ISBN: 0140178139
ISBN 13: 9780140178135
By: Paul Auster

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About this book

New York Times bestselling author Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy) opens Leviathan with the tearing of a bomb explosion and the death of one Benjamin Sachs. Ben’s one-time best friend, Peter Aaron, begins to retrospectively investigate the transformation that led Ben from his enviable, stable life to one of a recluse. Both were once intelligent, yet struggling novelists until Ben’s near-death experience falling from a fire escape triggers a tumble in which he becomes withdrawn and disturbed, living alone and building bombs in a far-off cabin. That is, until he mysteriously disappears, leaving behind only a manuscript titled Leviathan, pages rustling in the wind.

Reader's Thoughts


I've read a lot of Paul Auster's nonfiction and enjoyed it. His fiction is another matter - this book must have some of the worst dialogue ever, and the scenes feel very forced in general. However, this book contains the phrase "The Eden of her buttocks."Really, though, I should say that it is a page-turner. But it's a page turner because the author withholds a lot of information from the reader until near the end of the book. It's not worth reading it to get to the end of the mystery. Very disconnected and rambling by the end. I'd suggest reading his nonfiction: "The Invention of Solitude."

Eric Hendrixson

** spoiler alert ** To truly enjoy this book you have to be 1) a New Yorker, 2) an academic, and 3) Paul Auster. That is pretty much what this book is about. I understand that it's post-modern and self-referential, but it is also very self-serving. Worst of all, it was boring. For a book about someone who kills an eco-terrorist with a softball bat and uses the cash found on his body to tour the country blowing up replicas of the Statue of Liberty, after crossing the country to have sex with the dead eco-terrorist's wife, it is amazing how, at the end of the book, I am left with the feeling that nothing has happened at all.


The surprise reading and then finishing the book is that you really never know what you're gonna get. What is neatly set up as a detective crime story in the initial pages starts taking you through a completely different course. The premise is still to find out what happened but the truth is it is about understanding what happened. It is an examination of the human condition clothed under the wolf cover of a simple detective story. And I don't know which one is the more dangerous and hungry or more intriguing. I'm glad I've been introduced to the book and made acquaintance with Mr. Auster.

Roz Ito

** spoiler alert ** This is the Auster novel with the character named Maria who is based on the real-life conceptual artist Sophie Calle. After the book was published, Calle completed a photography project or two in which she "resembled" Maria. Anyway, the character of Maria might be the #1 reason to read this book. Like Calle, Maria puts herself in dangerous, weirdly intimate situations for the pursuit of her particular brand of stalker-art. Actually, I might have that backwards. Like Calle, Maria seems deeply compelled to seek out these risky encounters/almost-encounters with strangers, and it's through the meticulous process of documenting these experiences that the art emerges. It's like she wants to dissolve herself, disappear into the anonymous/intimate encounter in order to experience the extreme rapture or terror of being. Compare this with the ontology of Auster's main character study Benjamin, who increasingly disappears from society in order to make a violent, newsworthy impact on it a la the Unabomber. Maria craves the intimacy of anonymous being, while Benjamin craves the power of influencing the world from an anonymous position (interestingly enough, he was a literary journalist/critic in his former life). So is Auster offering some kind of thesis here on the gendered experience of anonymity in late 20th century America? I don't know. I do know that this novel continues to haunt me years after reading it.

Noura Tan

It took me a while to figure out what I felt towards to this book or rather a way to articulate it into some sort of coherent review. I should start by saying that Auster changed a lot of my perspectives throughout this book (nah, not revolutionary stuff). Auster delves into these characters so deeply and invests in their habits, attitudes, feelings so much we can't help but forget that it is but a work of fiction but there was so much detail paid to these characters (and what beautiful characters they were, complex souls that breathed). I know, for a fact that I liked this book but as I slowly got deeper and deeper into Auster's world or rather his characters and the philosophy of the characters it slowly dawned on me that I felt a sort of special connection with this book that I couldn't yet explain to myself. I also like books which acknowledge the fact that they are books which made the ending better. I would've rather given this a 4.5 because the plot, albeit being great did not evoke that much emotion out of me. In the book, Auster- or rather Paul is consistently reminding us that there are gaps in his stories or that most of the information he is receiving might be false, exaggerated and I really like that? He isn't trying to mask the fact that this story isn't the most exciting, instead he rather acknowledge the gaps in his knowledge which makes it seem all the more honest and realistic. I've been searching for a book that engulfs narrative with thought and here, Auster has presented me with Leviathan. And then it hit me one night when I was on the phone with Mikhail that this is the kind of book that I would've written (I don't mean the plot). The language, his perspectives, the characters, they were all fixtures of my mind. This is almost exactly the novel I would produce if I was more articulate and had a higher ability to compile my thoughts and generate them into characters. It was this crazy, weird sense of De ja vu like MAN, I KNOW what he's talking about, I don't just understand what this guy's saying, I KNOW what he's saying. Sure, I've enjoyed pieces of fiction before this but no writer has managed to connect the way Auster has had with me and god- that is so AMAZING because I didn't even think that was possible. It feels as if Auster body jacked me and jumped forward in time and wrote a book- that sounds crazy but it feels as if this book was written for me or according to me. I can't say this novel'll make you FEEL but it'll make you think and the things that it makes you realize, the small, seemingly insignificant things… this is way too self-flattering, here I am basically saying that this guy is actually me and I wrote an amazing novel- ahh. I don't know how to make sense of this to anyone else or explain how it makes me feel but I just really enjoyed the characters in this book and how deeply Auster explored them and the widths of human nature and behavior.

