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Conundrum

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  265 ratings  ·  31 reviews
The great travel writer Jan Morris was born James Morris. James Morris distinguished himself in the British military, became a successful and physically daring reporter, climbed mountains, crossed deserts, and established a reputation as a historian of the British empire. He was happily married, with several children. To all appearances, he was not only a man, but a man’s ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published May 16th 2006 by NYRB Classics (first published 1974)
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New York Review Books - Classics
179th out of 374 books — 346 voters
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Transgender Memoirs and Biographies
17th out of 101 books — 37 voters


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Community Reviews

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Jordan
I had to read this book for my Gay and Lesbian English Class, and it isn't a book that I would have naturally picked up. However I really was taken aback how much I enjoyed reading about the transition the writer made from James to Jane. How it felt to be a man in Wales for 45 years and the to appear back in same village that narrator grew up and was suddenly a woman. I was very much fascinated with the parallels between being a man in society, and that of being a woman in society.
It really is
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Hilary G
Ex Bookworm group review:


Yesterday, I watched a documentary about Freddie Mercury, and it struck me how some people’s lives are so much more extraordinary than the lives of most of us. Such people do more, see more, say more, they make news, they are capable of influencing people in their thousands. This, I thought, is what makes celebrities (though, as a society, I think we have lost the plot about who is and is not a celebrity) so exciting that others want to know every detail of their lives.
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Rachel
The book as a whole is primarily of interest for historical reasons, and the second half is largely a desperate attempt to reassure a patriarchal society that her transition was no threat to it.

That's an understandable response to the pressures Ms. Morris must have been under in her time and place, but her description of her life post-transition is by turns tedious and excruciating to read now, and it was poorly timed in its day — cisgender feminists spent the rest of the seventies quoting Ms.
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Linda
I have wanted to read this book since it came out in 1974. Morris, a journalist and travel writer of the kind that Chatwin and Theroux are known for, tells us about life as a transgender. Not only that but the book tells us about the traveling that he did while figuring out how to cope with this strangely crossed life. He, is now a she-- for many years now. Morris' family of children and former wife are still enfolded within the circle of her life and she writes on.
Morgan
Understanding my identity as a transwoman came about for me in the late 2000's, and thus most of what I read and learned from was on the internet and not set down in ink and binding. Of the trans memoirs I've held in my hands, this ties with Jamison Green's Becoming a Visible Man as my favorite. Whereas Mr. Green's is a more political, academic and recent work, and is imminently more suited as inspiration and fodder for the kinds of public speaking work I've been fortunate to engage in, it is al ...more
Laura
I began this book with a real thirst to understand better the identity and experience of transsexuality. The writing is fluid and evocative; key moments, like Morris hiding under the piano at age four, and undergoing surgery in a secret North African ward, will stay with me vividly. But I became progressively more disappointed by the essentialist, even sexist, statements Morris makes (and applies to herself). For instance, she writes that she did not enjoy working for the Manchester Guardian as ...more
Sue
I have to push down the urge to now run out and buy every single book that Jan Morris has written. She writes travel books, and also wrote a three part work on the history of the British Empire. This is a travel book... of her journey through the search for her Identity. It is written so, so well. She is sincere without ever being close to schmaltzy. You can feel as you read that she delved deep into her past psyche and really, really worked to make her feelings describable, even tangible. That' ...more
Nathan
Jan Morris is a pretty amazing woman. I didn't realize when I brought this book home that she had such an interesting life! Of course, I knew that she is a transsexual, but I didn't know she had served in the army, that she was a journalist, that she had climbed Everest. Seriously, she's pretty bad ass. I was totally enthralled by her life throughout the book, even before it got to the part about her "conundrum".
I was impressed with this mostly because of Morris' ideas regarding transsexual-ness
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Ellen Shull
This is not a book about transsexuality, nor is it a book about one person's experience with transsexuality, but rather a book about one person's life, and how that was shaped in part by their transsexuality. If you go in expecting one of the former you should expect to be disappointed (or misinformed) to some degree, but by shifting your expectations to the latter you may actually find yourself enjoying it.

