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Under My Skin: Volume One Of My Autobiography, To 1949

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  565 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
This is the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobigraphy, beginning with her childhood in Africa, taking us through her marriages, the birth of her children, involvement in communist politics, and ending on her arrival in London in 1949 with the typescript of her first novel, The Grass is Singing, in her suitcase.
Paperback, 419 pages
Published 1995 by Flamingo (first published 1994)
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Jan 08, 2012 umberto rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Reading this 21-chapter autobiography, “Under My Skin,” by Doris Lessing was inspiringly and interestingly enjoyable to me. One of the reasons is that she’s been destined to be a literary titan since around 64-65 years ago when she arrived in London with “the typescript of her first novel, The Grass is Singing, in her suitcase” (back cover); moreover, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. Therefore, I found it formidable to write on her memoir since I’ve been one of her readers living ...more
Sep 29, 2015 Eleanor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
She sees herself and others so clearly and is so honest about herself, that it is hard to see much point in someone writing her biography. Early in the book she discusses the problems of telling the truth about other people in her life:

"I have known not a few of the famous, and even one or two of the great, but I do not believe it is the duty of friends, lovers, comrades, to tell all. The older I get the more secrets I have, never to be revealed and this, I know, is a common condition of people
Jan 27, 2016 Deea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobel
"I dreamed every night about the sea, washing in and out of my sleep in sad slow tides of nostalgia, of longing."
Feb 03, 2009 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After Lessing won her Nobel, I began reading her work, as well as whatever interviews and videos were available. I loved the straightforward way she told her stories, I liked the intelligence she put into them, and I appreciated the scope and breadth of her oeuvre. When I learned that she had a two-volume autobiography published I pick it up immediately. It is as frank and enjoyable as you would ever hope it to be. It was fascinating for me to read the story of a proper young girl who would late ...more
Jan 04, 2009 Vi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
One of the best biographies I've ever read. Lessing is not only one of the great writers in English of the 20th century, she is certainly also one of the most vivid. Highly recommended, and especially if you don't usually read autobiographies.
Rachel Hirstwood
This autobiography feels very honest by the Nobel Laureate author, Doris Lessing. I have only read one book by Lessing before - the Golden Notebook - which I absolutely loved. And I remember as I read that, I thought, I bet this woman has had a life that is really interesting. It seems my prediction was right.

I am amazed how often I read something that made me think - that's just how I felt as a child, as a teenager and as a young adult. While my life is in no way especially similar to Lessing's
Bryan Murphy
Nov 24, 2014 Bryan Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a happy chance that this came into my hands, [thanks again to the splendid municipal libraries of Turin, Italy], for I am rarely tempted by autobiographies (or biographies). Usually, the single subject gets boring. Lessing is different: there is not a dull moment in this book. She breathes life not only into her former self/selves but into everyone and every place she encountered. For anybody who has lived in post-colonial Africa, her portrayal of colonial Africa is a revelation: an evoca ...more
O.R. Melling
Nov 22, 2013 O.R. Melling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, as to be expected from such a writer. I was enthralled by her childhood, her battles with her mother, her tragic memories of her father and WWI, her general statements on life et al. Like others who have commented here, I found the least interesting part to be her political activities with the Communist Party in south Africa. What a basically useless group of intellectuals, doing so little to protest apartheid itself and thinking they were of importance! And no mention of black radica ...more
Mar 23, 2009 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I have to read everything by a writer--everything--before I can be satisfied (Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Alice Munro). I've been in a Doris Lessing state of mind since fall 2007, and thankfully I have plenty of work still ahead of me. Now that I no longer have my law school mentor to guide & inspire me on a daily basis, I find myself increasingly dependent on Doris Lessing's wisdom, anger and common sense. I read her out loud to Andy. And I wrestle wi ...more
Dierdre Milin
Sep 16, 2008 Dierdre Milin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Doris Lessing is brutally honest and tells her story with anger, pride, and great wit. I have loved her writtings for so long and was taken aback at the decisions she has made in her life. I was almost disappointed in her but years after reading the book can look back and think wow what a couragous woman for telling her tale.
Mar 15, 2013 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a very long book, but knowing nothing of colonial southern Africa, i found it pretty interesting. also, the portrait of a woman who so easily shrugged off her own children was a little odd. but if men can do it, why not women.
Jul 28, 2014 Guillermo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La parte de la infancia es interesante por las cuestiones geográficas.
Pero mejor es cuando se va de su casa y se hace comunista, se casa, y tiene hijos mientras termina la guerra y empieza la posguerra.
Cuenta y trata de entender las razones y sinrazones, las suyas y las de los demás.
Uli Vogel
Aug 23, 2014 Uli Vogel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend any woman should read this. It's amazing how Doris Lessing steps into the mind and motivations of her younger self at any stage of her life.
Jan 11, 2016 Inaniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Feb 06, 2009 Cheryll rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like Doris Lessing's novels but this memoir was disappointing.
Feb 18, 2017 Skye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My interest was piqued when a writer mentioned that Doris Lessing was one of the authors she read when she was young.

This book was interesting from the start. But shit got real when she became a Communist. I have never read about non-asian people becoming communist, the process and the reasoning behind it all. Needless to say I was fascinated from there on. Definitely going to check out more of her work, and also more about the experience of communism etc.

She also writes beautifully, her storie
Apr 25, 2013 Callie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Doris Lessing is one of my favorite writers. Tippy top of my list. So of course her autobiography did not disappoint.