Allison C. McCulloch

Boom, boom! Bang, bang! Reminded me a lot of Invisible. But it was a lot different. Halfway through the book I was wishing that he'd stop having the main character's friends do all the research and track their friend's story down. But frankly, by the end, I didn't mind.Solid book. By no means my favorite. But I get choked up in the strangest places. The parts that aren't sad. I'm just moved that's all. I tried to finish it on my birthday, so I could finish it on the same day as Barry, but the book was good and that just didn't happen (I finished it 3 days early).

Stefan Anders

This is a book I like to reread. I've read numerous Auster books, and this one has one of the best narrative drives where I get caught up in the world he creates and actually come to believe it exists.

Alika Yarnell

An Auster classic. Again he explores themes of people disappearing, characters who are writers, voyeurism, unconventional habits, and stories within stories. And for anyone who's had a teacher who preached the rule of "show don't tell," throw this book in their face and see what they say. There is a lot of summary throughout, and yet somehow Auster gets away with it. Maybe because he's a master.


این سومین کتابی ِ که از پل استر می خوندم... خیلی عالی شروع شده و با توجه به تجربه‌ای که از خوندن آثار پل استر بدست آوردم کافیه طاقت آورد تا صفحات 70 اینا و بعد از اون به هیچ وجه نمیشه دیگه کتاب رو بست. به حدی مهیج میشه که گذر زمان رو نمیشه اصلا متوجه شد... به نظرم پل استر خیلی عالی تونسته تمام شخصیت‌ها رو بهم ربط بده و خیلی زیبا موقعیت‌های پیچیده رو توصیف کرده...


It really looks like he manages to write all those good novels completely effortlessly. In fact he writes so well that it keeps me reading, but the problem is that even though all the books I've read by him were good, there was always something very important missing. This is of course just personal taste, but there's no warmth at all. The characters are there, you get to understand them, or maybe not even that, Auster gives you a couple of impressions of them, gives you all kinds of information, but it's hard to connect. So after I've finished his books it's always like I don't even quite understand why I kept on reading, since I neither cared for even one of the characters nor was I really excited about how things would develop. So the only thing that's left was the excellent writing. I'm not saying it was a bad book, it just didn't make a deep impression on me at any point.

