Study Guide

Paul Auster

Paul Auster Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226210-Auster.jpgPaul Auster Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The grandson of first-generation Jewish immigrants, Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 3, 1947, to Samuel and Queenie Auster. He grew up in South Orange and attended high school in Maplewood, twenty miles southwest of New York City. His father was a landlord; his mother was thirteen years younger than her husband. Auster examines the complexities of his relationship with his parents and of their relationship with each other in The Invention of Solitude (1982) and Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure (1997).

In 1959 Auster’s uncle, Allen Mandelbaum, a talented translator, left boxes of books in storage at the Auster home when he traveled to Europe. Auster discovered and read all of the books, and this sparked his interest in writing and literature. He began to write poems as a teenager and showed his poems to Mandelbaum, who was a tough but fair critic.

After Auster graduated from high school, he left to travel around Europe for the summer. He went to Spain, Italy, France, and Ireland. While traveling, he began work on a novel. He returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University in the fall. In 1967 he again left America to spend his junior year studying in Paris. Though he loved Paris, he became disillusioned with college and dropped out of the year abroad program, choosing to live instead in a small hotel on the rue Clément. He returned to New York in November and was, fortunately, reinstated in Columbia.

A high lottery number in the Vietnam War draft kept Auster from serving. He went on to get both his B.A. and M.A. in English from Columbia. Instead of pursuing a Ph.D., he took a job with the U.S. Census Bureau. After that, he worked as a merchant seaman on...

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Paul Auster Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Auster is often viewed as an experimental writer, but in the end, he has a very traditional take on how stories should be told. His narratives are straightforward, and everything—the textual puzzles, the conventional detective motifs, the labyrinthine logic, and the noir imagery—serves the story. He writes in lucid prose and is often referred to as a metaphysical detective novelist because of his deep concern with issues of self-invention and doubt. Auster’s work is organized around themes of synchronicity and chance, of randomness and causality, but he never alienates the reader by sacrificing the inherent pleasures of storytelling.

Paul Auster Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Paul Benjamin Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 3, 1947, and grew up in the suburbs of Newark. He benefited early from the influence of an uncle who was a skilled translator and who encouraged his nephew’s developing interest in writing and literature. In the summer between high school and college, Auster traveled to Europe, returning to the United States to attend Columbia University. He supported himself during his college years with a variety of freelance jobs, including translation and interpretation. Auster graduated from Columbia in 1969 with a B.A. in English and comparative literature, and he received his M.A. in the literature of the Renaissance the following year. Auster returned to Paris in 1971 and lived in France until 1974.

Back in New York in late 1974, Auster married the writer Lydia Davis. Together they worked on translations, and Auster began to publish poetry, reviews, and essays. In 1977, their son Daniel was born. Auster was at a low point in his life at this time—his marriage was failing, and he was unhappy with his writing career and having financial difficulties. By 1979 his marriage had ended. When his father died suddenly of a heart attack and left him a small inheritance, Auster was able to write without financial worry. He continued to work on poetry and translation, but by 1980 he had begun work on The Invention of Solitude, which includes a tribute to his father.

In 1981, Auster met...

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Paul Auster Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Benjamin Auster (AW-stur) was described in 1992 by Sven Birkerts as “the ghost at the banquet of contemporary American letters” because his modernist-grounded works did not fit active categories of debate. Since then, his presence in American and world literature has been observed by many. Born in Newark, New Jersey, to third-generation Jewish parents who never attended college, his mother, Queenie, was thirteen years younger than her husband, Samuel Auster, a landlord in Jersey City. When Auster was three years old, his sister was born, and within five years psychological disorders that would disturb her into adult life were evident. Before Auster attended high school, his parents stored several boxes of books for his uncle, Allan Mandelbaum, the poet and translator of Ovid, Vergil, and Danté, who later tutored Auster in writing poetry. This literary “inheritance,” his middle-class parents’ squabbles over finances, and their eventual divorce—all recurring themes in Auster’s life—shaped his relationship with money and materialism and his desire to be a writer.{$S[A]Benjamin, Paul;Auster, Paul}

Translation of French poetry figured prominently in Auster’s training as a student at Columbia University, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1969 and a master’s degree in comparative literature in 1970. His time there coincided with a period of social unrest, though he was never directly involved with politics. He reviewed books and films in the Columbia Daily Spectator and the Columbia Review, sometimes under the pseudonym Paul Quinn, a sign of the prismatic sense of identity he would resort to later in his career. Disappointed by an exchange program’s unchallenging curriculum, in Paris in 1967 Auster withdrew from college but was reinstated the next fall at Columbia, regaining deferment from the threat of the Vietnam War draft. At Columbia, he encountered and sheltered H. L. Humes, the downtrodden novelist and cofounder of The Paris Review, whose rants about the end of capitalism influenced Moon Palace, which Auster began around this time. He studied intensely the American Renaissance, which The New York Trilogy investigates, and was drawn especially to the modernist “hunger artists” Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, and Knut Hamsun. They inform Auster’s compulsive belief that art can uncover new meaning, his sense of ethics, and his political skepticism. His works, especially In the Country of Last Things, also conceived around this time, examine and extend the moral philosophical aesthetics of these modernist influences.

Chance, a major theme of Auster’s writing, intervened when a high lottery draft number spared him from fighting in Vietnam. Instead of seeking a...

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