Read In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen Online


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 groupThe 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)....

Title : In Paradise
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ISBN : 9781594633171
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 256 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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In Paradise Reviews

  • Diane S ☔
    2019-04-06 16:00

    A rather strange thing happened to me while reading this novel. I went to bed last night, leaving forty pages unread and all set to give this book a three star rating. Not because this is not well written, at 86 Matthiessen has definitely perfected his craft, but because I felt so distant from the characters. Anyway I went to bed and dreamt this novel, that I was one of the participants at the retreat trying to come to terms with the horrible things that have happened there. I woke up realizing that the camp itself, Auschwitz, was the main character and that the characters were only a device used to tell the story.A week long retreat at Auschwitz, attended by 100 people of diverse nationalities, religions and sex. Headed by a Zen teacher (of which the author is a practioner himself) they are there for remembrance, meditation, hoping to gain an understanding and come to terms with the past. Also a man named Clements Olin, who is said to be a researcher trying to figure out why the Polish author Tadeiz Borowski, who wrote stories and poems of his experiences while sentenced to camp, committed suicide at the age of 28. He is mentioned extensively In the first part of the novel. The pervasive atmosphere effects each of these people in different ways.The second part of the novel, unravels the personal lives of many of them, why they are really there, what they hoped to find, feel.This is also when the story of Olin is revealed and he must come to terms with a past, of which has only shortly been made aware.This is a novel told in a very unemotional matter, the place itself provides the emotion, the awareness of what when on there, what the characters see and feel. Many leave with a new understanding, Olin among them. Some find their lives changed and more secrets are revealed. So I had to give this a four, it was amazingly constructed, and the reader gets a chance to read about the many different people that have a need to remember. Plus this is the first book I have ever dreamed in which I was a character. Still shaking my head.ARC from publisher.

  • Abby
    2019-04-17 15:59

    Peter Matthiessen was a masterful writer of both fiction and nonfiction who said that he had long wanted to write about Auschwitz but felt that -- as a non-survivor and a non-Jew – he was unqualified to approach it as a journalist, that only through fiction would he have the freedom to explore the complexities of the subject. “In Paradise” is that fiction – his last, published just days after his death at the age of 86. It gives voice to troubling questions, not just about good and evil but about what can or should even be said about the unspeakable horrors of that place and about whether even the best intentions to commemorate and bear witness are legitimate. In probing these questions, the novel in fact questions its own legitimacy. Matthiessen was a dedicated Zen Buddhist and in the 1990s participated in several Zen retreats on the grounds of Auschwitz. The protagonist of ”In Paradise,” Clements Olin, an American scholar descended from Polish aristocracy, has traveled to Poland to research the life of a writer who survived Auschwitz and committed suicide after the war. Olin tags along with a group of more than 100 people of different nationalities and different motivations who have come on a retreat to the death camp to meditate and bear witness. He struggles with the intense and conflicting emotions aroused by the ghastly crematoria and selection platform, his uncomfortable interactions with the retreat participants and his profound doubts about what any of them are doing there. “So even if these people witness truly, what could 'truly' mean? Spreading word of their impressions of this scene of heinous crime? Too late, too late...Surely the time, means and goodwill of these would-be 'witness bearers' might be better spent out in the world, helping the hordes of refugees and other sufferers for whom some sort of existence might yet be salvaged. The point of life is to help others through it – who said that? We must help the living while we can, since the dead have no more need of us.“In this empty place, then, at the end of autumn, 1996, what was left to be illuminated? What could the 'witness' of warm, well-fed visitors possibly signify? How could such 'witness' matter and to whom? No one was listening.”This is a difficult novel. With the exception of one episode of spontaneous joy, it is chilling and bleak both in its setting and in its examination of past horrors and present ugliness. There are plot points involving a tentative but impossible erotic attraction, the unsurprising uncovering of a family secret and several absorbing back stories. But plot seems incidental to Matthiessen's purpose, almost as if he needed it to make this the novel he felt he had to write. You might consider the book a deeply personal meditation in the guise of a novel but little matter; you needn't question its legitimacy. It is a book that needs to be read for its beautiful prose and for its uncompromising willingness to confront painful truths.

