Leviathan

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struggling novelists until Ben’s near-death experience falling from a fire escape triggers a tumble in which he becomes withdrawn and disturbed, living alone and building bombs in a far-off cabin.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

Abraham Thunderwolf

I found this book amongst some trash last week. At first I was almost reluctant to read it, but I went to the trouble of taping it up nice despite the fact that I thought I wasn't even going to read it. Having gone that far I decided to give it a go and found it good enough not to stop reading it after 10 pages, then 20 pages, then 50 pages, even though I was at work. It's a sorta weird circtuatious story, but worth the time to read it. It made me wonder how connected we all are to each other, despite the fact that we're all not authors and artist. But who among us isn't an artist? Anyway I'm kinda drunk. I left my copy on a train, so I hope whoever found it is reading it, or at least was mystified by it for a few seconds. If I had paid the cover price for the paper back edition I would say I have made a good move. How much other stuff cost 9.95 (or whatever?) that will keep you entertained and wondering for hours on end? I've paid 60 bucks for video games that I end up hating (call of duty).

Sarah

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."

eliafen

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...

Andrew

I mean, it's a Paul Auster novel. You can't go wrong. Bizarre coincidences and mysterious intersections in the lives of literary New Yorkers, many of whom have unusual names.This wasn't, however, Auster's tightest work. Rather than sticking to a single conceit, he just sort of writes all over the place, rambles a bit, and comes off like a guy telling you a story at the bar. Of course, it's still massively entertaining, but it lacks the pyrotechnics of some of his other novels.

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.

James Quirk

It's been a long time since I've read something like this. "Leviathan" has an immediate hook - a man blows himself up at a roadside in rural Minnesota, and no one knows who he is, except the author of the novel. The book is a long story that explains the history of a friendship and a man's spiral into loss, his attempt at finding meaning - and his failure. It's a strikingly bleak book but not in a typical fashion. I think Auster really wanted to delve into aspects of people and relationships that we don't like to look at too closely, and this novel really is a series of serrated puzzle pieces of lust, adultery, murder, and loss that click into place in the end. But again, it's not done in a typical way - Auster frames the book as a mix of memoir and several character studies. It takes a while for things to get going, and he was smart to start the novel off the way he did, otherwise I think the reader wouldn't have the motivation to keep going. I'm glad I did. Very haunting ending, and some really fascinating characters.

Andrielle Figueroa

I love this book, but it doesn't really help that Paul Auster is my favorite author. The book is a quick read but dabbles in depression, self exploration, love and hate. These subjects are usually what his books cover. Though all of his pieces have a depressing feel to them, this one is more fun than the others. I mean, who doesn't love explosions, especially ones that are thought to be connected with terrorists? Or enjoying a release that you know is definitely wrong...but at the same time can be perfectly alrightIf you have an interest in the human mind and what we feel or rather what we allow ourselves to feel it's a great read. The best part is all of Auster's books are intertwined. So I suggest reading some of his other books as well. Sometimes the little things are life changing, and troublesome situations can just make people numb.

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.

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.

John

Elegant Examination Of One Character's Descent Into MadnessNoted Brooklyn, New York-based novelist Paul Auster is in fine form in his novel "Leviathan", which can be regarded as an interesting, highly literate, example of crime fiction which ought to resonate with anyone interested in seeing a character's descent into madness. In this early 1990s novel, Auster has cast himself as a fictional doppelganger, the novelist Peter Aaron, who witnesses the gradual descent into madness by his best friend - and fellow writer - Benjamin Sachs. Aaron sees much in Sachs' complex personality which he - and so via his comments the reader too - that he found admirable, and quite enviable, ranging from Sach's own brilliant intelligence to having a marriage to a most beautiful woman that appeared to be a match made in heaven. Auster uses his elegant gifts for tight plotting, memorable characters and terse, yet lyrical, prose in an engrossing exploration of both Sachs' and Aaron's minds. This terse, rather quirky, novel may seem odd at first to a reader accustomed with a more traditional crime thriller, but there are ample rewards in store that awaits anyone interested in reading Auster's work. (Reposted from my 2007 Amazon review.)

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!

Tim

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.

Alan Chen

I love Paul Auster and this novel while not as good as some of his other works (New York Trilogy, Moon Palace) is still a gem. The story is by Peter Aaron about his best friend Oliver Sachs. It chronicles how they meet until the day Sachs blew himself up into pieces. The story has many twists of chance that comprises a person's life and it delineates how Sachs goes from writer and husband to a person that will blow up monuments in the name of social causes. In it we learn just as much about the women in each of their lives, their writing careers, and a snapshot of New York in the time period. The main thing I come away with is the richness and complexity of a friendship and how that adds to life.

Tuck

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."

Luis Maggi

Excellent novel, always aiming to keep the reader interested by small glimpses or preludes of what's coming next.This is the second Paul Auster's novel I have read and I've noticed two main characteristics that keeps mi attached to the novels and eager to read a third one.First, every story begins with an current event that goes out of the ordinary or mundane rutine people have, only to keep you interseted in what past actions and circumstances led to that specific moment.Second, the book has actions merely as a secondary feature, or as a complimentary need. The interesting stuff here is the conversations and the line of thoughts in every character that develop those conversations.I definitely recommend not only this book but also the New York Trilogy

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