I have been reading the new eversion of this memoir and am delighted by its tone of voice and intimate depiction of a family of women in India during...moreI have been reading the new eversion of this memoir and am delighted by its tone of voice and intimate depiction of a family of women in India during the second world war. Santha Rama Rau is a witty, engaging story-teller with an astute eye for personal foibles as well as state politics. This is one of the first popular books by an Indian woman writer in the U.S.(less)
I just finished this book and though I'm a tough critic of memoir -- I taught it and wrote two memoirs myself -- I thought this was a great read. Unli...moreI just finished this book and though I'm a tough critic of memoir -- I taught it and wrote two memoirs myself -- I thought this was a great read. Unlike so many "celebrity" memoirs, this one was thoughtful, candid, selective, useful. I recommend it to every reader. Funny, informative, perceptive, self-scrutinizing and hard to put down.(less)
close friend who is both an author and a psychiatrist recommended Alison's book to me as "extraordinary" and I quite agree. Having struggled with many...more close friend who is both an author and a psychiatrist recommended Alison's book to me as "extraordinary" and I quite agree. Having struggled with many of the same issues that Bechdel addresses in this graphic memoir, I am amazed at how elegantly her text and drawings solve multiple problems of form and content. What a story and what an inspiring book! I plan to give it to friends -- especially to writer friends.(less)
A biography of a prolific author by a prolific author. This is a delicious biography that takes you into the world of a writer of the 19th cntury with...moreA biography of a prolific author by a prolific author. This is a delicious biography that takes you into the world of a writer of the 19th cntury with surprising parallels to the writer's world today: dealing with publicity, publishers, fans and contracts as well as finding the time to write, looking for good stories, imbibing stimulants to keep awake. All there and all fluently told. (less)
Now newly published on Kindle, this is a book by a German journalist who left Germany in 1939 for England where he became a prominent newspaper editor...moreNow newly published on Kindle, this is a book by a German journalist who left Germany in 1939 for England where he became a prominent newspaper editor. It's a short, intelligent, informative history.(less)
It’s been a long time since I held in my hands a book that transported me back to the magic of early reading. Everything about Into the Garden with Ch...moreIt’s been a long time since I held in my hands a book that transported me back to the magic of early reading. Everything about Into the Garden with Charles – its evocative title; its cover illustration of crimsom hollyhocks and the dozen other water color illustrations on glossy white pages; the simply-told story of a shy, lonely man who late in life finds the romance he has dreamed of – beguiled me in the way of childhood classics such as The Secret Garden. I didn’t want to put it down and when it ended, I wanted to start at the beginning again. Although I succumbed to this book like a girl, the adult part of me wondered: How in this age of irony had this gay middle-aged New Yorker managed to skate so close to cliché and sentimentality and yet write a memoir that reads like the most romantic of love letters?
Occasionally, a professional book comes my way that’s aimed at a narrow academic market but contains so much interesting and powerful material that th...moreOccasionally, a professional book comes my way that’s aimed at a narrow academic market but contains so much interesting and powerful material that the general reader should know about it. An Accident of Hope: The Therapy Tapes of Anne Sexton by Dawn M. Skorczewski is such a book. Taking as its focus the innovative audiotapes of Anne Sexton's therapy sessions with Dr. Martin Orne in Boston from 1960 to 1964, it's a fascinating read for anyone interested in writers, writing, psychotherapy, women, medical ethics and American society just before the great upheaval of the 1960s. See my full review on The Arts Fuse. (less)
Claude Lanzmann -- the French writer, editor-in-chief of Les Temps Modernes and film-maker best known for his nine-and-a-half hour film Shoah -- was i...moreClaude Lanzmann -- the French writer, editor-in-chief of Les Temps Modernes and film-maker best known for his nine-and-a-half hour film Shoah -- was in Cambridge last week to promote his book of memoirs The Patagonian Hare (FSG, 544 pp). proved to be a cranky conversationalist. Billed as "A Conversation with Claude Lanzmann," the event turned out to be more of a cranky monologue. But when you're 86, still working, and are regarded by some as a cinematic genius, tout est permis, at least the audience of about 200 Harvard professors and students seemed to think so.
Lanzmann's book, The Patagonian Hare is a looping, uneven marathon of story-telling by a secular French Jew and alpha-male: A loosely chronological set of reminiscences that Lanzmann dictated to a colleague over two years, it was published in France in 2009 and became a best-seller there. It's easy to see why. It's packed with people (like Jean Paul Sartre and lesser known philosophes) dear to the French; and dramatic episodes of courage, cowardice, and coming of age in the Resistance. Although Lanzmann does not absolve himself of cowardice -- particularly when, as a boy, he did not step forward to defend a classmate from anti-semitism -- mostly he presents himself as hero, fighter and bon vivant ("Even if I lived a hundred lives, I wouldn't be exhausted"). He's a great raconteur who's honed his narrative skills as a veteran journalist. Hare is exuberant and provocative at its best; bombastic and superficial at its worst, set against a changing twentieth century backdrop that includes the second world war; the Cold War; the Korean war; the Algerian war; several Israeli wars; and Lanzmann's personal 12-year war to make the film Shoah.