The prose is a bit stuffy and overblown; a fault that the author admits in the text itsel
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Judd
This book written nearly 40 years ago tells us how much has changed in technology available for transgender gender treatment, and perhaps more disturbingly how little has improved in society's understanding and reaction to trans people. Perhaps, it seems from Morris' s narrative, the American culture is even less tolerant and compassionate than the culture she struggled through. Morris is an artist of English language, and perhaps the allegory was the most challenging part of reading this book f ...more
Clare
Jan Morris, the travel writer, relates the story of her gender transition in Conundrum, where she applies her gifts of setting a scene and imagery to the differences between being male-bodied and female-bodied and her journey towards being, well, who she really is. While I was personally delighted to find that Morris has, if not asexual tendencies, an understanding and appreciation for the asexual mindset, I was also a bit concerned about some of her dated views towards race and, yes, gender. Wo ...more
Angela
A very interesting autobiographical story of a well educated upper-class journalist and writer, from a very traditional background, who underwent a sex change in the early 1970s. It's a very tender, intelligently written transmission of feelings, experiences and conclusions, which reach the reader very effectively and make you want to read more of her writing. Her reflections on gender differences and perceptions are extremely interesting, especially taking into account the time and the social s ...more
Jennie Stone
This book rocked my world. Not only does Jan Morris tell a great story, but her life is absolutely fascinating. I will never forget her line, when writing about how undergoing gender reassignment surgery was a great thing to do as a writer, because it gave her such fodder, she said: "In every way, at the level of every day, the world treats women completely differently than it does men". This book is like an anthropological account of that statement.
Elizabeth Bolden
This book is interesting as far as learning what the author was thinking and feeling while going through transition, but based on what she shared, I found her to be arrogant and racist. Also, in the section where she describes what being feminine means to her after she had her surgery, i thought what she described was highly stereotypical--what a man's take on femininity is instead of a woman's conception of it.
Gwen
Though I did not fall in love with Ms. Morris' writing style (too meander-y), her account of being transgender in her childhood and into adulthood was extremely interesting. The fact that she was forced to divorce her wife in order to obtain surgery in the 1970s is appalling. The cover contains the first few words of the book, and convey the reality that being transgender is not a choice.
Arnold
The heart wrenching autobiography of the former RAF pilot who underwent a sex change and then became one of Britain's truly great writers. the courage to face his/her conundrums makes for a superbly written yet deeply emotional book as Jan Morris tries and succeeds to explain and decipher the emotional and physical stresses and strains of her life. Don't miss
Olivia
More truthful (by definition) than Middlesex, and deserves to be as important. I wish this book were more universally known. The author's ability to examine her own life is astounding, and - though she's never written fiction - the autobiographical, spiritual and intellectual elements in the book fit together as easily as if they'd been manufactured.
Celeste
Pretty fascinating--discussing it with other people was definitely helpful in pulling apart Morris' personal intentions, possible gender stereotypes, definition of identity, etc. Interesting how this book diverges/intersects with typical illness narratives. Very quick autobiography that I'm sure I'll pick up again.
Pascale
A luminous autobiography by an extraordinary person. The way Jan Morris describes how she found out she was a woman trapped in a man's body and acted to redress the mistake sets new standards for autobiography. The book is candid, hilariously funny, and should be mandatory reading for all the bigots out there.
Perkimom
I found this a tedious read, more about the author's travels than in-depth thoughts and feelings about the issue of her transgender issues and life. I was expecting to be more educated and I wasn't even really entertained. Brave soul but not my favorite book by any means.
Anna
A revealing, fantastic, though biased look at life as a transgendered individual from the standpoint of a very much priveleged boy, successful travel writer and journalist who studied at Oxford, and somewhere in Egypt became a woman.
Regina
This is the most thoughtful (as in "full of thought") memoir I've ever read. I finished it earlier this evening and I'm confounded by the story, the language, the self-perception, the relatability and the wonder of gender.
Elaine Porteous
Jan Morris is one of the best living travel writers. This is a story of her own personal journey towards understanding herself. Recommended to readers of her excellent travel books.
Eric Dean
The best travel book ever--the journey is not across the world but from one sex to the other--Morris chronicles her journey from male to female with terror and some humor.
Don Sommers
Fascinating, and beautifully told. I had no idea how well-known James Morris was before becoming Jan Morris...it adds a social component to the personal account of transformation.
Thom Dunn
Written by an established and competent author, Conundrum is a classic --and early--and full account of the trans-gender phenomenon, and a sensitive book as well.
Jessica Sideways
Meh, it didn't touch much on her transition and most of it was just of the adventures she had while parading around as male.
Lynne
A fascinating story beautifully told by such an engaging writer. It made me want to read other things she has written.
Tim
gorgeous and profound, of a world you know, but a struggle you do not know. utterly brilliant.
Elisabeth
Superficial yet informative story of a transgender person (MTF).
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NYRB Classics: Conundrum, by Jan Morris 1 5 Oct 22, 2013 11:29AM  
  • My Father and Myself
  • She's Not the Man I Married: My Life with a Transgender Husband
  • Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man
  • The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male
  • An African in Greenland
  • Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue
  • Becoming a Visible Man
  • Hiding My Candy
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
  • Bumbling into Body Hair: A Transsexual's Memoir
  • Transgender History
  • On Strike Against God (Feminist Series)
  • The Goshawk
  • From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond
  • Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby
  • Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude
  • A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today
  • The World I Live In
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Jan Morris previously wrote under the name James Morris.

Jan Morris is a British historian, author and travel writer. Morris was educated at Lancing College, West Sussex, and Christ Church, Oxford, but is Welsh by heritage and adoption. Before 1970 Morris published under her former name, "James Morris", and is known particularly for the Pax Britannica trilogy, a history of the British Empire, and
...more
More about Jan Morris...
Venice Trieste and The Meaning of Nowhere Heaven's Command: An Imperial Progress (The Pax Britannica Trilogy, #1) Pax Britannica: Climax of an Empire Farewell The Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat

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“In a Kenya game park once I saw a family of wart-hogs waddling ungainly and in a tremendous hurry across the grass. Contemptuous though I am of those who find animals comic…still I could not help laughing at this quaint spectacle. My African companion rightly rebuked me. “You should not laugh at them,” he said. “They are beautiful to each other.” 11 likes
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