"I heard this story from Auggie Wren. Since Auggie doesn't come off too well in it, at least not as well as he'd like to, he's asked me not to use his real name. Other than that, the whole business about the lost wallet and the blind woman and the Christmas dinner is just as he told it to me."
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story
In November 1990 Paul Auster received a phone call from the editor of the Op-Ed page in The New York Times. He told Auster that he had been toying with the idea of commissioning a work of fiction for the Op-Ed page on Christmas Day, and wondering if Auster was willing to write it. Auster had never written a short story, and was not sure he would be able to come up with an idea, so he had to think about it.
A few days went by and just when he was about to give up, he opened a tin of his Schimmelpennicks, the little cigars he liked so well, and started thinking about the man who sold them in the cigar shop in Brooklyn. He started thinking about the kinds of encounters you have in New York with people you see every day but don’t really know. And little by little the story began to take shape in his mind. It literally came out of a tin of cigars.
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story was published on the 25th December 1990 in The New York Times.
In this Audio recording from NPR you can listen to Paul Auster reading Auggie Wren's Christmas Story.
Tasks and Activities
- How would you characterize a traditional Christmas story? Which elements would you expect to find?
- How does this short story comply with the Christmas story genre?
- Since Auggie does not come off too well in the story, he does not want to reveal his real name. What do you think? Is truth always for the best?
- The story is set in Brooklyn. What can be said about the setting? In which way is the setting typical American – or is it?
- An important theme in the story is time. How is this expressed?
- Paul Auster is well-known for telling many stories within one story. In many ways his stories are like a Chinese box. How is this evident in this narrative? What function does such a narrative technique have?
- Paul Auster worked with Wayne Wang to make the story into a film, Smoke. Watch the actual Christmas story in black and white footage which was played along the credits at the end of the film. Although not a word is said, we understand the story. Tom Waits sings “Innocent When You Dream,” and we get the good Merry Christmas feeling, or do we?
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