  • Ron Charles
    2019-04-09 13:06

    What a haunting and bewildering novel “In Paradise” is. Months ago, Peter Matthiessen predicted it would be his “last word,” and now, sadly, we know he was right. The author, who died Saturday at the age of 86, wrote more than 30 books during his extraordinary career and is the only person to win National Book Awards for fiction and nonfiction.Long a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, Matthiessen always addressed big, complex themes, especially on natural history and the environment, and his final novel ventures to Auschwitz to confront the Holocaust. It does so in the most self-conscious way possible: by describing a writer venturing to Auschwitz to confront the Holocaust. The result is part reflection, part cultural criticism and, oddly, part romance.The starkly ironic title of “In Paradise” comes from the Gospel of Luke, during the crucifixion of Jesus, and it signals the Jewish and Christian themes wound through the novel’s dark matter. Inspired by Matthiessen’s participation in a Zen retreat at the Nazi death camp, the story details a week in 1996 when 140 pilgrims from around the world commit themselves to “homage, prayer, and silent meditation in the memory of this camp’s million and more victims.” Among these strangers are scholars and priests, relatives of the murdered and the murderers, guilt-ridden Germans and defiant Poles. Ostensibly, they’ve come to bear witness, but most can’t articulate what draws them to this grief-soaked place.Matthiessen approaches the Shoah as delicately and apologetically as anyone could, and to a large extent “In Paradise” is about the fraught challenge of considering this unparalleled horror without being maudlin, melodramatic or self-indulgent. Denial of the Final Solution is the most grotesque affront, and ignorance about it is perhaps even harder to fathom, but Holocaust voyeurism is the subtler form of disrespect that Matthiessen condemns in this novel. No one, he emphasizes, should imagine that the pain of seeing the pits and the ovens provides any real sense of what the victims experienced.The central character of this ruminative book is Clements Olin, a 55-year-old American academic who was born in Poland but shipped to America as an infant. Although he has built his career on the study of Holocaust literature, early in the novel he disavows any special expertise. As is often the case in these pages, one gets the sense that Matthiessen is speaking directly through his narrator: “Olin tends to agree with the many who have stated that fresh insight into the horror of the camps is inconceivable, and efforts at interpretation by anyone lacking direct personal experience an impertinence, out of the question.”Oddly, Olin has never been to Auschwitz, although his grandparents were Polish aristocrats and his unwed mother vanished from this area during the war. He has come back to his birthplace, he tells himself and others, to complete research on a book about Tadeusz Borowski, the writer who survived the concentration camp only to take his own life in 1951 at the age of 28.Restricted to the narrow, repetitive and mostly silent activities of this death-camp retreat, “In Paradise” moves through the week in a series of precisely drawn moments and memories as the participants tour the railroad tracks and the decrepit crematoria. Matthiessen’s descriptions are poetic and scarifying. Without stooping to genocide pornography, he creates indelible vignettes about what remains and what took place here. No reader will ever forget his brief, piercing visions of terrified children pulled from the trains or panicked women shut up in the gas chambers.And yet the book continually undercuts itself and questions its own motives. “By now,” Olin thinks, “every adult in the Western world has been exposed to awful images of stacked white corpses and body piles bulldozed into pits.” Who needs “the unearned indignation of some damned onlooker from abroad who has no connection to the place and no meaningful witness to contribute”?That debate frequently breaks out of Olin’s head during the group’s evening meetings when members are invited to speak extemporaneously. Most are stunned into silence by glimpses of the abuse their ancestors endured or perpetrated. But there’s one obnoxious guest, a man named Earwig, who gives off a “constant air of bitter amusement.” He serves as a kind of vicious court jester, mocking those who testify, scorning their sentimentality, rejecting their New Age rubbish about “closure” and “healing.” He provokes some speakers to tears and others to rage, but despite the often violent tension among them, the members keep meeting, stumbling along in the darkness of their own grief, shame and confusion. Their reward — a moment of surprising communion — provides the novel’s loveliest scene and demonstrates the sonorous beauty of Matthiessen’s prose.Unfortunately, we come to know the many people in this retreat only superficially. Flashbacks to Olin’s childhood with his exiled Polish grandparents provide richer characters and more complex dynamics. Here, Matthiessen explores the subtler expressions of anti-Semitism mingled with classicism that kept young Olin ignorant about his mother’s fate and his own identity. Those memories circumscribe a secret that’s eventually revealed in a surprisingly overplayed scene that readers will anticipate long before it arrives.More problematic is Olin’s attraction to a strident young nun who’s also attending the death-camp retreat. At first, when Olin has a clear sense of the ridiculousness of his desire, this subplot adds a degree of emotional variety to the novel’s grim tone, and it rounds out our understanding of a lonely man, bumbling around with his errant affections. But as the conclusion nears, the novel’s focus splinters. We’re drawn cursorily into administrative battles within the Catholic Church. Weirder, Olin’s impossible tryst with the nun hijacks the novel, and Matthiessen himself seems seduced by the romantic possibilities. His prose grows flush with loveliness and pathos that feel incongruous given the context and theme of the story: “At this fateful instant of his life, right before his eyes, this girl whose warmth and lovely form he will never embrace and cherish is vanishing forever as he stands there watching, and he is astonished by the violence of his loss.”Amid the shadows of Auschwitz and the violence of the incalculable loss that took place here, Olin’s romantic sorrow — no matter how heartfelt — sounds jarringly irrelevant. But perhaps, as the participants at this retreat discover, no response can be appropriate or adequate or beyond reproach. Like the rest of Matthiessen’s vast body of work, “In Paradise” leads us into questions that define our most profound mysteries.From The Washington Post:

  • Jill
    2019-04-06 16:17

    Peter Matthiessen – who is 86 years old – has said this about his latest novel: “At age 86, it may be my last word.” If so, that would be a pity. Mr. Matthiessen has a strong voice and an inimitable style. For many readers, this may very well be a 5-star book and the fact that it wasn’t for me has far more to do with my reading tastes than it does with the quality of the writing. That being said, this is a book more for the head than for the heart. It’s a somber book, Clements Olin – an American academic of Polish descent – joins others on painful missions incompletely understood at the infamous death camp of Auschwitz. The ragtag group – stricken descendants of the “perpetrators”, relatives of the victims, morbid curiosity seekers – all gather to pay witness.But victims to what, exactly? “The emptiness? The silence? What can they hope to offer besides prayer in belated atonement?” Together and in pairs, they address anti-Semitism, man’s capacity for evil, and “confronting the Nazi within.” As the days pass, tensions bubble to the surface, bickering becomes commonplace, and core secrets begin to get unveiled. And gradually, Clements Olin gravitates towards Sister Catherine, a young nun who is also questioning the foundation of her life.There is a great deal of philosophizing (Can those who were penetrated by the horror truly be transported by passion? Does the line dividing good and evil cut through the heart of every human being? Is any nation or any man truly unstained?) Yet I could not shake the feeling that this gathering was a type of incubator that fertilized these musings. In tone and in style, a certain formality – call it a type of contemplation—distanced me from what should have been a far more intense reading experience. In Paradise will make you think. If it makes you feel is another matter. Like Clements Olin – an observer who needs to gradually remove his cloak and bear witness – the reader often has the feeling of being on the sidelines of history. But maybe that is the point.