Ian Paganus

A NICE NIGHT'S ENTERTAINMENT ON THE FOURTH OF JULY:Fireworks Over BrooklynWe're at a party in a modern bohemian fourth floor apartment in Brooklyn. The guests include publishers, writers, artists, film-makers, musicians and various minders, acolytes and drummers disguised as waiters. It’s July 4, 1981 (or is it 2003 or 2012 or all three, I don't know, the script doesn't say), barely twenty minutes before the fireworks are due to begin.LYDIA DAVIS (who has just arrived, it’s her second party of the night and she’s already tipsy): Hi, Sophie!SOPHIE CALLE: Bon jour, Lydia. Would you like a drink?LYDIA DAVIS: One more won’t do any damage, I guess.Sophie notices her looking at a freshly made martini on the bar.SOPHIE CALLE: Here. Take one of these.LYDIA DAVIS: A votre santé.SOPHIE CALLE: À la votre.Lydia tilts her glass and downs the martini in one smooth movement.SOPHIE CALLE: Another?LYDIA DAVIS: Why not!Don DeLillo walks past, in the direction of the kitchen. He hasn’t noticed Lydia yet. She air kisses Sophie goodbye and heads after Don, tapping him on the shoulder just as he enters the kitchen and reaches for the first hors d’ouvre on a newly-assembled tray.DON DELILLO (turning around): Lydia, you look divine, fresh from your experience with Proust.LYDIA DAVIS: It’s finished, mercifully. His sentences were so long.DON DELILLO: You must be glad they’re just a remembrance of things past?LYDIA DAVIS: In search of lost time, don’t you mean?DON DELILLO: Oh, of course, I forgot. In search of lost punctuation marks, as well, I suppose.Lydia has been watching over his shoulder, where through the kitchen window she has just spotted Paul Auster with a dazzling six foot tall blonde with an exquisite Scandinavian face who he has just met ten minutes before.LYDIA DAVIS: Don, who’s that Amazon with Paul?Don turns around to see Paul Auster sit on the railing and then swing both feet around over the top, until they dangle above the street. DON DELILLO: Oh, um, ah, that’s Siri Hustvedt, she’s a grad student in English Literature. Columbia.Now Don notices Paul wobble on the railing. He’s doing something indistinct with one of his feet or perhaps his shoes. Siri moves up behind him, nervously, placing her arms around his waist. Don thinks he notices her lips graze the nape of Paul’s neck. Or something.Lydia hasn’t noticed any of this yet, apart from Paul's presence outside the kitchen window with the blonde.LYDIA DAVIS: Don, could you hold my glass for une moment?As elegantly as one can in her state of sobriety, Lydia lifts her left leg over the waist high window sill and places her left foot on the balcony. She tries to reclaim her glass from Don DeLillo, while pulling her right leg through behind her.DON DELILLO: Careful, Lydia...But, it’s too late, the glass falls onto the kitchen floor as Lydia fails to clasp it securely, and she projects backwards into Siri, striking the vicinity of her left kidney with her elbow. Siri lets go of Paul Auster in agony, and Paul falls forward into the night sky, initially holding his hands out in a diving posture, before rocketing headlong in the direction of the street.A screaming comes up the hollow streetscape, even though barely a second has elapsed. Nobody has had time, let alone is game enough, to look down, until they hear the inevitable crash or thump.Yet, there is no crash or thump, and the screaming gets closer again.DON DELILLO (who seems to have some understanding of what’s happened and calls out): What was it like, Paul? PAUL AUSTER: Fucking amazing, Don. Can you guys grab hold of the bungee cable?Don looks at Siri and Lydia.DON DELILLO: No.TATTOOED EX-NEW ZEALAND ALL BLACK: It’s right, I’ll pull him up.LYDIA DAVIS: I don’t suppose you could leave him hanging a bit longer?DON DELILLO: My turn next.Paul Auster climbs back over the railing, the top two buttons of his Polo shirt undone and not a hair out of place.SIRI HUSTVEDT (resuming her grip on Paul Auster, this time front on): Oh, Paul, I think it’s love at first sight. PAUL AUSTER: I was only ten minutes behind you, Iris.SIRI HUSTVEDT: Iris? PAUL AUSTER: Sorry, I meant Siri, you just looked like an Iris from down there.LYDIA DAVIS: You were looking at her upside down.THOMAS PYNCHON (turning to Lydia): He must have loved her from the bottom of his arc.DON DELILLO: Tom, what are you doing here?SOPHIE CALLE (looking at Thomas Pynchon): Jump, jump!Disclaimer:No reference to the name of a real person is intended to suggest that the character is or shares any of the characteristics of that real person. Very much.REVIEW:Auster Railing SkepticismWhile I’ve never had a negative experience with any of Paul Auster’s novels, I detect a skepticism about his works on GoodReads, so was alert to what others might find questionable.Still, this book grabbed me from the first sentence and never let me go.Unlike some elements of his friend Don DeLillo that you have to excuse or laugh at, I found “Leviathan” word-perfect from beginning to end.The story is told in the first person, yet the narrator, writer Peter Aaron, is not the main character, who is another writer and Peter’s best friend, Benjamin Sachs.Stylistically, the only reservation I have is about the detail with which Peter recounts Ben’s story, which involves events and conversations (not all of them involving Peter) from over 15 years. Some of these conversations go for several pages. How did Peter remember them? As a writer, is he just a good listener? Is he just very retentive?Force of CircumstanceThe other issue which seems to concern some readers is the role of chance and coincidence in Auster’s novels.While both play a role in “Leviathan”, I think they are a secondary, not a primary concern.Coincidences occur, but they are equally confounding for the characters affected by them.They are not [just] ridiculous set-ups or convenient solutions. They form part of a continuum of circumstance and circumstances, in which “anything can happen”.For Peter, the events he witnesses are similar to what he does as an author, “writing stories, putting imaginary people into unexpected and often unlikely situations”.Auster examines individuals within their environment, some of it physical, some of it mental, some of it social.He is interested in how Free Will, Intention, Determination, Causation, Knowledge and the Desire for Certainty interact with Determinism, Chance, Coincidence, Mystery, Randomness and Uncertainty.To what extent are we in control of the events