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Them: A Memoir of Parents

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  403 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Tatiana du Plessix, the wife of a French diplomat, was a beautiful, sophisticated "white Russian" who had been the muse of the famous Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Alexander Liberman, the ambitious son of a prominent Russian Jew, was a gifted magazine editor and aspiring artist. As part of the progressive artistic Russian emigre community living in Paris in the 1930s, ...more
ebook, 544 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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Aug 09, 2016 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: etudes-slaves
A disappointment in the same line as Bliss Broyard’s One Drop. The same sense of intimate access muddled by so-so writing, of strange people incompletely rendered. The book never quite rose above the level of those “Nostalgia” columns that run in US Vogue wherein the children of forgotten icons share bittersweet memories of their parents' lives off-stage. These brilliantly twisted people deserve a better biographer than their daughter. Worth skimming, though, if you’re obsessed, as I am, with st ...more
Jun 28, 2012 Diane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Norma
A powerful book for me. Du Plessix Gray writes the book as a memoir of her parents - it is, of course, also a memoir about her own life. Her parents were Russian and French emigres who saw the revolution, and two great wars before coming to the United States. Many members of the family are in the almost famous category and from a time and place of which I know almost nothing. Hence, I was fascinated by the story of her uncle Sasha who drove a Citroen across Africa and her mother's first love May ...more
May 03, 2012 Texbritreader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, high-society
In this honest yet loving remembrance of her Russian parents, Francine du Plessix Gray, introduces us to her glamorous, hardworking, imperious mother, Tatiana du Plessix; an exiled White Russian hat designer known as "Tatiana of Saks" and the charming, ambitious, Machiavellian, Alexander Liberman; her Jewish Gypsy step-father, longtime Editorial Director for Conde Nast and a well known artist and sculptor.

The story of her parents lives is fascinating; their youths in Russia, their ex-pat years i
Feb 24, 2011 Eszter rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i really wanted to like this--it seemed like just the kind of book i would love to imagine myself into, what with your mysterious foreigners from the past who hobnob and inspire and trendset. but i just couldn't get past the glut of superlatives without choking on a few too many of them. apparently, everyone in the author's family for generations back is the best at everything and they are all blindingly gorgeous and they all speak six languages and are experts and trendsetters and intriguing an ...more
A very detailed and thorough account of a family history and history itself. Sometimes dry reading, sometimes fascinating. I did not finish it though as it was such a huge book. I will keep it and return to it another time.
Sep 24, 2015 FrankH rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Remarkable in its scope and historical sweep, this culturally rich memoir from Francine Du Plessix Gray focuses on the lives of her flamboyant mother Tatiana Yakoleva (the one-time mistress of Revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky) and her artistic step-father Alex Leiberman (Tatiana's second husband), as they make their journey from Paris to a busy life in New York where they will leave their mark on the world of fashion and art during the postwar fifties and sixties.

During this time, Alex bec
Carol Bundy
The first 100-150 pages of this books are fascinating as Du Plessix Gray describes her Russian family and the vagaries of their lives before and then after the Revolution in Russia and in Paris. Totally unpredictable people and lives. The book is still interesting describing how her parents established themselves in New York but it begins to fall away as Du Plessix Gray becomes a more significant character in the story. She hints at the weirdness of the inter-personal dynamic she experienced mor ...more
Feb 12, 2013 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I gave this four stars because of its beautiful, fluent language with erudite vocabulary and complex sentence structure. However, does this make it an easy or fast read? Not at all. Adjusting to the author's style make take a few pages, but the story communicated is fascinating. Alex and Tatiana move from the Russia of the czars to the Paris of the 20s to beginnings of WWII in Europe before escaping to America. As Tatiana becomes a famous hat designer for Sax and Alex climbs the corporate ladder ...more
Tabitha Blankenbiller
Them is unlike any memoir I’ve ever read before. Part memoir, part biography, part research book, Gray transcends far beyond her own story to tell the rich tapestry of her family’s story. This endeavor can go awry in so many ways—you can’t write someone else’s memoir for them, and biography can often be dry. These pitfalls are avoided by subtle, yet important, inclusion of the narrator-character and writer into the story. Gray will comment about the source of the emotion or conversation she’s re ...more
Jan 24, 2009 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended to me to by a woman who saw me reading Loving Frank. It is very long, but very interesting. The whole Russian family history was very interesting and the people were all fascinating characters! As for her parents, fascinating, not such good parents. The story of Tatianna's decline was particularly disturbing. But, Francine does not appear to hold any real grudge or "baggage" from growing up with these eccentrics. I think the book was cathartic for her to and helped her ...more
AJ Conroy
Dec 03, 2009 AJ Conroy marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
From the Onion's Books of the Decade:

