Sometimes the most interesting books are those that take big risks in trying to deal with the large issues in life. "In Paradise: A Novel," Peter Matthiessen's last work (he died in April) is just one of these books: a meditation on the Holocaust. The novel centres on Clements Olin, an American academic who visits Auschwitz to complete research on the Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski, who survived the concentration camp only to commit suicide in 1951. Olin's visit coincides with a Zen retreat that has gathered at Auschwitz to contemplate its horrors. Matthiessen made such a Zen pilgrimage of his own, and while that visit may have informed this work, "In Paradise" is a work is fiction. It's through these pilgrim's conversations that issues such as grief, remembrance, exploitation, voyeurism and more are debated by the cast of characters. The novel is also a meditation on the possibilities of fiction to portray such events. Whether you find Matthiessen's approach successful or not (I'm keeping mum on the subject), he does approach the Holocaust with such gentleness and beautiful prose, that it would be hard to not recommend this novel.
Phil (Staff) (Queen's Square Library)