Is Peter Van Houten's 'Imperial Affliction' a Real Book? Here's What You Need To Know About John Green's Creations

John Green was once a little evasive when it comes to the question of whether or not An Imperial Affliction , by Peter Van Houten — 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:

“As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean: ‘Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it, Rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.’ ‘What’s that?’ Anna asked. ‘Water,’ the Dutchman said. ‘Well, and time.’ — Peter Van Houten, 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, T he Great Gatsby , also includes a fabricated epitaph. That one read:

“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;

If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,

Till she cry, “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,

I must have you!”

— Thomas Parke D’Invilliers

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.