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The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster (2002)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312421818, Paperback)Vermont professor David Zimmer is a broken man. The protagonist of Paul Auster's 10th novel, The Book of Illusions, hits a period in which life seemed to be working aggressively against him. After his wife and sons are killed in an airplane crash, Zimmer becomes an alcoholic recluse, fond of emptying his bottle of sleeping pills into his palm, contemplating his next move. But one night, while watching a television documentary, Zimmer's attention is caught by the silent-film comedian Hector Mann, who had disappeared without a trace in 1929 and who was considered long-dead. Soon, Zimmer begins work on a book about Mann's newly discovered films (copies of which had been sent, anonymously, to film archives around the world). The spirit of Hector Mann keeps David Zimmer alive for a year. When a letter arrives from someone claiming to be Hector Mann's wife, announcing that Mann had read Zimmer's book and would like to meet him, it is as if fate has tossed Zimmer from one hand to the other: from grief and loss to desire and confusion.
Although film images are technically "illusions," this deft and layered novel is not so much about conscious illusion or trickery as about the traces we leave behind us: words, images, memories. Children are one obvious trace, but in this book, they are not allowed to carry their parents forward. They die early: Hector Mann losing his 3-year-old son to a bee sting just as David Zimmer has lost his two sons in the crash. The second half of The Book of Illusions is given over to a love affair, and to Zimmer's attempt to save something of Hector Mann, and of the others he has loved. In the end, what really survives of us on earth--what flickering immortality we are permitted--is left to the reader to surmise. --Regina Marler
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:23 -0400)
"Six months after losing his wife and two young sons in an airplane crash, Vermont professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. Then, watching television one night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by the silent comedian Hector Mann. Zimmer's interest is piqued, and soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to study the works of this mysterious figure, who vanished from sight in 1929." "Who was Hector Mann? An Argentinian-born comic genius, with a signature white suit and fluttering black mustache, a master of "backpedals and dodges...sudden torques and lunging pavanes...double takes and hop-steps and rhumba swivels." Presumed dead for sixty years, he had flashed briefly across American movie screens, tantalizing the public with the promise of a brilliant future, and then, just as the silent era came to an end, he walked out of his house one January morning and was never heard from again." "Zimmer's research leads him to write the first full-length study of Hector's films. When the book is published the following year, a letter turns up in Zimmer's mailbox bearing a return address from a small town in New Mexico - supposedly written by Hector's wife: "Hector has read your book and would like to meet you. Are you interested in paying us a visit?" Is the letter a hoax, or is Hector Mann still alive? Torn between doubt and belief, Zimmer hesitates, until one night a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever."--BOOK JACKET.
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