Destruction, divorce and death; there is little that Paul Auster scruples to visit upon his characters. Not that this a doom laden 880 pages. Yep, 880 pages, 4 3 2 1 is a heavyweight novel in every sense.
We begin as Isaac Reznikoff arrives at Ellis Island from Minsk. He is advised to take an American name, like Rockefeller. When they come for him to give his name to the immigration authorities, his carefully prepared spiel deserts him and he blurts out “Ikh hob fargessen”, Yiddish for ‘I have forgotten’. This is misheard and he becomes Ichabod Ferguson. Fast forward to the birth of his grandson, Archibald Isaac Ferguson. Now the fun can begin.
On the surface 4 3 2 1 is all about what if, just like Sliding Doors but more literary. It’s that game that all but the most secure of us play at one point or another. How would my life have panned out if my parents were rich or if I went to a different university? During the course of this big what if session we are immersed in a crash course of mid century American politics and thrown into the mind of a sex obsessed teenage boy.
Delve a little deeper and 4 3 2 1 becomes all about writing. The germ of an idea that niggles. The drive and determination to sit down and write everyday until the story is on paper. Polishing prose until it glisters. Plucking up the courage to show the product of your deepest imagination to other eyes. Not only are you told the story of our hero but also of his stories. One magnificent one is all about a pair of shoes, they are Soul Mates!
You need time to read 4 3 2 1, sometimes the Kindle told me that the chapter would take 52 minutes to read. That is longer than I usually manage to grab with a book. Perservere, it is well worth worth it, although I confess that I did skim some of the treatise on American politics (I did that with battle bits in War and Peace too). Paul Auster gives a wonderful insight into the undeniable urge that great writers have to write and I learnt lots about the gender and anti war politics of sixties America too.
DISCLAIMER: I was sent an ARC from the Fabre and Fabre via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Published by Faber and Faber
Hardback £20, Kindle £9.29