survive to adulthood, but which boy, and why?

Beejay Silcox reviews '4321' by Paul Auster


by Paul Auster

Faber & Faber $32.99 pb, 866 pp, 9780571324637

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Comments (2)

  • I really enjoyed the book but do agree it tended to drag over the last 40 % of the book The characters were hard to keep a track of so i resorted to writing a one or two word summary of each chapter so I could track what was happening to that Archie. Characters do tend to be a bit one-dimensional, but I really enjoyed the feeling/depiction of the times, particularly how the Vietnam war and the black and white divide was splitting American society.
    Posted by Alex Gosman
    24 April 2019
  • I very much agree with the above review. I was most disappointed that the many hundreds of pages devoted to Ferguson's early and middle youth did not lead up to a deeper depiction of his adult life. The depiction of his early inner life did not ring true. Six, seven, eight year old children do not have the mental capacity that Ferguson had, unless he was meant to be a genius. The multiple book, film, and newspaper lists and reviews seemed a bit self-indulgent. I also felt that the focus on Ferguson's brilliance was almost condescending and dismissive of us "lesser" beings. Not Dickensian at all.
    Posted by Maria Flutsch
    03 April 2018

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