  • Neil McCrea
    2019-03-21 15:08

    This book is nearly impossible for me to review.I have a long history with Matthiessen's work. I was introduced to him through one of my dearest friends during orientation week of my first year at college. His non-fiction work helped shape my nascent environmental activism and social conscience. His novels, along with those of Dostoyevsky, proved to me that it was possible to write about complicated moral issues without becoming didactic. In the intervening decades I lost that friend to cancer and I came to treat the release of each of the not-very-prolific Peter Matthiessen's novels as an event to be treasured. I was speechless when I won the first reads giveaway for this novel, overjoyed when I received it, and quietly devastated when Peter Matthiessen passed away a mere two days later. I put off reading In Paradise for a short time, uncertain how it could possibly hold up to all the baggage I've attached to it. When I finally got around to reading it I breezed through it despite the heavy subject matter. It lives up to and possibly surpasses every possible expectation I may have had for it.I was initially wary about reading another novel about the Holocaust. In light of all the brilliant works that have come before, particularly by those who are survivors of the Shoah, what more is there to say? Fortunately, In Paradise is less about the Holocaust itself and more about that very question. In 1996, shortly after Auschwitz has been turned into a museum, a retreat is held on the grounds of the camp. Scholars, relatives of survivors, relatives of camp staff, and others all attend. The importance of witness and remembrance of the Holocaust is unquestioned, but during the retreat other questions arise. How long is one to grieve for relatives one has never met, or how long should one atone for the crimes of relatives one has never known? For those with no direct connection to the Holocaust, do their own histories have no genocides that they ought to be grieving or atoning for? In the shadow of a historical moment that is as black and white as any, dozens more nuanced questions of morality are raised. As the retreatants examine these questions and themselves, they are in turns combative and compassionate. Matthiessen takes none of this lightly and every perspective and reflection is given ample scrutiny. A calm and reasoned reexamination of all one's values and behaviors will no doubt be a common reaction by readers of this novel.Much to my surprise, there is also a romance sub-plot throughout the novel. The circumstances of the characters involved make the fumbling gestures of nascent romance in a deathcamp setting many times more awkward than you are imagining, and yet the whole thing rings so psychologically true that it is a wonder to read.This novel is now as important to me as any other I could care to mention. Even at this later date in my life, as my philosophies are beginning to calcify, Matthiessen still manages to make me see things in a new and hopefully clearer way.

  • Jennifer W
    2019-04-03 16:11

    I feel weird giving this book only 2 stars. It's an intense subject, full of long held entrenched beliefs, and in many ways, Matthiessen does them justice. Anger, betrayal, shame, guilt, humiliation and of course, grief. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, men, women, Germans, Poles, Americans, Swedes, come together seeking. But seeking what? for each of the characters it is different, as it would be for all the world to go to Auschwitz. What I would seek there is vastly different than anyone else. Is that why I cannot identify with any of the characters? Or is it Matthiessen's academic, confusing writing style? I think I stuck with it because it did cause me to question what I would get out of a visit to a concentration camp. As an attendant to the US Smithsonian Holocaust Memorial Museum, I was wrung out. I can't even imagine how many more times that would be multiplied to actually go to the most infamous place of mass murder in the world. Understanding all the emotions and the reasons behind them does not mean I understood the characters. Earwig in particular (and what a name!), was baffling to me. He's so angry, at everyone, the church for doing nothing, the Germans for the Holocaust, the Poles for being neighbors and witnessing but not acting, and even the Jews themselves. Even when I learned his back story, his anger makes no sense. I can understand the emotions, but not all in one person. Olin and his main counterpart, Sister Catherine also made little to no sense. What are they looking for? Why are they here? Do they find it? Are they better off for the experiences? At the end, several stories come together, but I could barely follow it (was the priest gay? did the professor kill himself over his trip to Auschwitz?). I don't mind a complicated novel, but I need to be able to follow it, and I would like to relate to a character or two. Maybe that's not possible in less than 300 pages in a novel about the continued emotional impacts of the Holocaust. And maybe it shouldn't be possible.

  • Orsodimondo
    2019-03-25 18:00

    SIGNORE E SIGNORI, PER LA CAMERA A GAS DA QUESTA PARTEPeter Matthiessen è stato, non necessariamente in quest’ordine, fondatore della Paris Review, agente della CIA, monaco buddista zen, attivista ambientalista, tre volte vincitore del National Book Award, grande viaggiatore.Per tre anni, a partire dal 1996, ha partecipato a ritiri spirituali di meditazione ad Auschwitz aperti a tutte le fedi e religioni.Per raccontare questa esperienza ha pensato che un reportage giornalistico e l’approccio saggistico non sarebbero bastati, ha quindi optato per un romanzo e si è inventato un personaggio fittizio attraverso il cui sguardo affrontare l’argomento e narrare la sua esperienza.A condire l’esperienza di vita e narrazione ha adottato un titolo che appare ossimorico rispetto al luogo dove si svolgono i fatti e allo stesso racconto.E così, in un dicembre alla fine dello scorso millennio (1996), il protagonista, Clements Olin, americano cinquantenne professore universitario specializzato nella letteratura dell’Olocausto, approda ad Auschwitz proprio durante uno di questi seminari. Si trattiene da ‘auditore’, anche se sarebbe meglio dire osservatore: assiste, prende parte, senza ‘partecipare’ davvero.Il seminario è tenuto da un buddista ex hippie ed ex ebreo ortodosso dalla lunga barba e pochi capelli che si fa chiamare Ben Lama, e che dimostra di essere la persona giusta al posto giusto. Ci sono 140 persone, tra cui polacchi, giovani tedeschi per lo più figli o parenti di nazisti, un romeno dalla lingua lunga, due suore novizie, un palestinese, un professore universitario svedese dalla lingua lunga quasi come quella del romeno, qualche anziano sopravvissuto, un ex monaco, intellettuali israeliani, rabbini, preti cattolici… I tedeschi sembrano essere gli unici cui Matthiessen non si riferisce con un nome proprio, come se il senso di colpa li rendesse indistinti.Visitano l’intero lager: il campo di concentramento di Auschwitz, quello di sterminio di Birkenau, e quello di lavoro di Monowitz. Condividono i pasti, tutti molto frugali, pregano e meditano insieme, si scambiano testimonianze e riflessioni, avviano dibattiti arendtiani sulla natura del Male, sulla colpa e le colpe, sulle responsabilità della Chiesa Cattolica, sul negazionismo, sulla peculiarità della Shoah, sugli entusiasti sostenitori della Germania nazista nel resto d’Europa…Pensieri sentimenti emozioni opinioni sulla Shoah scaturiscono nudi crudi e anche selvaggi, diversi, imprevedibili, provocatori, controversi. Analizzano e dibattono molti aspetti, senza risolvere nessuna diatriba, senza giungere a una riconciliazione. Il Male rimane incomprensibile.La shoah appartiene al novero delle esperienze immani che ci riducono al silenzio. Qualsiasi parola, qualsiasi frase, qualsiasi ‘risposta’ appare minuscola, insignificante e di tanto in tanto ridicola. Anche le risposte più grandiose risultano meschine. Matthiessen fa sue queste parole di Aaron Appelfeld e ritiene che non sia concepibile una prospettiva inedita sull’orrore dei campi di concentramento, che qualsiasi tentativo di interpretazione da parte di chi non ne abbia avuto esperienza diretta sia un oltraggio. Eppure, con questo suo ultimo romanzo pubblicato postumo dimostra che così non è, che il passato può essere memoria viva e non solo muffa storica: proprio come afferma in una delle scene più belle del romanzo uno dei personaggi, Malan, sopravvissuto all’orrore del lager, l’unico modo di capire una tale malvagità è riconfigurarla. E questo si può fare solo attraverso l’arte, come scoprì Goya.Signore e signori, per la camera a gas da questa parte è il titolo della raccolta di racconti scritti da Tadeusz Borowski che fu internato ad Auschwitz e riuscì a sopravvivere. Fu giornalista e scrittore polacco, morto suicida nel 1951, all’età di 28 anni. Il protagonista del romanzo sta facendo ricerche su Borowski e anche per questo approda ad Auschwitz.Tutte queste guerre e questi massacri, i genocidi, le orde di profughi che percorrono strade infinite e immerse nella polvere, costretti a frugare la terra in cerca di cibo e acqua… queste continue tragedie del nostro tempo non sono di per sé abbastanza orribili senza dover restare aggrappati alla Catastrofe di cinquant’anni fa?

