The condition of childhood is by and large to be an object and not a subject, someone to whom things happen rather than who happens to the world; the way we get from one state to the other is self-consciousness and identity. For young Auster this movement usually takes the form of pure ordeal, as when his earliest recognition of being Jewish is rewarded with serial nightmares spent fleeing from Nazis "bent on shooting you, on tearing off your arms and legs, on burning you at the stake and turning you into a pile of ashes." There are also the bone-deep disappointments of reality, in all its gray tones, when it fails to match the golden myths of mid-century America: Paul's father doesn't have war stories like the other boys' fathers; seen in the flesh, his baseball hero doesn't look like the guy on television at all. Thomas Edison, the idol of his New Jersey boyhood, "turned out to have been a rabid, hate-filled anti-Semite" who sacked Auster Sr. from a job at Menlo Park after discovering he had a Hebrew on his hands. Other people, he finds, maintain a permanent filibuster of the vote on who you are. Only a few blinks separate the blissful age when "it seemed perfectly credible that a cow could jump over the moon" and the image of our hero sitting alone in an empty classroom while his peers rehearse Christmas carols, a "self-declared outcast," and yet nothing more than a Jewboy to the town bullies, with his books and his poetry to protect him.