The bestselling final novel by a writer of incomparable range, power, and achievement, a three-time winner of the National Book Award.
Peter Matthiessen was a literary legend, the author of more than thirty acclaimed books. In this, his final novel, he confronts the legacy of evil, and our unquenchable desire to wrest good from it.
One week in late autumn of 1996, a group gathers at the site of a former death camp. They offer prayer at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform. They eat and sleep in the sparse quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews in this camp to their deaths. Clements Olin has joined them, in order to complete his research on the strange suicide of a survivor. As the days pass, tensions both political and personal surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to resolution or healing. Caught in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer’s role and to bear witness, not only to his family’s ambiguous history but to his own.
Profoundly thought-provoking, In Paradise is a fitting coda to the luminous career of a writer who was “for all readers. He was for the world” (National Geographic).
Early in this novel by Matthiessen (Shadow Country), which follows a meditative retreat at Auschwitz, main character Clements Olin thinks, "Nobody knows whom to be angry with in such a place." Indeed, the story centers on the search for understanding on the part of the retreaters, and their attempt to spiritually confront the evil that occurred at the site. 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 ("You got some new angle on mass murder, maybe, that ain't been written up yet in maybe ten thousand fucking books?" someone asks him) and feels self-doubt to the point of defeat about what he's doing in Auschwitz in the first place. More concretely, Olin is there for two reasons: one is "personal" and "too sentimental" and isn't revealed until later in the book; the other is to figure out why Polish author Tadeusz Borowski, who survived the death camp, later committed suicide at the peak of his fame, three days after the birth of his daughter. The strongest sections relate to these more concrete missions passages about Olin's family history, in particular, stand out. But the novel focuses mainly on the abstract: what it feels like to spend days on end at the death camp the frustration, alienation, and otherworldliness of it. Throughout, there's a hum of absurdity underneath ("Who sets out winter food for little birds in such a place?"), and at times it comes to the surface in the form of directionless bickering among the retreaters, only to fade back again into the landscape, which, it seems to Olin, is always in winter.