  • John
    2019-03-31 16:05

    Holocaust Remembrance Novel is Among the Year's BestAcclaimed by William Styron as “…a writer of phenomenal scope and versatility”, Peter Mathiessen’s latest novel, “In Paradise”, is an unforgettable novel of Holocaust remembrance which will be viewed not only as among this year’s best, but as one of his finest novels in his long storied literary career. It is an especially moving, often poignant, novel that deals not only with history, but also remembrance and reconciliation as it pertains to the Shoah, the Holocaust, itself. During a week-long remembrance by more than one hundred people at Auschwitz in the late fall of 1996, Matthiessen introduces us to a most captivating, quite compelling, cast of characters, of whom the most memorable is an American scholar, Clement Olin, a descendant of Polish aristocracy, who attends merely to research the odd suicide of an Auschwitz survivor, feeling disengaged from those in attendance as one of the few who isn’t Jewish. What Olin discovers will shatter his knowledge of his family’s history immediately before and during World War II, and more importantly, alter forever, his own understanding of who he is, exposing a dark secret hidden carefully by his parents for decades. Matthiessen adroitly weaves in the Holocaust’s Polish history with the stories of those attending the Auschwitz memorial, as we see them clash over contemporary issues like the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as lingering anti-Semitism expressed by some of the local Polish population near Auschwitz. Matthiessen demonstrates anew why he is worthy of Styron’s notable accolade, reminding readers that he is indeed a master storyteller and prose stylist who ranks among the finest writers in American fiction, as well as nonfiction. What Matthiessen has written is for me, the best new novel I have read so far this year. I won’t be surprised if “In Paradise” is short-listed for many literary prizes; even if it isn’t, it will be remembered as one of the best novels published this year.

  • Kasa Cotugno
    2019-04-16 13:10

    Auschwitz. The very name strikes at the marrow. In 1996, fifty years after the war ended, Peter Matthiessen along with over 100 people, spent a week long Zen retreat within those walls to "bear witness." His eyewitness accounts of that experience give this fictionalized version resilience and verisimilitude. Deep in this very dense novel he makes the observation that this is the last generation to be able to give first hand account of the horror that was the genocide perpetuated by the Nazis. It is important to repeat descriptions of the atrocities, to never stop, since there are people in the world today denying it every happened. The members of the retreat are handled deftly if lightly, in order to pack as much into this relatively short novel as possible. Many are descendants of both the victims and of the perpetrators. The question of what the nearby villagers made of all those trains, all that land appropriated and barbed-wired in. And all that smoke. Christians being able to move into deserted homes. Since this event takes place when the Camp was a relatively new tourist destination, in winter under coal-smoke fog, unremittingly somber and evocative, it is interesting to look up UTube videos shot from the hands of tourists of today as they meander through the clean tourist-friendly streets of the former death camp. At one point, Matthiessen muses on the fact that the land will at some point be put to other, more taxable, use, but it appears it is a destination spot and will remain as such. I usually associate Matthiessen with Caribbean waters and vigilante justice in the Everglades, and thus found that this, his final word (his phrase) to be a startling departure. Obviously the retreat and its participants affected him deeply, enough to write this haunting book at the age of 86. He passed away only days before its publication. But there is so much rich material worthy of inspiration for discussion and illumination, that I am deeply grateful that he did so.

  • Jeff
    2019-04-13 15:21

    I have never given a book zero stars before, but this, unfortunately, deserves just that.I went into this book thinking that this would be a drama about people going on a remembrance retreat at a Holocaust death camp and trying to come to terms with and be witness to these atrocities while learning more about it. Let me tell you, although, this is the premise of the retreat it simply is not what this book is about.The writing is all over the place and tangled to where I simply had no idea who I was to be following or where we were in the story and moreover and most frustratingly, why. Why were these prose written? Why were these characters here? Why were they saying what they were saying? Why was this book even written?To say I dove into this book hoping for what I had originally thought I was headed into is an understatement. I am very interested in the topic of the Shoah and a book about people going to the lion's den to confront the evil head on 50 years later easily could have wound up on my "best of" list. Again, please know, this is not what this book is about.I stumbled through each disjointed conversation, almost gave up on the book every 5 or so pages and decided to drive through it just in case it tied something (anything) together. By the time I realized that was not going to happen I decided to finish the book because I was already invested in it.I am astonished by the rave reviews here for this book, I suppose that is what makes the world go 'round and why there are so many different books to choose from. We all have different tastes. I just can't even begin to recommend anyone putting this one on their pallet.