She is quite simply a heavyweight--she writes candidly about her fraught relationship with her mother, her somewhat casual marriages, her affairs. I loved her writing about Communism. So fascinating. Why she joined the Communist party, why she became disaffected. She is always forthright, never pulls any punches and is also able to look outside herself and be fair to those she en
Apr 27, 2009 Bunny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I felt the narrative of this autobiography was a little dry (thus the 4 stars rather an 5), it is an engrossing history a life spent in Southern Rhodesia. Lessing had the awareness many of us (certainly me)lack of the many contradictions of British white life in black Africa. At an early age, she understood the wrongness of the white occupation, the injustice of the treatment of the native Africans, the blind prejudice of her society and family. I think many of us, in our early years an ...more
Cynthia Davidson
I appreciated Lessings' searing honesty in this accounting of her life from birth to 1949, when she left Africa for England at age 30; after two marriages & giving birth to three children. Ahead of her time is an understatement, in terms of the choices she made & why she made them. Others may quibble with her independence of mind but at least she is able to articulate her reasons, rather than blindly following the society of lemmings which took her father over the cliff in WWI, & the ...more
Doris Lessing erscheint als selbstbewusste (und sich ihrer Reize stets bewusste), kluge, selbstständige Frau, die aber auch ein unglaubliches Bedürfnis nach Babys hat – was mancher modernen Frau als Widerspruch erscheinen mag, aber auch Konstellationen in den Romanen, die ich gelesen habe (Das Fünfte Kind, Und wieder die Liebe) erklärt. Manchmal hat es mich verärgert, dass sie auf ihre frühen Romane verweist, wenn man Näheres über eine bestimmte Lebensphase erfahren will. Hatte dann immer das Ge ...more
James F
The first volume of Lessing's autobiography. The early childhood portions are interesting enough, but the most interesting thing to me was matching her real life after about sixteen with the Children of Violence series, which has always been one of my favorites. The outlines are the same, although she modifies somewhat to make the novels more generally applicable, and combines figures, etc. It seems that the closest to her actual life is the third volume, A Ripple From the Storm, at least in ter ...more
Apr 18, 2014 Lynne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, 2013-2014
I wish I were more familiar with Lessing's many other works. She won the Nobel Prize in 2007. It would be useful to see how the raw material of one's life is crafted into art. In this autobiography, she frequently notes which stories or novels are based on certain episodes or people she knew growing up in Rhodesia. She is writing this as an older woman, so either she kept a good journal of her early years as a writer, Communist, mother, and free thinker, part of a white minority in the country t ...more
Annie Rachele
Mar 01, 2013 Annie Rachele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. This first volume of Lessing's autobiography takes on the big questions... like TIME:

"...I was holding my breath with concentration. It never ends, brain seemed to rock, my head was full of slowed time, time that has no end. For seconds, for a flash, I seemed to reach it - yes, that's it, I got it then...I was suddenly exhausted. Surely it must be time to get up? The watch said only ten minutes had gone past. Without meaning to, I let out a great yell of outrage, then slapp
Jul 30, 2013 Judy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only about twenty pages from the end did I get to almost like this author as a person. All through the book I felt I should, but could not. One has to admire a mind on such a quest throughout life and from such an early age; but this author is gripped in constraining influences: her miserable relationship with her deluded insensitive mother, and frustration with her father's inability to see a world beyond the influence of WW1 trenches. There's a pattern here, and perhaps my judgement is harsh. ...more
May 16, 2013 Lindsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
An amazing memoir that chronicles Lessing's childhood in Southern Rhodesia, two failed marriages and three pregnancies. Overall, it demonstrates how she refused to be trapped by circumstances; you get a glimpse of where the themes from her novels come from, like the political disillusionment and embracing of insanity. It feels very honest and reflective. It's the same period of her life covered in the first three books of The Children of Violence series, and this is just as good.
Dec 09, 2011 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, memoir
I don't agree with Lessing about everything, nor do I like everything she has written. With that disclaimer, I feel free to say that this is a great memoir. From her early life as a child of white immigrants to "Northern Rhodesia" to her life in South Africa first as a fairly conventional wife and mother and later as a divorced, remarried communist activist, Lessing is honest, witty and thoughtful. Interesting insights into the time period and also into the life of an extraordinary woman.
amanda eve
Jul 24, 2012 amanda eve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
This was more like 4.5 stars, but ultimately, I really did love this book. It's the type of book you want to revisit every few years, finding new wisdom every time.

Lessing has lived a fascinating life and is an incredible writer. Lessing is incredibly shrewd, and while her wry tone can occasionally shift into arrogance and disdain, especially when critiquing other, it did not really keep me from enjoying the book.
Jul 04, 2016 Ema rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, inghilterra
L'infanzia della scrittrice è già un romanzo ed è la parte che mi è piaciuta di più. I suoi genitori che partono per l'Africa sono la coppia reale ed emblematica su cui poi si formeranno tanti altri suoi personaggi fittizi. Scioccante la consuetudine di farsi cavare tutti i denti sani prima di lasciare l'Inghilterra per evitare problemi dove non c'è dentista.
Mar 13, 2014 Tessa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the early part of her growing up in Rhodesia but had a bit too much of her by the end of the book. However I feel she is a good writer and I will read more in the future.

Merged review:

I liked the early part describing her growing up in Rhodesia but got rather fed up with her communism and later years.
Il primo volume dell'autobiografia della mia amatissima Doris.
Divisibile, per quanto mi riguarda, in due parti: la prima, riguardante la sua infanzia, più lunga e un po' più noiosa. La seconda, in cui Doris è più grande e matura, in cui c'è il suo formarsi di una coscienza politica e di una coscienza femminile, molto più interessante.
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Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Oliv ...more
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“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” 723 likes
“Women often get dropped from memory, and then history.” 6 likes
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