The Book of Illusions: A Novel

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9780312421816: The Book of Illusions: A Novel

Six months after losing his wife and two young sons in an airplane crash, Vermont professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. Then, watching television one night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann. Zimmer’s interest is piqued, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to research a book on this mysterious figure, who vanished from sight in 1929 and has been presumed dead for sixty years.

When the book is published the following year, a letter turns up in Zimmer’s mailbox bearing a return address from a small town in New Mexico inviting him to meet Hector. Torn between doubt and belief, Zimmer hesitates, until one night a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever.

The Book of Illusions is, in the words of Peter Carey, “suffused with warmth and illuminated by its narrator’s hard won wisdom. This artful and elegant novel may be Auster’s best ever.”

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Review:

Vermont professor David Zimmer is a broken man. The protagonist of Paul Auster's 10th novel, The Book of Illusions, hits a period in which life seemed to be working aggressively against him. After his wife and sons are killed in an airplane crash, Zimmer becomes an alcoholic recluse, fond of emptying his bottle of sleeping pills into his palm, contemplating his next move. But one night, while watching a television documentary, Zimmer's attention is caught by the silent-film comedian Hector Mann, who had disappeared without a trace in 1929 and who was considered long-dead. Soon, Zimmer begins work on a book about Mann's newly discovered films (copies of which had been sent, anonymously, to film archives around the world). The spirit of Hector Mann keeps David Zimmer alive for a year. When a letter arrives from someone claiming to be Hector Mann's wife, announcing that Mann had read Zimmer's book and would like to meet him, it is as if fate has tossed Zimmer from one hand to the other: from grief and loss to desire and confusion.

Although film images are technically "illusions," this deft and layered novel is not so much about conscious illusion or trickery as about the traces we leave behind us: words, images, memories. Children are one obvious trace, but in this book, they are not allowed to carry their parents forward. They die early: Hector Mann losing his 3-year-old son to a bee sting just as David Zimmer has lost his two sons in the crash. The second half of The Book of Illusions is given over to a love affair, and to Zimmer's attempt to save something of Hector Mann, and of the others he has loved. In the end, what really survives of us on earth--what flickering immortality we are permitted--is left to the reader to surmise. --Regina Marler

About the Author:

Paul Auster’s previous novel, Timbuktu, was a national bestseller, as was I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Book of Illusions is his tenth novel.

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Published by Picador (2003)
ISBN 10: 0312421818 ISBN 13: 9780312421816
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Published by Picador (2003)
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