  • Amy
    2019-04-05 13:13

    Once in a great while a reader encounters a book that is so profound and poignant that the earth moves, and perceptions are shifted. One such book is In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen. Matthiessen, world renowned naturalist and activist, cofounder of The Paris Review, novelist and three time winner of the National Book Award has in his 86th year produced a spectacular novel. Opening in the winter of 1996, the novel centers on a group of more than one hundred people of diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and religious beliefs who have gathered in Poland at the site of a former death camp. Resigned to stay for a week, they will occupy the quarters of the former Nazi officers and daily offer prayer and witness to the more than one million souls who perished at in the camp. Clements Olin, American academic of Polish descent is attending in hopes of further in his research regarding the suicide of a poet survivor. He is also there to examine the secret history of his family who managed to escape shortly after his birth. Not surprisingly the atmosphere at the camp is often grim and every comment has the potential to be met with hostility, and as the group progressed through the week political and personal tensions arise; however bonds are formed, understanding and empathy are evoked, and while no clear resolutions can be made about the events that transpired at the camp the visitors, and specifically Olin, come to appreciate what it means to be fully alive. Thought provoking and haunting, In Paradise is a superb novel that will leave readers forever changed.

  • Lisa
    2019-04-10 19:01

    A group gathers at Auschwitz to pray and bear witness at the camp. Tension and hostility brew amongst the group and no peace is achieved. I really wanted to like this book. The writing is intelligent and beautiful but I had to force myself to continue reading. The book is plain boring. It is inconceivable to read a book about the Holocaust and not feel anything!

  • Mac
    2019-03-28 18:20

    Thought provoking, intellectual exercise, yes. Entertaining novel, no.In Paradise trots out the perplexing issues surrounding the Holocaust and more specifically the death camps, in this case Auschwitz-Birkenau. So the characters wrestle with the expected subjects like good/evil, guilt/suffering, resistance/collaboration, the role of the Catholic Church, and of course, the larger question of how could all this happen. Though none of the issues seem fresh or new, the wide range of ideas are examined thoroughly so I left having felt the philosophical and psychological weight of the topic. Thus In Paradise is good for the mind.But that's not to say this is a satisfying piece of fiction. Matthiessen does create a sense of place very effectively--the barrenness, the isolation, and the tangible horrors of the past in the decaying buildings. But the characters, who have gathered at the death camp for a retreat in 1996, seem like archetypes, representatives of contrasting ideas, not real people. And the evolving love of Clements Olin, the central character, for one of the congregants at the camp seems tacked on to add some originality to the story, not an organic outgrowth of the narrative.So what to make of the book? It stimulated my thinking, and it leaves an evocative feeling for the death camp in my mind. However, I'm guessing the characters will soon be forgettable.

  • Richard Sutton
    2019-04-17 20:19

    I had thought that everything that could be said about the genocide at the hands of the Third Reich and others in 1940s Europe, had been said. I was wrong. I might not have chosen this book on the basis of its subject, but I did select it on the basis in my faith in Peter Matthiessen. I hadn't opened it before I heard of his death. The author wrote in such a satisfying manner that for me, he combines the best of the classical writing of the nineteenth century with the best and most progressive work of the twentieth. In Paradise is exactly that. While it is the intricate and absorbing story of an American academic attending a gathering of religious and philosophers at Auschwitz, it is in the main character's piercing search for belonging in that most grotesque of settings, that raises this work to the highest levels of introspective writing. His search is our search for answers. How can we as a species, be capable of such levels of evil? What is there, lying within us, that assigns the murder of innocents as a potential possible action? Does a place that has seen true evil done, radiate that evil for all time afterwards? The author's conclusion is disquieting and ultimately brings little comfort. At times, I detested the emotions that were brought to the foreground in the reading, but mostly, as much as I intellectually wanted to, I could not lay it down. I've read most of Matthiessen's work, both fiction and non-fiction, and this is a more than fitting coda for his volume of work. Add a star if you feel an acute need to immerse yourself in unsolvable, disconnected guilt and loss. or if you yourself, have a deep need to know more of who you are. In any case, this is a book that will help keep the author's name in discussion for a long time to come.