that occur around us? What if the answer is very little? What if everything is improbable and unpredictable? What is the implication for our sense of identity and self-esteem?Can we live a life of happiness?Are our lives destined to end in catastrophe?This is what’s happening at an abstract, meta-fictional level, yet the novel is written in a highly realist manner, in many places like detective fiction, as Auster tells us who-dunnit on the first page and then proceeds to tell us what.Personal PoliticsWe know from the first sentence that someone blew themselves up six days before today (which is July 4, 1990) and within pages, when two FBI agents visit Peter, we learn that it was Ben Sachs.Ben was interested in personal politics, not necessarily affiliated with any particular party, although he was idealistic and would no doubt have favoured the old-style Left Liberal Democrats over the Republicans, if he had to vote for one over the other.He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and went to jail for his beliefs rather than abscond to Canada or Europe.Since then, he has grown more and more despondent as mainstream America embraced the conservative politics of Ronald Reagan and in his view betrayed the idealism of American Democracy that should be embodied and respected in the American Flag (which is now often a divisive symbol)."The New Colossus"The national icon that Sachs most objectifies and identifies with is the Statue of Liberty.It stands over New York Harbour like a new Colossus and holds the incandescent torch of Democracy and Freedom up high.However, its brightness has faded over time, and Sachs believes that this trend is symbolized by the proliferation of 130 fake miniature Statues of Liberty around the country.Sachs’ first novel is actually named “The New Colossus” after the poem that is engraved at the foot of the statue.As a boy in 1951, Sachs also experienced fear and apprehension, when his family climbed the staircase inside the statue and they grew increasingly scared of heights.Inside the WhaleThis experience of being inside and frightened leads to the second metaphor of the novel, the Leviathan itself, the great whale in the Biblical books of Job and Jonah, which Hobbes adopted as a metaphor for the State in his book of the same name.It’s interesting that the Hebrew name upon which Leviathan is based can also refer to a dragon, which in Eastern culture can be an enemy of light.Thus, in Sachs’ eyes, the name “Leviathan” symbolizes the tendency of the State to enclose and squash individuals, restrain their freedom and plunge them into darkness.No matter how much independence he shows in his personal life, he is gripped by the social and political claws of the Leviathan.As Sachs realises that his literary audience is declining and the message of his writing is going unheeded, he embraces more and more radical politics and quasi-terrorist tactics.The relatively innocent Peter Aaron sits by as he reconstructs the story of Sachs and his obsession, ultimately choosing for his own novel (and Auster’s) the name of the novel that Sachs had only partly completed at the time of his death.Reversing FallsJust as the Statue of Liberty symbolizes light and the ascent of humanity, the decline of Democracy represent a metaphorical fall from grace and a descent into darkness.However, Sachs’ childhood experience is replicated by a literal fall of his own, while attending a party to celebrate Independence Day in 1986, the 100th year of the statue's dedication.The parody at the beginning of this review is based on Aaron’s/Auster’s description of the event, which unfortunately preceded the days of widespread bungee jumping, but fortunately for Sachs was not fatal.Sachs’ initial response to his recovery is to withdraw from those around him and maintain a silence:"To be silent was to enclose himself in contemplation, to relive the moments of his fall again and again, as if he could suspend himself in midair for the rest of time – forever just two inches off the ground, forever waiting for the apocalypse of the last moment."Similarly, in his private life, his self disappears within a “sanctuary of inwardness”. His retreat and silence shelter him from danger and temptation, but equally from the full experience and exuberance of life.Ultimately, he re-engages psychically and sexually. He also becomes more engaged politically, if only as a lonely anarchist working in the darkness, dangerously, symbolically drawing attention to how America is failing its own symbols, icons and values.Beware "Leviathan"When Peter Aaron discovers that Sachs has died, he starts writing his story.Without it, he knows that the only account of Ben’s life and his activism will be the dossier prepared by the FBI agents, working inside the whale of the Leviathan, painting him as a terrorist.He rushes to piece together the reality of their shared life, under the deadline of a return visit from the FBI:"The fact is that everyone dies, everyone disappears in the end, and if Sachs had managed to finish his book, there’s a chance it might have outlived him."Ultimately, the importance of Aaron’s book, Auster’s novel, is that it encapsulates Sachs’ warning even more effectively than Sachs might have been able to do himself in the end.The novel is a warning about the oppressive power of society, conformism and the State.These forces are the ones we have to look out for, not the distractions of chance and coincidence, which after all are mere entertainments in comparison.No matter how much Free Will we might think we have, there are other, more powerful forces at work.By writing Sachs’ story, Aaron and Auster ensured that Sachs’ message, “his amulet against forgetting”, outlived him, so that we might know the danger of Leviathan.Dedication:This review is dedicated to Bird Brian and the/his courage to speak out.In the words of George Orwell (from "Inside the Whale"), he fights the temptation to perform the "Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining passive, accepting", in other words, "quietism".For any non/un-Americans who mightn't be familiar with it, here is the full text of the poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty:The New Colossusby Emma LazarusNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandThe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame."Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries sheWith silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


