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New York Publishers

His New York publishers were ambivalent about Auster’s European reputation initially—partially, it may have been about bragging rights. Gerald Howard, a senior editor at Viking Press, claims that he read In the Country of Last Things and City of Glass when they “were barely out from Sun & Moon Press and had not made any ripple yet.”109 Viking bought the reprint rights to The Invention of Solitude via Carol Mann from Messerli; the latter had served in effect as gatekeepers for Viking. It was at that moment, says Howard, that he began “the task of presenting Paul’s unusual work, at first to the different departments within Viking, and then to the world at large.”

I wanted to do justice to the books’ philosophical depth . . . so I leaned heavily on a line from the Washington Post Book World, “It’s as if Kafka had gotten hooked on the gumshoe game,” and [I] dragged out Hitchcock for comparative purposes . . . when discussing The Locked Room. . . . But there was never one great breakthrough moment during this period, or even later. Rather, there has been a steadily increasing readership and volume of word of mouth in this country. [But also] a steady stream of foreign literary journalists and photographers makes its way to his home in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn to bring back word of lecrivain American. This is square in the not-so-grand tradition of important American talents in all the arts often finding their first and greatest . . . fame abroad.

Howard may be self-aggrandizing, but the French background was by now an essential part of Auster’s artistic capital. “He has so often been described as European, an adjective used in praise on this side of the Atlantic,” wrote the Guardian. Auster’s Wikipedia entry claims that “in 1970 he moved to Paris, France, where he earned a living translating French literature.”110 Not quite true, but it turned out to be useful in selling to the American reader as well.

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