Matthiessen’s last novel focuses on ‘strange power’ of Auschwitz

05/18/2014 12:25 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

“In Paradise” by Peter Matthiessen (Riverhead, 246 pages, $27.95)

Toward the end of the late Peter Matthiessen’s novel “In Paradise,” Clement Olin, a 55-year-old American academic, takes one last look around the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he has been on a two-week retreat with a group of 140, including descendants of both perpetrators and survivors. He imagines the not-too-distant day when the land is reclaimed by commerce and time:

“The last barracks, the last guard post, all that barbed wire and broken brick, will be stripped off and scavenged … the weather will transform the ash pits into lily ponds, and fresh meadows will be suitable once more for butterflies, wildflowers, children’s voices, Sunday strolling, picnics, trysts. … Even its picturesque old name, Brzezinka, can only enhance the marketing potential of the grand development to follow. The Birches? River Meadows? And what will happen to its strange power?”

To capture that “strange power” was the last literary task undertaken by this three-time National Book Award winner.

Matthiessen died at 86 on April 5.

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