my very first paul auster novel, and oh my. while the story is not so spectacular (egg head novelist goes anarcho and underground, to good effect) the dialog, reasoning, flow are just so perfect. but perhaps will be my last paul auster novel too? you'll see.this from pg 41, takling about said egghead's novel"No one can say where a book comes from, least of all the person who writes it. Books are born out of ignorance, and if they go on living after they are written, it's only to the degree that they cannot be understood."


I can't remember the last time I read a book that was so emotionally draining as Paul Auster's Leviathan. I have been reading it at work for the last week or so, and finally in the home stretch of the last hundred pages today, I started walking around with my head down and my coworkers kept asking if I was okay. That's a feat to behold.Auster's books are some of the most finely crafted works I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Maybe the stories don't always get wrapped up cleanly, or the characters seem motiveless and unlikeable at times, but each sentence is a well-delivered punch. In Leviathan, Auster's narrator talks about his approach to writing fiction, how he painstakingly hammers out each word, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he were reflecting on his own style. Or else he's just really lucky and knows how to put ideas perfectly into amazingly worded sentences that form paragraphs of unparalleled power. In that case, screw him for not having to work hard when the rest of us do.But Leviathan isn't just about writing despite its revolving around two writers. Really, it is about the writers themselves, on a much deeper, human level. It's a story about character and what changes character and how people deal with those changes whether they want to or not. The first two thirds of the book are development of character, and the last third is a revolving door of switch-arounds of those characters that spin them, and their worlds, out of control.That, of course, is the depressing part--seeing the people you've come to love like family (how couldn't you, as much as Auster tells you about them?) lose themselves completely. In terms of literature, it's extremely satisfying, but it is still painful to watch. As much as I loved the book, I hated it in a way, for getting me so emotionally involved without my even noticing, and then dashing all my hopes and dreams as it came to an (unfortunately expectedly) abrupt close. But then, isn't that the mark of an excellent piece of literature? Probably. But did it really have to break my heart?


Paul Auster's Leviathan], like most of his other work, hinges largely on chance and coincidental relationships. At the same time, this novel is much more fatalistic than his other work, mostly due to the frequent use of foreshadowing including the start of the book in which it is revealed that Benjamin Sachs, the character that the book focuses on, has recently blown himself up accidentally. Leviathan is an interesting title for a couple of reasons. The more obvious reason for this title is as a reference to Sachs. Not only is he unusually tall, there is also something big about his refusal to settle and let things be. He is a writer by trade but unlike Peter Aaron, Auster's alter ego and narrator, he isn't content creating fictions. Even the fiction he writes is largely based on fact and is written for explicit political purposes. He spends more time on his even more explicitly political non-fiction but eventually he begins to feel that writing about the world's problems isn't enough and he begins to take action. Thus, his own life functions as a criticism of writers, including himself and both versions of Auster. The title Leviathan also functions as a reference to the famous Thomas Hobbes work of the same title in which the leviathan works as a metaphor for government. Even a big man like Sachs is still just a man, and his efforts are weak compared to the power of the state. So, once again Paul Auster has managed to create a novel that features a gripping narrative and some complex, thought provoking ideas. Even though his style is beginning to look a bit limited to me now (I've read The New York Trilogy, Moon Palace, and The Music of Chance previously) he has still managed to rapidly become one of my favorite writers.

Ted Van Hyning

This is a really good novel - I credit it for introducing me to a whole new world of modern fiction. It was a while ago that I read it for the first time, I think it's time to re-visit. I like Auster's stuff from this era more than I like the more recent stuff.

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