(1994), a historical novel by Paul Auster, follows a boy who joins a circus troupe and experiences sides of America he didn’t know existed. Critics, who praise the book for its characterization and setting, note that the central character’s journey symbolizes America’s own “coming of age,” and what it means to be American. Auster is an award-winning author best known for his portrayals of America. An international bestseller, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.Mr. Vertigo
begins in 1920s St. Louis, Missouri. Since his parents died a few years ago, nine-year-old Walt Rawley lives with his aunt and uncle. They don’t treat him well; they make him stay outside until it’s dark and ee doesn’t attend school. Without any prospects, all he longs for is someone to love him and treat him like family.
One day, Walt meets Master Yehudi. Yehudi worries about Walt because he is always alone. He asks Walt if he wants to learn how to fly so he can escape his troubles. Unsurprisingly, Walt says yes and leaves his old life behind. Yehudi takes Walt to his own farmhouse in Cibola, Kansas, where he meets the other members of Yehudi’s self-made family: a Native American woman and an African American boy called Aesop.
Normally, Walt only associates with white people. When he first meets his new housemates, he isn’t friendly towards them. Yehudi warns Walt to get over his racism if he wants to make it in America rather than being left out in the cold. Out of options and desperate to stay in his new home, Walt tries harder to get to know the woman, Sioux, and Aesop. He takes on work around the farm to earn his keep.
Yehudi tells Walt there are thirty-three steps to learning how to fly. The steps increase in difficulty until the final stage, levitation. The first few steps aren’t too challenging, but Walt soon understands just how difficult the tests will be. For example, Yehudi cuts off part of his finger to make him more aerodynamic. He also buries him underground for twenty-four hours with nothing but a small straw to help him breathe.
These tests are designed to give Walt courage and to teach him that anything is possible if he believes hard enough. Although Walt struggles and fails many times, he finally learns how to levitate and fly. Sioux tells him how proud she is and, for the first time in a long while, Walt feels genuinely loved.
Everything changes when the Ku Klux Klan arrives one night. They tear through the farmhouse and murder Aesop and Sioux. Although the murders devastate both Yehudi and Walt, Yehudi doesn’t want Walt to lose sight of his goal—making money from his flying skills. Walt practices every day until he is confident that he can fly on command, and Yehudi books him his first show.
Walt’s first show gets off to a bad start when the audience boos him offstage for dressing up as an angel. He chooses a modest costume for his next performance and the audience loves it. As Walt and Yehudi travel around the state, word spreads, and Walt becomes a national success. Fame, however, brings its own difficulties.
Finding out about Walt’s new skills, Walt’s uncle, Uncle Slim, kidnaps him for ransom. Yehudi refuses to pay the ransom because he believes Walt can escape on his own. It takes over a month, but Walt finds a way to fly out of the house to escape Uncle Slim’s clutches. Yehudi tells him that he would have paid the ransom eventually.
After a while, Yehudi puts Walt back to work. Everything goes well for a few years until Walt hits puberty: he can’t fly as well, and he gets headaches after every flight. Hating to disappoint Yehudi, Walt doesn’t know what to do. Yehudi tells him there is one possibility—castration. If Walt lets Yehudi castrate him, then he will stay boyish forever, and he won’t be weighed down by the responsibilities of adulthood.
Walt refuses castration because he doesn’t want to lose his identity. He decides that there must be another way to perform. He asks Yehudi to drive him to Hollywood; Yehudi agrees. On route, they are ambushed by Uncle Slim, who shoots Yehudi and steals Walt’s money. Yehudi dies, and Walt promises to avenge his death.
Three years later, Walt tracks down Uncle Slim. He gave up his career to hunt Uncle Slim from one corner of America to the other; now it all feels worth it. Walt runs a club for a while until he enlists in the US Army. After serving in World War II, he decides to retire to Kansas to look after Yehudi’s old farmhouse.