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Conundrum

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  428 Ratings  ·  55 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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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jordan
Dec 02, 2008 Jordan rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed-books
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
...more
Red
Dec 02, 2014 Red rated it it was amazing
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
Hilary G
Dec 11, 2012 Hilary G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
...more
Rachel
Nov 27, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it
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.
...more
Linda
Dec 07, 2010 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Laura
Oct 20, 2016 Laura rated it liked it
Jan's account of her transition from life as a man to life as a woman should probably be made compulsory reading in gender and psychology studies. It was revealing to me especially in the transition of her psychology and relationship to body. Not many people can compare what it feels like to be both, how society responds to gender and in that contrast lies the conundrum for me. In the end after a life as both, Jan concludes that it is the pursuit of wholeness that we should aspire to beyond ...more
Heather
Feb 18, 2015 Heather rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
Near the end of Conundrum, Jan Morris writes about walking through Casablanca on the eve of her sex change operation as feeling like she was about to pay “a visit to a wizard,” like she was “a figure of fairy tale, about to be transformed” (119). And, as in some fairy tales, what she is to be transformed into is only what she has been all along: she writes, at the start of the book, that her earliest memory, from when she was three or four, was the realization that she “had been born into the wr ...more
Miguel
Jan 06, 2016 Miguel rated it really liked it
A couple years ago I read one of the best travel books I know: Venice, by Jan Morris, who is considered one of the best British writers of today, with a body of work that emphasizes the travelogues, but that includes fiction, history , memories and non-fiction in general.

Venice is a majestic book, which made me feel naturally curious about its author. At the time it was published in Portugal an article in a portuguese newspaper aroused my curiosity: I found out that Morris was a transsexual havi
...more
Nathan
Feb 02, 2013 Nathan rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Sue
Aug 08, 2009 Sue rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, own, memoir
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. ...more
Laura
Jun 15, 2013 Laura rated it it was ok
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
Type O
Jun 01, 2016 Type O rated it liked it
Exceptionally well written, in Conundrum Jan nee James Morris confirms many of the worst stereotypes concerning transgendered men. On display is a species of extraordinary narcissism where, speaking with disdain on the historical flattening of gender roles, Morris laments the loss of the particularized social treatment of "ladies" in favor of greater equality. And, of a piece with his social class, Morris appears largely oblivious to how his status as a member of an upper landed gentry or ...more
Aaron Gertler
Jul 14, 2016 Aaron Gertler rated it it was amazing
Conundrum, as the author acknowledges, is dated: Society's views on gender and sex change very quickly, and there's no way a progressive reader could make it through the book without wincing a bit. Very few authors over the millennia have avoided this, and I can't fault Morris for failing to predict how things would turn out in 2016.

That said, it seems like Morris wrote the best book she was capable of writing. The prose is wonderful, but more important to me is that I never felt like the author
...more
Annika
Jun 12, 2015 Annika rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, non-fiction
Morris writes beautifully with a bit of flourish and Conundrum was an engaging read.

I did have problems with the way Morris portrays men and women in her book, by reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes in her writing. For her men and women are each described as a homogenous group, without remembering that every person is different. She does say at the end of her book that every person feels different and that no one can know what the other person feels exactly, because we all have different exp
...more
Ellen Shull
May 23, 2011 Ellen Shull rated it liked it
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
...more
Lydia
May 08, 2016 Lydia rated it liked it
What a frustrating and thought provoking book. Written in 1974, shortly after Jan Morris' final (surgical) step in her transition from male to female, it firmly communicates that her 'sex change' was not optional but irrevocably imperative. This important, modern message is diluted by Morris' now-antiquated views of masculinity, femininity, parenthood, and privilege. It may be unfair to impose such newfangled concepts on a 40-year old memoir; but it's hard not to wince when she proudly blushes ...more
Begoña Merino
Sep 01, 2015 Begoña Merino rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-read-again
Un texto autobiográfico marcado por el singular vericueto que ha sido la vida de esta autora que fue antes lancero, corresponsal, explorador... para acabar finalmente felizmente transfigurada en una adorable abuelita galesa.

