4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

In my very humble opinion and literary experience, I think this is the best piece of contemporary prose that ever happen to come across my path of a reader.

Auster begins this epic journey, following the very natural time-line of boy’s growing up and his entering adulthood. The narration is vivid, author’s language is friendly and non-obstructive, the story flows naturally and the episodes follow without any additional complications, chasms and jump-arounds. It is not here that Auster experiments or challenges the borders of the so called new American realism.

One of the features that makes a work of fiction great literature is always the harmony of micro-level introspections and observations on a higher ground. Here the reader is both drowned in the inner world of the main character, where the author reflects two of the main topics in contemporary American literature – dysfunctional families and building up an identity. Along the way the reader faces another hot-spots of all modern bestsellers – minorities and their place of nowadays’ recent prehistory.
On a larger scale, Auster manages to encompass some of the major events in American contemporaneity – the riots of the 60s, the Vietnam war and the social atmosphere of these years. The main story lines are masterfully positioned in the background of these event, making the novel an exemplary Zeitgeist piece of literature.

…and that the world as it was could never be more than a fraction of the world, for the real world also consisted of what could have happened but didn’t, that one road was not better or worse than any other road, but the torment of being alive in a single body was that at any given moment you had to be on one road, even though you could have been on another, travelling toward an altogether different place.

Another feature of a masterpiece is challenging the norm while accepting it. Auster perfectly creates a dense atmosphere, often compared with that of Dickens’ works. At the same time he experiments with classical realism, splitting the natural time-line of boy’s life in four parallel flows, based on the presumption that one cannot compare their path not knowing what would have been the results, had a tiny detail in their life changed. We have already observed this Milan Kundera’s works, but still, not in the way Auster handles it, nor positioned in a such large social background. We have four potentially experienceable lives of one and the same character and at the same time four quite different main characters.

The end is classically post-modern and meta-literary, leaving the readers on the their tips, gasping for air.

Speaking more personally, I enjoyed reading the book also because of its steady pace of narrations and chaptering. After nearly a month of reading block, it was 4 3 2 1 that gave a start of a series of strong, hit-readings in the beginning of this year.

And what better definition of a good literature if not the one that urges you to read more?

***

and the charm of lifelong bachelorhood died a quick and permanent death.
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To be a journalist meant you could never be the person who tossed the brick through the window that started the revolution. You could watch the man toss the brick, you could try to understand why he had tossed the brick, you could explain to others what significance the brick had in starting the revolution, but you yourself could never toss the brick or even stand in the mob that was urging the man to throw it. Temperamentally, Ferguson was not someone inclined to throw bricks. He was, he hoped, a more or less reasonable person, but the agitations of the times were such that the reasons for not throwing bricks were beginning to look less and less reasonable, and when the moment finally came to throw the first one, Ferguson’s sympathies would be with the brick and not the window.
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and all through that summer of 1966, the nineteen-year-old Ferguson walked around with the uncanny sensation that he had entered a world in which it was no longer necessary to ask the world for anything more than it had already given him. An unprecedented moment of equipoise and inner fulfillment.
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“The world is teeming: anything can happen.”
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“We can’t seem to find a common ground. Each one of us carries around his own world, which seldom overlaps with anyone else’s world. By reducing the size of our bodies, we hope to diminish the spaces that lie between us. Remarkably enough, it is a proven fact that amputees are more inclined to participate in the lives of others than most four-limbed Flomians. Some have even been able to marry. Perhaps when we shrink down to almost nothing, we will at last find one another.
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Another boy from the Jersey suburbs, I’m sorry to say. One of those self-anointed geniuses who has an answer for everything.
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Empty. That was the word for it, he said to himself, as he sat down on the sofa and took his first sip of wine, the same empty space Vivian had talked about when describing how she had felt after finishing her own book. Not empty in the sense of standing alone in a room without furniture—but empty in the sense of feeling hollowed out. Yes, that was it, hollowed out in the way a woman was hollowed out after giving birth. But in this case to a stillborn child, an infant who would never change or grow or learn how to walk, for books lived inside you only as long as you were writing them, but once they came out of you, they were all used up and dead.
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his soul was old and weary, and old and weary souls could be bitter at times, and angry at times, most especially against the souls of the ones who did not feel that same bitterness and anger.

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