4 3 2 1: A Novel

Paul Auster

4 3 2 1: A Novel
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4 3 2 1: A Novel

Paul Auster

Paul Auster’s first novel in seven years. His greatest, most provocative, most heartbreaking, most satisfying work. A sweeping story of birthright and possibility, of love and the fullness of life itself. A masterpiece.

On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born.

From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast.

Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plot of each Ferguson’s story rushes on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid twentieth-century America. A boy grows up-again and again and again.

As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written 4 3 2 1 is an unforgettable tour de force, the crowning work of this masterful writer’s extraordinary career.


Firstly, do not let the size of Auster’s new novel stop you from choosing to read 4 3 2 1. There is a rhythm, as in all of Auster’s work that allows the size to become immaterial. Once you are in, there is simply no turning back.

Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the character born of various fates in Auster’s presumptuous and breathtakingly courageous novel, worries about what it means to be himself. He says, after all, that ‘he had several selves inside him,’ and that meant that ‘in the end he was as large as everyone or as small as no one.’ And hence it is here that the story within the story of this extraordinary novel originates. 4 3 2 1 focuses on Ferguson as four identical boys that lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Auster has realised the butterfly effect in its entirety and has crafted a mythology of family fortunes, tragedies, skills, friendships and ambitions, thwarted or not, positioned on one steadfast character. Spread throughout the narrative you are reminded that Auster, master storyteller, is playing with destinies.

This is Auster’s first novel in seven years and he has mentioned in an interview that the final three years were hard. Perhaps it’s because as Auster reaches 70 years old he is reflecting on all the different paths he could have led. Ferguson was, after all born in the same year as the virtuoso himself. The final chapter brings the concept home of this novel being a wonderful examination of the author’s own life of possibilities. Reading this novel will make you stop and imagine what could have been, if only.

Clearly this story is for fans of Auster’s past work but also for those that were intrigued by Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life or even Foer’s Here I Am. It is a novel both for the dreamer and for the pragmatic reader. It is an experiment of course, but one that watches and cares.

Chris Gordon is the Events Manager for Readings.

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