The interplay of memory, identity and the creative imagination informs this portrait of the artist as a young man, a memoir that the novelist’s avid readership will find particularly compelling.
Even by the standards of the distinctive literary stylist and his formal ingenuity, this is an unusual book. Auster introduces it as something of a companion piece to his previous Winter Journal (2012), as he compares the two: “It was one thing to write about your body, to catalogue the manifold knocks and pleasures experienced by your physical self, but exploring your mind as you remember it from childhood will no doubt be a more difficult task—perhaps an impossible one. Still, you feel compelled to give it a try.” While writing throughout in the second person, inviting readers inside his head, Auster has divided the book into four distinct and very different parts. The first is a childhood psychobiography, to the age of 12, recognizing the distortions and holes in memory while discovering the magic of literature, “the mystifying process by which a person can leap into a mind that is not his own.” The second consists of exhaustively detailed synopses of two movies that he saw in his midteens, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), noteworthy for the way such a formative experience “burns itself into your heart forever.” The third compiles college letters to his future (and now former) wife, the author/translator Lydia Davis, unearthed when she was compiling her archives—“you have lost contact with that person [he writes of his younger self], and as you listen to him speak on the page, you scarcely recognize him anymore.” The fourth is a scrapbook, not of the author and his family, but of images from the era that remain emblazoned on his consciousness.
Auster has long rendered life as something of a puzzle; here are some significant, illuminating pieces.