Timbuktu Summary
by Paul Auster

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A noted novelist, poet, translator, filmmaker, and essayist, Paul Auster first gained critical acclaim with his NEW YORK TRILOGY (1985-1987). The trilogy’s postmodern novels are intellectually challenging mysteries and marked Auster as one of the leading practitioners of “experimental fiction.” Since then, he has published such intriguing novels as MOON PALACE, (1989), THE MUSIC OF CHANCE (1990), LEVIATHAN (1992), and MR. VERTIGO (1994). For TIMBUKTU, Auster has once again created an unusual misfit as his leading character. Born William Gurevitch, this homeless man has renamed himself Willy G. Christmas. He hopes to do good in the world and write visionary poetry.

The would-be saint and poet has a most loyal companion in the dog Mr. Bones. This is no ordinary dog though. Mr. Bones understands the English language and seems also to understand the human soul. Willy is in very poor health and he wishes to give all of his writings to his high school English teacher before he dies. Walking from Brooklyn to Baltimore, Mr. Bones and Willy spend their last days together. Mr. Bones is terrorized with the prospect of living without Willy. Auster’s prose is full of compassion and humor in his description of the bond that exists between Mr. Bones and Willy. After Willy’s death, Mr. Bones attempts to fit into the world that stares him in the face. Willy still appears to Mr. Bones in his dreams. In these dreams, Willy tells him about a sort of heaven called “Timbuktu,” where everything is bliss. Confused by life in the real world, Mr. Bones considers joining Willy in this “Timbuktu” as soon as he can.

Auster has created a rich and endearing story of the bond between man and dog, but he may have taken it a step too far when he suggests that a creature—no matter how much he loved his master—would consider ending his life in order to find bliss in the next world rather than hold onto the memory of his master while continuing to live in this world.