PETER MATTHIESSEN, a widely admired American writer, died at age 86 in April this year just a few days after the publication of “In Paradise.” The novel capped a lengthy career that included the co-founding of the literary journal The Paris Review and the publication of numerous prize-winning works of fiction and non-fiction, perhaps most notably “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” (1965) and “The Snow Leopard” (1978).

In addition to writing, Matthiessen was an environmentalist and Zen instructor (and for a few years a CIA agent). As part of a lifelong exploration of the nature of good and evil, Matthiessen participated in three international Zen retreats and seminars held at Auschwitz. It is just such a gathering, organized by an ex-Orthodox, ex-hippie Jew-Buddhist called Ben Lama that serves as the setting, in 1996, for “In Paradise.”

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