In a decade marked by the memoirs of angry children determined to mine some authorial gold from their unhappy early lives, Du Plessix Gray’s chronicle of growing up as an immigrant in mid-century New York relates history rather than agony, building subtly toward judgment while still acknowledging a debt of gratitude. Francine’s mother and stepfather, Russian émigrés who fell in love in Paris while they were both married to other people, were artistic geniuses
Bookmarks Magazine

Her previous writings about the Marquis de Sade and Simone Weil prepared Gray to tackle the enigmatic life stories of her own infamously ruthless and narcissistic parents. Her skills as a journalist, biographer, and novelist lead the 75-year-old author, who began to write about her socialite family in 1967, to produce a story that is part biography, part memoir, and part history. Them is as much about relationships as it is about the individuals, and about the parent/child bond as much as the dy

Jan 06, 2010 Heather rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping for a fast-paced, tell-all about a weird childhood with narcissistic parents. Instead, this book is a snooze-inducing trip through the author's family tree, with shamelessly conflicting descriptions of people: "She was the coldest woman I knew, but she had the biggest heart I'd ever seen," or "Her flamboyance and arrogance were well-known, and her grace and elegance were lauded city-wide." Um, what?! How can you be flamboyant and arrogant, yet still elegant? I get it, these people a ...more
Oct 30, 2012 Adrienne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a fascinating glimpse into a world that I kind-of knew existed, from making fun of Vogue, but didn't really understand--a world where people marry princes, and people who are still "hard-up" financially can't understand life without a cook and a butler.

But you get the sense that even as du Plessix is trying to criticize her family, she still blindly adores them. She name-drops CONSTANTLY ("Did I tell you about the time that Marlene Dietrich made me Christmas dinner?") and kind of s
Jun 24, 2010 Hazel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was.. put bluntly- a terrible book. I couldn't even get to the end. Gray, who I previously had a lot of respect for as a result of her magnificently well written biography of Madame De Stael- this was nothing but name dropping and boring shit. I suppose I should have expected it with the whole society implication here- but she really could have made something out of it- she didn't. I was bored senseless.

Oh, and her mother? She was a douchebag. What sort of parent in any decade or millieau
Mar 26, 2012 Betty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
After enjoying World Without End, I discovered that F.d.P.G. had written a memoir of her parents. I started reading it out of curiosity about the author and was unprepared for the mercurial personalities she chronicles. Hers was a life of both privilege and deprivation, from her White Russian mother, an emigre in Paris before the revolution, to her Russian stepfather, who ultimately chaired the Conde Nast publishing empire, both of whom were intensely self-absorbed. An astonishingly vivid portra ...more
I bought this for my mother and then read it myself. A good read about what it's like to have parents who are "going places" and have little time for their children. Also interesting to read about the celebrities they knew (Marlene Dietrich, Irving Penn, etc.) in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. I found the story of how these Russians fled Russia during the Russian Revolution for France and then the US after the Nazis invaded France and still managed to become big shots in the US very interesting. Very ...more
Very well written, and her parents and extended family had amazing lives. But by the end of the book her parents seemed completely awful - vain, selfish, cruel and completely fake. While the author obviously has affection for them as her parents and always tried to win their approval, I just kind of wanted to be rid of both of them.

The final chapters, which deal with her mother's drug addicted death and stepfathers quick reinvention and remarriage were excellent - but came after 400 pages of sel
I've met people like the author's mother, and I've tried to get away from them as fast as possible. Imperious, icy, claiming pre-Enlightenment royal descent. But basically, a milliner, and now who even wears hats?

