The title of the book is PAUL AUSTER, Winter Journal, but I actually realized it was an autobiography only after reading some pages. I should have read the jacket flap, which I seldom do!
It is a sort of diary, written by a famous writer in his mid-sixties, who decides to show some of the major events of his life, through the different seasons.
Winter, the season he is just entering, is the season when everybody privileges reflection on oneself and on the choices he/she has made, through the years.
I am not particularly attracted by autobiographies, even if they are written by authors I like. So, why am I reading this book? Certainly, I must confess, because it is written by Paul Auster! So, I actually “bought” Paul Auster…
In fact, what really urged me to read the book is the technical choice of the “you-narrator”. I had heard about it in one of the many promotion shows on TV. Does Auster use this filter to keep a distance from his emotional self? Is it just a challenging invitation for the reader to take directly part in the different events? Both, may be.
As a matter of fact, it is not an easy, smooth way of telling and reading a story. The “You” device obliges the reader to pay extra attention to the thread of narration. However, as the story moves forward, you get acquainted with such point of view and you have the impression of being inside the writer’s head, heart and body.
I wonder if Auster had an ideal reader in mind. Men? Women? Just people who appreciate his writings? He indulges on recalling his experiences as an American boy, adolescent, young man, husband, lover, father, son… So, while reading, I think to myself:
“I am an old lady, more or less his age, so, what can I find in this novel which goes beyond gender? I’m going to discover the plan”.
Writing one’s own journal is a practice some psychologists encourage their patient to do in order to help them find an acceptable equilibrium with themselves and with their problems. Well, Winter Journal makes me think of such kind of journal. So, I can understand Auster’s personal and intimate motivation to write about himself, but I can’t see why he decided to publish it…
“Journal Therapy is the act of writing down thoughts and feelings to sort through problems and come to deeper understandings of oneself or the issues in one’s life. Unlike traditional diary writing, where daily events and happenings are recorded from an exterior point of view, journal therapy focuses on the writer’s internal experiences, reactions, and perceptions. Through this act of literally reading his or her own mind, the writer is able to perceive experiences more clearly and thus feels a relief of tension. This has been shown to have mental and physical health benefits.”
Auster’s journal is sometimes boring. He analyzes personal events through such a minute-after-minute, detailed description that you may wish to close the book and stop reading it. But I can’t help going on.
At the end of this long journey through Auster’s winter, I feel a sense of major empathy with this strange man: big, intellectually great, but at the same time, frail and delicate. Each section of the book is both a meaningful episode in his life and a sort of well structured short-story.
What is interesting is Auster’s look on the American way of life in the period between 1947 and today. What I enjoyed most is the portrait of his Jew-egian family, as his daughter says, and the strong determination of his wife’s family to preserve the original tradition of a Norwegian couple, migrated to USA .
Ode to the hand
Memory of verses and scribbles by Keats in This living hand and a funny episode on Joyce’s answer to the lady who wanted to shake his hand…
One more word to be highlighted: Language. Rich, effective, intense and realistic, though almost rude, sometimes.
What is impressive in the Journal is the consistent and continuous reference to the whole domain of the book: Winter. As real reference, the hard snow in Minnesota, the dangerous skid of the car while driving back home, after a family reunion… The X on the cover recalling Xmas traditions at his parents-in-law ‘s house; as metaphorical reference: old age, decadence of the body, death and reflection on the past.
Literature plays a paramount role in Auster’s life and love relationships: Two wives, two brilliant writers and poets:
Lydia Davies(left)the first wife;
Siri Hustvedt, (right) the “true love”
From the jacket flap of the book:
“On January 3, 2011, exactly one month before his sixty-fourth birthday, Paul Auster sat down and wrote the first entry of Winter Journal, his unorthodox, beautifully wrought examination of his own life, as seen through the history of his body. Composed in the manner of a musical fugue, the journal advances from one autobiographical fragment to the next, jumping backward and forward in time as the various themes intersect, bounce off one another, and ultimately merge in a great chorus of multiple voices, of one voice multiplied into many…”