  • Roger Brunyate
    2019-04-19 17:07

    Return to GolgothaPeter Matthiesen's title comes from an apocryphal version of the Crucifixion story. Where in the Bible Christ promises the repentant thief hanging on the cross beside him, 'Thou shalt be with me this day in Paradise,' in this version "Christ shakes his head in pity, saying, 'You are in Paradise right now'." Strange to think that the extermination camp at Auschwitz, where Matthiesen's novel is set, could ever be thought of as Paradise; did not John Paul II, the first Polish Pope, call this site Golgotha, after the Place of the Skull, where Christ was crucified? Yet one of the characters in the novel, a young Polish nun, has also mentioned the teaching of St. Catherine of Siena, her namesake: "All the way to Heaven is Heaven." In other words, that the journey to Paradise is Paradise itself, however unspeakable the stations on the way.Beginning my review with this obscure paradox of Christian theology, I am reflecting a couple of key points about Matthiesen's magnificent book. First, that a lot of it consists of philosophical discussion, sometimes gentle, sometimes angry; this is not a novel you read primarily for plot or even for character. Secondly, a Holocaust novel with as many gentile characters as Jewish ones is rather unusual. The fictional occasion is an ecumenical retreat organized in 1996, where participants of many faiths would camp out in the empty buildings of Auschwitz, meditate, and bear witness. There are a few very old Jewish survivors, some Rabbis, and several from later generations who have lost family members. There are a number of Germans, including some whose parents served with the SS. The leader of the retreat is one of several Buddhists. There are two Catholic nuns and one older Polish priest; almost as significant a topic as the Shoah itself is the question of the complicity of the Catholic Church in allowing it to happen. When the priest offers an anodyne prayer of reconciliation on the selection ramp at Birkenau, the young nun breaks ranks to prostrate herself in apology to the murdered on behalf of her fellow Christians.Fifty years on, as Matthiesen recognizes, the Shoah may already be losing its power as a cautionary lesson. One of his most brilliant strokes to prevent the easy reiteration of philosophical platitudes is to introduce an utterly objectionable character, going by the name of G. Earwig, whose offensive and occasionally obscene interjections nonetheless contain a grain of truth. He may owe a debt to what Francine Prose did in the Auschwitz novella in her Guided Tours of Hell: Novellas. But an even greater one, as one fellow reviewer has pointed out, to Homer and Shakespeare's Thersites and his scabrous comments on the Trojan War.Against him, he sets the protagonist, the rational non-believer, American poet and academic Clements Olin. His Protestant grandparents, minor Polish aristocracy with an estate near the original Oswiecim, emigrated to the US before the War, but there are still personal family mysteries he hopes to uncover. It is interesting to see the effect the terrible place has upon this detached observer with no personal connection that he knows about, other than an accident of family history. It is also interesting to see how his responses to others in the group become personalized, in one case leading to an inappropriate erotic attraction. I am not sure that Matthiesen knew how to run to ground all the hares he started with this character, and there are a few loose ends. But this at first detached character ends up as the one giving the novel its greatest humanity.The final image of the book is a modern stained-glass window in the Franciscan Church in Krakow. Like the novel itself, it is both terrible and transcendent.

  • Lorri
    2019-04-04 17:55

    In Paradise, by Peter Matthiessen, is a difficult read on so many levels. The book is not a fast read, and one that evokes Holocaust history in a unique manner. The story takes place in Auschwitz, as over 100 individuals are attending a spiritual retreat there. They are there for two weeks, to tour the various aspects of Auschwitz, inside and out, and to meditate. The people come from all backgrounds, religious affiliations and nationalities.I found the existential aspect to be prevalent throughout the pages, especially with the main character, Clements Olin, a man born of aristocratic Polish ancestors. His very being was built on chaos, and confusion. His upbringing was one of emotional suppression forced upon him by his father and grandparents. His life revolved around the fact he never knew his mother, and whenever he would seek out information regarding her, his questions were stifled by his grandmother and/or his father. He is there as an expert writer on the Holocaust, gathering research, but what he thinks will be a writing endeavor turns into something more intense and questioning, something that will alter and define the course of his life.He is confronted with questions, and receives some answers to them, regarding the fact his mother was possibly Jewish. His counterpart, or his opposite is a man named Earwig. His brashness and obnoxious manner sets off feelings in Olin, feelings that he didn't know he had, and feelings he questioned. Those feelings conjured up the need to contemplate his sense of Self, and who he was in the scheme of things, including the disorientation of his life and the facticity of it. The road to authenticity becomes a strong force within him.He knew the facts of certain things pertaining to his life, things he could not control such as who his father and paternal grandparents were, but did he really know the truth behind the information fed him. He grew up in a realm of snobbery and secrecy, and his trip to Auschwitz was, in part, to find out the verity of his being.Being involved with the varied individuals, their own baggage and their discontent with themselves and the others on the quest, brought out Olin's emotional being, emotions that had been locked up and compartmentalized inside him. His experiences in Auschwitz illuminated truth, love, loss, despair and heartbreak. He began his trip with indifference, and ends his journey a man of emotional knowledge and feelings.In Paradise explores humanity in many aspects, and how environment can nourish or deplete a person. It explores the essence of human beings, and how they begin life through no choice of their own, and how their lives are directed towards a sense of fulfillment or loss. Their particular essence is determined not only by events they have no control over, but also through their own choices. Peter Matthiessen is brilliant with his word-imagery, and masterful with his writing, evoking a deep sense of insight and intensity into his book.

  • Autumn
    2019-04-20 19:22

    I never cease to be appalled at the atrocities at Auschwitz.Quite honestly, I have been on WWII novel overload, so I almost did not read this book. Because of it’s good reviews, however, I took the plunge. This is not your typical WWII novel. The events take place 50 years after the end of the war and chronicle a spiritual retreat taking place at Auschwitz. The people are there to “bear witness” to the atrocities. What sets this novel apart from other war novels is the emphasis on how history interprets the horrors of the camp -- a majority of the book is testimonials from characters about friends and family members who were interred at or who worked at the camp. The story also explores the bitterness that results from the deep seated racism as well as moral culpability (can you condemn an entire race for the crimes they committed against another?). He also addresses some very interesting strains of racism, especially in relation to forgiveness, and the international effect of WWII. He gives the perspective of Israeli Jews, Pols, Arabs, Catholics and Germans, showing how the Holocaust means something different each of these people groups. At one point the professor (the point of view character) muses that the camp helps him realize that these were real people with real stories: not just statistics, gristly photos, and piles of shoes. I think that is a very important point, since it is very easy to reduce horrible events down to numbers and to divorce ourselves from the actual living of those involved. In this way, the novel is not a historical novel but rather a psychological novel, examining the emotions behind the events. The structure of the narrative funnels you to a moving conclusion. His discussion of the crimes of humanity against humanity segue into a discussion of the crimes of parents against children (generationally), which segue into a discussion of the crimes of individuals against individuals. He points out that it is only because of the wrongs we commit towards each other (every day in small ways: racism, hatred) that the larger crimes are possible. Matthiessen wrote this novel after a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz and he does an excellent job of capturing the lingering spirit that still lingers over the camp. This is not an easy novel. It’s pretty visceral--he’s quite explicit in his explanations of what must have happened in the camp, but he writes about what it means to be wholly broken and by the end, we too understand what it feels like to be wholly broken.3.5 stars

