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Paul Auster’s WINTER JOURNAL. The inventory of his scars

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 .

Winter Journal_Auster

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.

Mission Accomplished!

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”

Paul, “you have entered the winter of your life.”. It will be a magic, happy and lucky  winter, like all the others spent with your family in Northfield,  Minnesota!

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…”

2 Risposte

  1. […] vi ripropone la recensione in Inglese di Winter Journal (Libro di […]

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  2. […] Per completare il percorso delle emozioni suscitate dalla ricchezza e dalla complessità del libro di Mancuso mi piace riportare un passaggio dall’intervista a Paul Auster da Paolo Mastrolilli (La Stampa 11 Giugno sul nuovo libro del grande scrittore americano Winter Journal: […]

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