by Kelvin Smith
“My idea was this: to form a company that would publish books about the forgotten ones, to rescue the stories and facts and documents before they disappeared – and shape them into a continuous narrative of a life.”
Nathan Glass, the narrator of Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies is no publisher: he is a retired insurance man. But towards the end of the book he has a publishing idea. Waiting in hospital to see if he has or has not had a heart attack, he comes up with Bios Unlimited, a firm that will write up and publish the life stories of ordinary people – “something that would outlive them, that would outlive us all”, possibly financed by “biography insurance”. As the book finishes there is a “brilliant blue sky” when Nathan leaves the hospital with this idea spinning in his head. “One should never underestimate the power of books”, he asserts, but things are about to change.
“It was eight o’clock when I stepped out onto the street, eight o’clock on the morning of September 11, 2001.”