  • Tony
    2019-04-16 11:57

    IN PARADISE. (2014). Peter Matthiessen. ****.Matthiessen has written another of his low-key, thoughtful novels that manages to probe man’s inner beliefs and re-examine those beliefs in light of history. Clements Olin is a Polish-American academician who joined up with a group who will meet at Auschwitz to both pray and bear witness to the horrors that occurred there. There are over one-hundred people in the group from many places in the world. There are other people of Polish descent, Catholic nuns, German citizens, and descendants of people who were lost at the facility. The retreat will last for a week, during which time the members of the group will attend lectures, sleep in the rooms previously used by the inmates, and symbolically go through the trials of the murdered prisoners. Olin is there to discover more about his roots and maybe find out about his mother who had been sent to the camp and never returned. Olin was one of the fortunate ones who was helped to escape in time. You will never meet a more diverse group of people in one place. The technique has been used before, of course, but rarely with such skill. The whole concept of prejudice – especially against the Jews – is rigorously explored. The problem is that there is no consensus as to either its source or its elimination. Discussions – and often arguments – come up among the ‘pilgrims’ that lay bare their inner feelings as to what this installation means to them, along with their own assessment of the driving force for the perpetrators. There is a twist at the end that can be predicted, but it is not out of left field. In all, this is a thoughtful book about a period in our history and its effect on later generations. Recommended.

  • Marilee
    2019-04-15 17:14

    A difficult book to read, both in it's subject matter and because it is the last work of the author, who passed away just days before it was published. Matthiessen has long been one of my favorite and revered authors. He chose to write about legacy of the Holocaust, through the eyes of an American raised man of Polish descent, Clements Olin, part of a group visiting Auschwitz for a retreat. It is a journey of diverse souls wanting to bear witness, to grieve, to find themselves, to complain, hoping to understand… varied reasons. Matthiessen is unsparing in his portraits, which has brought about some criticism from those who feel he was not reverential enough to the memories of those who lost their lives and those who survived the camps and those who try to remember. But I felt he made the unthinkable accessible through a narrative of flawed humanity.I can only say to those who criticize, read it through, carefully with an open mind. Ultimately, this novel has brought the reality of the death camps into as clear a perspective as may be possible from this distance in time.Matthiessen allows us to see the victims then and now, the visitors, the Polish people who lived there, their descendants, the legacy of man's inhumane instincts, in his usual clear, intelligent prose. This book will live with me for some time, just as the ghostly memories of the dead must haunt the camps.

  • Alana Muir
    2019-04-08 18:23

    (Disclosure: I received a pre-publication review copy through a first reads giveaway.) The author is clearly talented at putting words together. The imagery and symbolism are there on the page. The problem is that nothing happens in the story. It's a story of a rather unpleasant pretentious man who spends a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz flirting with a nun. Most of the characters were very shallow and one-dimensional, and those who weren't were mostly irritating and unsympathetic. I didn't like any of the characters, and I didn't hate any of them enough to feel compelled to keep reading. If I hadn't been given a free copy to review, I probably wouldn't have finished it, to be honest. Maybe it's too highbrow and literary for me, but I found it boring.[Edit] After being able to think about it a little, I think I have been able to pinpoint more accurately why I didn't enjoy this book. The main character is the least interesting person in the book. Most of the side characters who aren't even given names beyond "son of an SS officer" have stories potentially more interesting than the whiny aristocratic douche that the book focuses on. It's like if Orange is the New Black never took the camera off of Piper.

  • Sonya
    2019-03-22 12:55

    Not enough people will read this complicated and troubling novel, which is about a gathering at a concentration camp in Poland in the 1990s, right when ethnic cleansing in Bosnia has started. The main character, an American, tells most of the story; through his eyes we see ourselves and our bloody pasts. So many stories and perspectives are presented by beautiful, moody narrative. It's impossibly sad, yet also affirms our need to make sense through community of insensible tragedies. If your book club is up to it (and maybe not many would be) this book would yield a fascinating conversation.

  • Fantasymundo
    2019-04-15 20:24

    De esta forma, ‘En el paraíso’ (Seix Barral, 2015) resulta ser una novela donde Matthiessen abandona su transcendencia metafísica habitual para adoptar una perspectiva claramente materialista, restringida a la experiencia de la IIª Guerra Mundial y, concretamente, a la de los judíos europeos. En su análisis de este contexto histórico y la Seguir leyendo

  • Kris
    2019-03-27 19:19

    I was really excited about this book until I started reading. Books concerning the Holocaust are generally written in a very human tone that makes them easy to read and thought provoking. This book on the other hand was written in such a pretentious tone and was so overly wordy that it was actually distracting. I would definitely pass on this one.

  • Janis
    2019-04-04 17:15

    Matthiessen’s novel explores the grief, rage, and other complex feelings that individuals experience when a contemplative group meets at Auschwitz for a retreat, and in particular focuses on the experience of an American professor visiting Poland on a research trip. The story, perfectly paced and perfectly told, is transformative – and left me done in. Publication date is April 8, 2014.

  • Jenny's
    2019-04-12 17:10

    I was having difficulty with writing a review on it. After reading the Diane S. Review, I think she said it the best. Please check out her review, it's fantastic.

  • *heartrl*
    2019-03-30 17:02

    What a strange, sad final book for such an amazing writer. I have to say I enjoyed it once I was done and the more I thought about it. It's written much like what happens to the mind when you are trying to meditate- all these voices come into your head, some aggressive some altruistic etc. You battle to keep the silence and focus, but it all stays there jabbering. Mortality and human cruelty and we deal with it as observers and collective participants. Guilt about our history and a longing to be defined. The book is very esoteric when reflected on, but seems a simple, often time annoying story as you read it. In the end I'm glad I read it and enjoy the experience and the thoughts it gave me to chew on, though I can't say I actually LIKED the book or the story.

