In Paradise: Book summary and reviews of In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen

In Paradise

by Peter Matthiessen

In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen X
In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2014
    256 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

A profoundly searching new novel by a writer of incomparable range, power, and achievement.

In the winter of 1996, more than a hundred women and men of diverse nationality, background, and belief gather at the site of a former concentration camp for an unprecedented purpose: a weeklong retreat during which they will offer prayer and witness at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform, while eating and sleeping in the quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews to their deaths.

Clements Olin, an American academic of Polish descent, has come along, ostensibly to complete research on the death of a survivor, even as he questions what a non-Jew can contribute to the understanding of so monstrous a catastrophe. As the days pass, tensions, both political and personal, surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to healing or closure. Finding himself in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer's role and to embrace a history his family has long suppressed - and with it the yearnings and contradictions of being fully alive.

In Paradise is a brave and deeply thought-provoking novel by one of our most stunningly accomplished writers.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. The two-time National Book Award–winner doesn't shy away from boldly tackling the most profound of subjects… Matthiessen expertly raises the challenges and the difficulties inherent in addressing this subject matter, proving…that the creation of art 'is the only path that might lead toward the apprehension of that ultimate evil... [that] the only way to understand such evil is to reimagine it.'" –Booklist

"Starred Review. Not a mere recounting but a persuasive meditation on Auschwitz's history and mythology, this novel from three-time National Book Award winner Matthiessen uses scenes of confrontation, recollection, bitterness, and self-examination to trace aspects of culture that led to the Holocaust and that still reverberate today." - Library Journal

"What makes Matthiessen's latest stand out from the scores of other Holocaust books is that Olin, a non-Jewish academic of Polish descent, is aware of the vast Holocaust literature." - Publishers Weekly

"An admirable, if muted, minor-key study of the meaning of survivorship." - Kirkus

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Reader Reviews

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Diane S

In Paradise
A rather strange thing happened to me while reading this novel. I went to bed last night, leaving forty pages unread and all set to give this book a three star rating. Not because this is not well written, at 86 Matthiessen has definitely perfected his craft, but because I felt so distant from the characters. Anyway I went to bed and dreamt this novel, that I was one of the participants at the retreat trying to come to terms with the horrible things that have happened there. I woke up realizing that the camp itself, Auschwitz, was the main character and that the characters were only a device used to tell the story.

A week long retreat at Auschwitz, attended by 100 people of diverse nationalities, religions and sex. Headed by a Zen teacher (of which the author is a practioner himself) they are there for remembrance, meditation, hoping to gain an understanding and come to terms with the past. Also a man named Clements Olin, who is said to be a researcher trying to figure out why the Polish author Tadeiz Borowski, who wrote stories and poems of his experiences while sentenced to camp, committed suicide at the age of 28. He is mentioned extensively In the first part of the novel. The pervasive atmosphere effects each of
these people in different ways.

The second part of the novel, unravels the personal lives of many of them, why they are really there, what they hoped to find, feel.This is also when the story of Olin is revealed and he must come to terms with a past, of which has only shortly been made aware.

This is a novel told in a very unemotional matter, the place itself provides the emotion, the awareness of what when on there, what the characters see and feel. Many leave with a new understanding, Olin among them. Some find their lives changed and more secrets are revealed.

So I had to give this a four, it was amazingly constructed, and the reader gets a chance to read about the many different people that have a need to remember. Plus this is the first book I have ever dreamed in which I was a character. Still shaking my head.

ARC from publisher.

Jean T

Not In Paradise
I found this book rather off putting. It took me 3 tries before I got through it. It is very well written, but the author seems incredibly detached from his characters which is surprising given the nature of the topic. None of the characters were particularly appealing even as they work through their angst at being in Auschwitz and all the memories and assumptions that entails. Olin's relationship with Sister Catherine is a puzzle to say the least. My overall reaction on completing the book was "I just don't get it." Obviously the majority of other reader do get it and enjoy it based most reviews.

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Author Information

Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen is the author of thirty books, including Shadow Country, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2008, and The Snow Leopard, which won the National Book Award in two nonfiction categories nearly three decades before. A cofounder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer, Zen teacher, and activist, he lives on the South Fork of Long Island.

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