An Imperial Affliction (by Peter Van Houten) is a fictional book within John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.
It is Hazel Grace Lancaster's favorite book. An Imperial Affliction is about a girl named Anna who has a rare blood cancer. Set in the lower middle class of a central California town, Anna narrates her life with cancer. Despite her cancer, Anna creates a charity called The Anna Foundation for people with Cancer who want to cure Cholera. The author, Peter Van Houten, is a reclusive, anti-social alcoholic who treats his assistant Lidewij (Along with Hazel and Augustus) disrespectfully to the point where she resigns. At the end, he tells Hazel that the book was based on his daughter, he then tells her that she was a lot like Anna. The book was never truely finished as the girl who narrates it, Anna, dies or becomes too sick to write again. The book, in fact, is untruly
Is it a real book though? The answer is An Imperial Affliction the book over which Hazel and Gus fall head-over-heels in The Fault In Our Stars — is “real.” The answer you’re probably looking for is that, no, An Imperial Affliction is not a book that exists in full in our corporeal world; you cannot find it at your local bookstore or on Amazon. Van Houten is, yes, an invention of Green’s for the purpose of the themes and story of The Fault In Our Stars — as is the epigraph to TFiOS, an apparent quote from An Imperial Affliction:
In a blog post from two years ago Green responded to a reader who’d nailed down the origin of An Imperial Affliction’s title — the Emily Dickinson poem “There’s a certain Slant of light” — to wax (kind of) poetic on “reality” in relation to the epitaph:
One of Green’s professed favorite books, the Great Gatsby, also includes a fabricated epitaph. That one read:
Both serve the purported purpose of an epigraph — to establish a book’s themes at the get-go — and both are credited to fictional authors.
Green, it could be argued, took his to the next level: Peter Van Houten is a crucial character in The Fault In Our Stars, and “his” words don’t just kick off the book then disappear — both his thematic and his physical presence is felt throughout the entire story. He plays a huge role in one of the book’s themes, and one that often gets overshadowed by its larger dealings with death and romantic love: The love one has with a story — or with the author who created that story.
In that way Van Houten serves both as a proxy and a foil for Green’s persona. As he wrote in a FAQ for TFiOS when asked if Van Houten is at all based on him:
An Imperial Affliction is a book-within-a-book; you can’t go out and buy it, though you can gaze upon the beautiful book covers fans have designed for it. Similarly, Peter Van Houten is a sort of author-within-an-author; he’s not a physically existing human, and he’s not John Green, even though he came from John Green. But both Van Houten and An Imperial Affliction came from a few other things as well, as Green explores here:
If you desire to know more about An Imperial Affliction and its story and themes, you can read up on that here.