Interesantísima la introspección que la autora es capaz de realizar para describir la naturaleza del sentimiento de ser mujer en un recio cuerpo masculino. Una vida singular narrada por una excepcional reportera y escritora de viajes. Su inglés es elaborado y exige un buen ti
...more
Judd
Oct 26, 2013 Judd rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Angela
Oct 22, 2008 Angela rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Anne
Jun 13, 2016 Anne rated it it was amazing
I've never read any of Ms Morris's travel books but knew her 'story' from way back. This book was so revelationary for me. I was expecting a lightish read on a tough topic but was overwhelmed by her ability to get to the heart of her trans-sexualism. It is so hard to understand what trans-sexuals go through and I would never dare to suggest that I fully understand, but the glimpses I got were like a kick to the stomach in their impact.
Her searing honesty and amazingly positive perspective on on
...more
Lou
Sep 06, 2016 Lou rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
No me gusta puntuar tan bajo un libro y menos cuando se trata del testimonio o las memorias de una persona porque de una forma u otra siempre se puede encontrar algo interesante en sus vivencias. No sé si será el estilo de la autora que no me ha acabado de convencer o las partes en que habla (demasiado) de los viajes que ha realizado, y que acabado leyendo en diagonal en más de una ocasión, pero su lectura se me ha hecho cuesta arriba y a punto he estado de no terminarlo. No ha sido para nada lo ...more
Maggie Holmes
Jun 17, 2016 Maggie Holmes rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-2016
I had heard of Jan/James Morris several years ago so I looked up his memoir for our study of various types of life experiences. She is a very expressive writer and really makes you understand how she felt growing up, why she felt she was in the wrong body, and why she made the choices she did. Her comments about how life as a woman was different from life as a man were intriguing. Read this book to understand more about what a transsexual person is. There is more than just the flash of Caitlyn ...more
Clare
Feb 02, 2011 Clare rated it really liked it
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
Jennie Stone
Aug 25, 2013 Jennie Stone rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2015 Elizabeth Bolden rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Peggy
Mar 08, 2015 Peggy rated it it was amazing
Can a boo about the process of going thru the process of turning oneself from a man into a woman ever be described as 'lyrical?'
Yes, if it's Jan Morris who is not only the writer, but also the subject of this exquisite book.
I'd read Morris's travel pieces for decades without ever knowing that she began life as a man...even rising thru the ranks of the British military.
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful...
Frances
This book is beautifully written, as befits a famous and well-read travel writer.
As a description of what life was like as a pioneer who transitioned before such things were generally accepted, it works well. But Morris is very much a product of her own class and times, and her views on what constitutes masculinity and femininity are dated at best and frankly offensive at worst.
Arnold
Jan 08, 2008 Arnold rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
Gwen
Apr 07, 2012 Gwen rated it liked it
Shelves: gender-issues
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.
Olivia
Sep 04, 2012 Olivia rated it it was amazing
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.
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NYRB Classics: Conundrum, by Jan Morris 1 7 Oct 22, 2013 11:29AM  
  • My Father and Myself
  • She's Not the Man I Married: My Life with a Transgender Husband
  • Becoming a Visible Man
  • Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man
  • The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male
  • Voltaire in Love
  • Bumbling into Body Hair: A Transsexual's Memoir
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
  • Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category
  • Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude
  • Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby
  • Crossing
  • On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual
  • From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond
  • An African in Greenland
  • The World I Live In
  • I am My Own Wife: The True Story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf
  • Fighting for Life
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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
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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.” 12 likes
“I did not know exactly where it was—in my head, in my heart, in my loins, in my dreams. Nor did I know whether to be ashamed of it, proud of it, grateful for it, resentful of it. Sometimes I thought I would be happier without it, sometimes I felt it must be essential to my being. Perhaps one day, when I grew up, I would be as solid as other people appeared to be; but perhaps I was meant always to be a creature of wisp or spindrift, loitering in this inconsequential way almost as though I were intangible. I” 0 likes
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