  • thewanderingjew
    2019-04-20 19:54

    Professor D. Olin Clements (What does the “D” stand for and what is the ultimate implication of the name?), born in Poland, but raised in America, is doing research for a monograph he is writing. He returns to Poland, a place he left as a child, and spends time at a retreat in a former concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. He is an outsider, attending with a group of people who have come from many countries, representing many religions, many opinions, many memories, a half century after the war’s end, to bear witness and honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Each attendee was affected by the war in different ways, and soon, as they interact and speak about their experiences disharmony develops, and they begin to snipe at, and taunt each other, slinging insults and even questioning the right of some to share their stories, questioning their reasons for attending the retreat, questioning their self-righteousness, even the genuineness of their shame and their guilt for having survived the war. Often it was because they participated, “only following orders”, or were more aggressive as prisoners, or ignored the plight of those who were made to suffer, those who were uprooted, robbed of everything they ever had, not only of their belongings and their heritage, but of every living soul ever known to them, as well. Did they deserve the right to even attend the retreat, holding services in the mess hall and the residences and on the platforms used by the SS? Were they trying to obtain forgiveness for themselves rather than honor the memory of those that they, in their silence and acquiescence, helped lead to the slaughter. Was the escapee justified when his escape resulted in reprisals that caused the death of other innocent victims? Was his life worth the death of so many others?They performed their services to the memories of those who died, in the shadow of the place the barracks once stood, in the shadow of the crematoria where the ghosts of the victims may still loiter, in the shadow of the overcrowded platforms that echo with the sound of the barking dogs and the German soldiers screaming Raus, Raus at the teeming masses of prisoners as they worked to accomplish Hitler’s Final Solution.The novel is extremely blunt and outspoken. The conversations and confessions of the attendees more clearly express the horror than a simple narrative would do. In Poland, even after the war, in the effort to make the country Judenrein, the Poles, who swore they knew nothing, murdered an additional 2000 returning Jews, so that today, there are far less still living there. From 4 million, of which 3 million were murdered, there are approximately 25,000 souls today. Could those who participated, in any way at all, ever be forgiven? Could future generations ever be forgiven? Should anyone ever forget the sadistic monsters that planned, participated in and rejoiced in the prospect of a country that was Judenrein? The age old question is also, should they be forgiven or forgotten at all?The author does not attempt to reconcile or justify any part of the Holocaust, rather he seems to be exploring the possibility of understanding it, from the point of view of the witnesses,, via confession and absolution. The hard, sharp edges that surround the border of hate and distrust, fear and resentment, jealousy and greed, are exposed. Because the information is presented in an uninhibited, raw manner, making it hard to read and absorb, at times, the information that has been presented countless times before, seems almost new again. Clements discovers secrets about his past as he interacts with the other members of the retreat. He is descended from the aristocracy and did not realize that he had more in common with others who bore witness than he could ever have imagined. Do his ancestors bear any guilt, and if they do, does he by proxy? Having recently read “The Storyteller”, by Jodi Picoult, which has at its heart, the same theme concerning the Holocaust, I thought that this story felt more authentic and genuine. Using the same kinds of characters as Picoult did, coming from all walks of life, the Rabbinate, the Church, the atheist, Mattheissen approaches it without the artifice of a sexually charged love story, although there is a theme of self-discovery with thoughts about a forbidden romance. Every aspect of emotion behind the genocide is exposed and worked through by the characters, brutally and vigorously, laying bare the wounds and scars remembered, and yet the novel is not very long. The Shoah can never be justified or excused, it can only be memorialized in the hope that it will never recur. Anti-Semitism still exists. It exists between Jew and Jew, Christian and Jew, Muslim and Jew. It is perpetuated by hateful teaching in homes and in schools and in houses of worship. It is handed down like a legacy from family to family. I felt that the more explanations were offered, the more questions were raised. What do sanctuaries provide for the dead victims? What do memorial services offer to the survivors? The only service the retreat and study of the Holocaust seems to provide, is a possible road to some kind of acceptance of the fact that the horror occurred, that we have to move on, but that we cannot forget, that we must always actively try to prevent this abominable anomaly from ever occurring again, anywhere. Many others suffered besides Jews, the Holocaust does not belong to them, although they have claimed it, but it destroyed the bulk of Jews, fully half their numbers, so systematically, so heartlessly, so sadistically, that it is not easily explained, understood or excused, rather it defies any sane explanation. This is a hard book to absorb, but I found it worthwhile.

  • Ann Marie Olszewski
    2019-04-14 15:08

    The writing is truly beautiful, the premise is intriguing (a meditation retreat at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, nearly fifty years after its liberation), but the characterization ranges from flat to non-existent. The characters are little more than ciphers, including, frankly, the protagonist and the young nun he inexplicably falls in love with. The dialogue is rather clunky, too.If the characters were better written, and the novel was perhaps a little longer, it could have been brilliant.

  • Lynne
    2019-04-15 17:04

    Matthiessen uses a retreat at Auschwitz to grapple with the issues around the horrors of human behavior, where "emptiness is filled by a multitude of faceless shapes milling close to him. He feels the vibration of their footfall." Characters are assembled to reflect many points of view and experiences...a bit contrived. I was drawn in, however, and will be thinking about it for some time. The title is ironic and also refers to the parable in which Jesus says to one of the thieves crucified next to him, who asks to be taken with him to Paradise, "No, friend, we are in Paradise right now." And the main character's interpretation: "No Trinity, no Resurrection. All Creation right here now." The other key theme, spoken by a rabbi at the retreat: "The only whole heart is the broken heart, but it must be wholly broken."

  • Molly
    2019-03-29 12:04

    A novel (which reads like very prosaic non-fiction) set in the 1990s at a spiritual retreat at Auschwitz (in Poland). American academic and poet Clements Olin travels here to learn about his past, and he meets others who are there for their own reasons: nuns, priests, a female academic from Israel, Poles, Norwegians, Germans, and a “brutish loudmouth named Earwig.” Reactions are raw, unpredictable, difficult to reconcile. Way too much of the book is taken up with middle-aged Olin’s drooling over a young nun, which seemed silly and detracted from the book for me. The novel felt plodding; I expected a lot more.