Review

The Book of Illusions

by Paul Auster



Hector Mann directed and starred in a handful of silent comedies in
the 1920s. He was just beginning to realize his potential as a
filmmaker when bad studio management and the introduction of sound
--- deadly for a man with a heavy Spanish accent --- ended his
career. Shortly thereafter, he disappeared without a trace. Because
he was not quite famous, no one, it seems, looked very hard for
him.

His now obscure films appeal to David Zimmer, a Vermont professor
who is slowly and painfully coping with the death of his wife and
sons in a plane crash. He throws himself into the few films of
Mann's surviving oeuvre and writes the sole definitive work on the
films of Hector Mann. The book comes to the attention of Hector
Mann's wife, Frieda, and she invites Professor Zimmer to meet the
mysterious filmmaker, who is currently dying in New Mexico. Zimmer
is suspicious of the offer and refuses to go until he meets Alma, a
close connection of the Manns who grew up on the ranch where they
shut themselves off from the world. Alma convinces him that not
only is Hector Mann alive, but he never stopped making
movies.

Although the Manns believe that David Zimmer ought to see these
films, Hector has ordered that his lifework should be burned within
24 hours of his death, and his time is growing short. One of the
many charms of THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS is the stories within the
story. These digressions are full of grace and relevance, whether
anecdotes or film plots. Alma tells David what happened to Hector,
and his life story is full of surprises, turnabouts, and tragedy.
It only makes David even more curious to see the films that sprung
from such a man, and he conquers his fear of flying to make the
trip to New Mexico, unaware that his presence during Hector Mann's
last days will act as a catalyst for further misfortune and
loss.

THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS is a complex study of loss, with nearly every
character wrestling with grief in some fashion. Movie characters
don't exist; the dead used to exist, but no longer. Both David
Zimmer and Hector Mann find solace in the movies, comfortable in
the

philosophically parallel planes of the fictional and the dead. One
would expect that a book so immersed in pain and self-blame to be
very depressing, but it is not. It is lively, fast-paced, and often
funny, a celebration of bright images before the screen goes
dark.

Reviewed by Colleen Quinn on January 21, 2011

The Book of Illusions
by Paul Auster

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 321 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312421818
  • ISBN-13: 9780312421816