Here's why I might try this one again someday: the author's stepfather seems like a far more interesting person. Crazy in his own way, but somehow warmer. I also enjoyed the stories about Russia, and the digressions about an adventurous uncle who did tour car races in the 1920s/1930s a
Sarah Lang
Oct 24, 2010 Sarah Lang rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems odd that I couldn't get through A Sentimental Education, but gave this book four stars. All I can say is that this is more about my enjoyment of the book than the actual literary worth of the book.
So, I adored this book. It helps that I am ga-ga over this certain time and place (NYC post-war) and this world (magazine publishing and fashion) but her writing is also fantastic. She writes honestly and gracefully, without a trace of self-pity and a maturity that can only come with time and
Jul 25, 2011 Tori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
2009- This book is hard for me to classify. It's supposed to be a biography of the author's mother and step-father, but it also seems like her own personal memoir, as well as ""family history"" of sorts. It's an interesting blend that works well, especially at the beginning sections of the book. Although I had never heard of the two people that make up the ""them"" of the title, I found reading about them to be adsorbing at times. If you like memoirs, I'd say give it a try.
Jul 25, 2008 Cynthia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fashionistas, russian history enthusiasts
This is a beautifully written autobiography of a Russian/French woman who emigrated post ww2 and lived in France during the German occupation. Her stepfather was Alex Leiberman, legendary creative director of Conde Nast for many years. Her mother was a well known milliner in NY in the mid 1900s. The Russian and French history is very interesting, as are the milieu they travelled in. A wonderful portrait of the times.
Felisa Rosa
This memoir has the advantage of a fascinating topic: the author's family, particularly her mother and stepfather, who both escaped Russia during the revolutionary era to resettle in Paris. A chunk of the book is set in France prior and during the Nazi invasion, and the rest in the parlors of New York City's fashion elite. Full to the brim with interesting characters, including Marlene Dietrich and Salvador Dali. The one real flaw is that the author occasionally sounds whiny and vindictive.
Thing Two
This is an interesting history of a couple well joined. They were vain social climbers who moved among the "rich and famous" from pre-WWI through the 1970s, and it's against this backdrop that their story is of interest. Rich people had connections, and du Plessix Gray lists each and every way her parents got through things that others less-fortunate could not. It's simultaneously fascinating and disgusting.
An epic memoir detailing the lives of Russian emigre and Conde Nast big wig Alex Liberman and Tatiana ("of Saxs") du Plessix Liberman written by their daughter Francine du Plessix Gray. The memoir spans 500 pages and while it is a hefty tome, the chapters move at a nice clip and draw you in. A great refresher course on WW II and a fascinating look behind the scenes of the society and cultural jet setters of the mid to late 20th century.
Alexander Liberman was the editorial director of all Conde Nast magazines for almost 30 years. His wife was a literary and artistic muse and famous hatmaker. This was a really great dissection of their life together by her daughter and his stepdaughter and a bittersweet look at a woman's relationship and conflicted feelings about her parents and their treatment of her.
Jan 08, 2008 Alexa.elam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Francine du Plessix Gray's memoir of life with her mother, the virtuosa hat-designer Tatiana, and her step-father, Conde Nast's long-time creative director Alexander Lieberman, is also a psychological study of these talented, though hard-to-like people, who seem as though they would do anything to achieve their goals.
Jan 17, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book could have definitely used a bit more editing, but I really enjoyed it (probably because I'm obsessed with this time period). I found it all fascinating...even though they were not the best people, and clearly parents, their daughter definitely got across how irresistible they could be to folks.
Donna Jones
Francine's relatives are an interesting bunch. I enjoyed learning about her Uncle Sasha and his exploits, was curious why she didn't give more information about her father's family, and got a glimpse of a family life much different from my own.
Dec 19, 2012 Marybeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir is dense with detail as du Plessix Gray chronicles her parents' lives from their beginnings in Russia, through the Revolution, exile in France, immigration to New York City, and the amazing careers they create. A thorough, always interesting memoir.
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Francine du Plessix Gray, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and literary critic, was born in Warsaw, Poland, where her father, Vicomte Bertrand Jochaud du Plessix, was a French diplomat - the commercial attaché. She spent her early years in Paris, where a milieu of mixed cultures and a multilingual family (French father and Russian émigré mother) influenced her.

Widowed when her father died in bat
More about Francine du Plessix Gray...

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