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Leviathan by Paul Auster

amichaeldaily, April 9, 2008

Auster is best known for his anti-detective novel cycle, The New York Trilogy, but Leviathan is quite simply the best of his early work. The novel tells, enigmatically, the story of a bombing campaign carried out by a fomer New Left radical.

It is also, like all of Auster's novels, autobiographical and situational, incorporating moments from both Auster's own life and the life of New York City into the fabric of the text.

In this case, Auster harnesses his own personal experiences of 60's radicalism (he was at Columbia at the same time as Mark Rudd and other radicals who would go on to form the Weather Organization), the exciting if dangerous New York of the early 80's, personal relationships (Auster's relationship with the French artist Sophie Calle is thinly disguised in the novel), and the disaffection and eventual compromise of the 60's generation.

Auster manages, in his typically masterful style, to weave all these themes into what, on its face, seems a simple mystery story. A simple mystery, yes, but also a penetrating examination of the collapse of the 1960's secular religion in the bitterness of growing old, the political and cultural disillusionment of Reagan America, and the lasting guilt of personal compromise.
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