Originally published back in the mid-1980’s, Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel along the same lines of The Road and Blindness (both of which I loved). Like those two books, In The Country of Last Things drops the reader into the middle of a “situation” in that isn’t explicitly explained. We don’t know how things get to be how they are…we join the ride once society as we know it has disappeared.
Anna Blume is in an unnamed city trying to find out what happened to her brother William who was a journalist that was sent to the city to send back dispatches as to what was going on. He was never heard from again. The city is in ruins, its building and its government have collapsed. Anna makes references to how life outside the city is different and better, but we can’t get a clear picture of how different that life is from the one we know. In the city, things are definitey bad. There are suicide cults and everyone is scrounging for food and a place to live.
It is even worse for the ones who fight their hunger. Thinking about food too much can only lead to trouble. These are the ones who are obsessed, who refuse to give in to the facts. They prowl the streets at all hours, scavenging for morsels, taking enourmous risks for even the smallest crumb. No matter how much they are able to find, it will never be enough. they eat without ever filling themselves, tearing into their food with animal haste, their bony fingers picking, their quivering jaws never shut. Most of it dribbles down their chins, and what they manage to swallow, they usually throw up again in a few minutes. It is a slow death, as if food were a fire, a madness, burning them up from within. They think they are eating to stay alive, but in the end they are the ones who are eaten.
In The Country of Last Thingswas a short and engrossing novel. The tale was character driven as we follow Anna’s descent into hell. She tries to survive and make a life for herself in this horrid city. Her tale is dark and lonely. I’ve read a handful of books by Auster and enjoyed them all but this one now ranks amongst my favorites. Like many of his other works this novel leaves lots of unanswered questions. It is still haunting me several weeks after finishing it.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoyed Blindness or The Road.