Jewish American novelist Paul Auster dies aged 77

The acclaimed writer was the son of two Jewish immigrants from Poland


Paul Auster penned more than 30 titles and his work was translated into 40 languages (Photo: Getty Images)

The Jewish American novelist Paul Auster has died aged 77.

Auster died of complications from lung cancer on Tuesday evening at his home in Brooklyn, New York.

His friend and fellow author Jacki Lyden told the AFP news agency Auster died with his wife Siri Hustvedt and daughter Sophie Auster by his side.

Hustvedt, who is also an author, announced in March 2023 that her husband was being treated for cancer, having been diagnosed the previous December.

Auster, who grew up in New Jersey, the son of two Jewish immigrants from Poland, penned over 30 titles over the course of his career, and was best known for writing on themes of identity, coincidence, chance and fate.

The author Joyce Carol Oates described Auster’s work in 2010 as “highly stylised, quirkily riddlesome postmodernist fiction in which narrators are rarely other than unreliable and the bedrock of plot is continually shifting.”

Perhaps the most celebrated of his works are the books that comprise his New York Trilogy, the titles of which were originally published sequentially in 1985 and 1986 before being sold as one standalone volume.

The trilogy –  composed of City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986) –  a series of detective books, posed existential questions about identity.

Speaking of Auster’s work in 1987, critic and screenwriter Stephen Schiff said: “The more [Auster’s detectives] stalk their eccentric quarry, the more they seem actually to be stalking the Big Questions – the implications of authorship, the enigmas of epistemology, the veils and masks of language.”

Some of Auster’s more recent titles include Winter Journal, 4 3 2 1, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2017, and A Life in Words. His work has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Interviewed in 2017 about 4321, which imagines four four possible lives for the novel’s protagonist, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, who was born, like him, in 1947 in Newark, New Jersey, and comes from a family of Central European Jewish immigrants, Auster said: “I’m not Archie, this is not an autobiographical novel… He just shares my timeline and geography, but he’s not me.”
The death of his father, Samuel, in January 1979, was part of the reason he wrote his first memoir The Invention of Solitude, which was published in 1982. In it he explores his relationship with his father.

A review of the book in the New York Times noted that the death “overwhelmed him not only with shock but also with a desperate need to examine at last his memory of the man who had been his father, his own feelings about both their lives, and to put it all into words.”

His last book Bloodbath Nation, published last year, is another exploration of his family history, divulging the chilling details of a shooting his family tried to keep secret.

Auster’s paternal grandfather was shot and killed by his wife, who was acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity.

Speaking about how this would have impacted his own father Auster said: “A boy cannot live through this kind of thing without being affected by it as a man.”

In an interview with Turkey's Hürriyet newspaper in 2012 Auster said he would not visit the country in solidarity with writers and journalists who were imprisoned there.

Responding to his protest, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: "As if we need you! Who cares if you come, or not?"

The author, poet and filmmaker was born in born in Newark, New Jersey, to Jewish parents of Austrian descent.

Auster attended Columbia University in New York and, after graduating, he spent four years in France.

Prior to his marriage to Hustvedt he was married to the short story writer Lydia Davis.

In 2021, his son Daniel, from his marriage with Davis, was found guilty of negligent homicide in the death of his 10-month-old daughter Ruby from an overdose.

Ruby died after ingesting heroin and Daniel died of an overdose 10 months later. Auster never spoke publicly about their deaths.

He is survived by Hustvedt and their daughter Sophie.

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