Winter Journal is indeed a journal - a somewhat limited scope style of memoir, however its appeal is anything but limited in scope. It is a not a full-blown memoir, because it is a somewhat generalized stock-taking from the point of view of a mid-sixties-ish Jewish man living in Brooklyn (Mr. Auster): a review of salient themes from the past, undertaken with a view to the future - and weighs in at a relatively slim 230 pages. The scope is Mr. Auster's entire life: from his earliest memories to the moment he removes the nib of his fountain pen from the paper he writes on, with a sometimes staccato and unpredictable selection of moments in between.
There are three sections which serve as themes that I discern, roughly: the body; places; relationships. Each one, while providing part of a united whole, stands somewhat independently, taking the reader on a ride that can be on the surface (I dare not say 'superficial' which none of them are) perhaps consisting lists of favorite childhood candies, uses for one's hands, which on their face might be superficial, but are extremely evocative; or deep, very deep, to the essence of that most basic of questions: who am I; what made me; how do I measure up, whether as a driver, a man, a human being. The detail with which the reader is drawn along is incredible, and is assembled like a Swiss watch: note, for example, that there is virtually no description of a woman who figures in the chronology over a long period, whether of physical attributes or personality (wife #1), but we are given a strong sense of wife #2 who endures.
The story that is told is so true, so real, that any reader who has reached middle age cannot fail to be moved by it. And it is absolutely provocative, in the sense that it provides a framework of sorts, for the kinds of thoughts and reminiscences that middle-aged people have. It can take your breath away. Really.
Winter Journal is one of those rare books that you really look forward to sitting down and reading; I finished it in a few days, during my rare free time. But in between, I thought about it, which reinforced my desire to get back to reading it. If I had the time, I could have read it through in one sitting.
I really give the book four and three-quarter stars, would have given it five, but my reading reverie was diluted in two places, most especially in the nearly ten page recounting of the plot of the 1950 film D.O.A., with which I confess I became slightly bored, and towards the end with the lengthy discussion of the Minnesota branch of his family (in-laws), both of which do inspire the reader and the second of which helps wind down the book, but which have more significance and import to Mr. Auster and his family.
Thank you, Mr. Auster.