He was born November 27, 1925, the grandson of Russian Jews who fled pogroms and conscription in the great westward Yiddish-speaking migration at the turn of the century. "In a sense, I am of old French stock," he writes, in one of many instance where he seems ignorant of Jewish history, including French Jewish history. "My father was born in Paris on 14 July 1900, my family has been in France since the late nineteenth century; I would go so far as to say that I feel so securely French that Israel has never been problematic for me as it has been for the more recently assimilated Jews who arrived in France between the wars or after World War II....Going to Israel revealed to me that I was both innately French and yet also coincidentally French, not at all of old stock."
His parents were unhappily married; his mother Paulette left his father and her three children when Claude was nine. They were raised by his father, a politically prescient man who drilled his kids in escape techniques and arranged for their safety during the Nazi Occupation.
In 1943, although he already had earned his baccalauréat, Claude was sent to a boarding school in Clermont-Ferrand. Unbeknownst to his father, Claude had joined the jeunesses communistes already, although he had not yet read the literature. His father, unbeknownst to him, was already a member of the Mouvements unis de la Resistance. This is well-covered ground by now and Lanzmann does not dwell on it. Wisely, he spends as much time describing his unusual family, especially his difficult and wildly unconventional Jewish mother Paulette. "I was nine years old when, coming home from school with my [younger] brother and sister, I found our house deserted," he writes, in the understated way he chooses for personal matters. "My first reaction was one of relief rather than sadness: my parents' arguments had grown so frequent and so violent over the years that I lived in fear that the worst would happen, murder perhaps, or suicide. That was in 1934. At the time, those women who, appalled by the conditions imposed on them by marriage, dared to throw cautions and security to the wind, to leave their husbands and their children were extremely rare; one had to be made of steel to brave the stigmatism and the daily heroism to which they were condemning themselves."
All true, but surely the later judgment of the man who became Simone de Beauvoir's lover at the age of 27, rather than the experience of an abandoned child. Passages like these made me realize the many difference between memoirs and memoir -- the first an extended self-styled epitaph; the second, a quest for self-understanding.
All of them -- both Lanzmann's parents; his father's partner, Helene; his mother's companion, the poet Monny de Boully; and the three children -- survived the war. Father and stepfather together escort the young Claude to his first fancy brothel. Monny prevails upon a friend to get Claude admitted mid-term to the prestigious Lycee Louis-le-Grand, on track to the Ecole Normale Superieure and stage manages his first affair by picking up a beautiful woman in the street and inviting her to consider his step-son. "Seduction is not generally a family activity," Lanzmann writes, but Monny "sang my praises, making me an object of desire." They brought her home to meet Paulette and, a week later, Lanzmann had a mistress. Claude's younger sister Evelyne's love affairs were also inextricably tied up with family. Raised by Lanzmann père and her Catholic stepmother Helene, Evelyne arrived in Paris at 16 and promptly fell in love with a series of her brother's friends and colleagues including, eventually, Jean Paul Sartre. Evelyne, an actress, toured with road companies and performed in Sartre's plays. Sartre fell in love with her and offstage, the two had a secret liaison, monitored and clucked over by Claude and Simone de Beauvoir. Evelyne appears to have been deeply wounded by the repeated rupture of attachments that began with her mother. She killed herself in 1967 at the age of 40 and Lanzmann's chapter about her is the most tender and affecting in the book. Hare is deliberately non-linear so it's very hard to keep track of dates, but at about the time Evelyne arrived in Paris, Lanzmann fell passionately in love with actress Judith Magre, who in his account up left him after six months and disappeared without a trace. The result, he writes, was that he failed his exams for Ecole Normale and instead studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. Student friends invited him to Tubingen and he had his first encounter with Germans after the war. It was 1946, so he must have been 20 or 21 when he was invited to spend a week-end at the estate of the von Neurath family, dined with former Wehrmacht officers and stumbled upon a small concentration camp located on the property. Although he describes what it looked like, Lanzmann doesn't get into its impact on him. Nor does he explain his decision to take a teaching job in the French zone of West Berlin, becoming a lecturer at the recently-founded Free University. He spent at least two post-war years there teaching philosophy, French, and a course on anti-semitism that students asked for, using Jean Paul Sartre's Reflexions sur la Question Juive as a text. This book had been important to him when he was a teenager and he assigned it now to German students, some of whom had returned from military service. "I was identical to the Jews described in it, raised outside any religion, any culture that might be called Jewish." But Lanzmann writes little about their discussions. Instead, he relates that he wrote an expose of the failure of de-nazification at the university (reprinting or at least describing it would have been a good idea). That led to more freelance work back in Paris and to the offices of Sartre's Les Temps Modernes. By the summer of 1952, he had established himself as a journalist and become the lover of Simone de Beauvoir ("We lived together as a married couple for seven years, from 1952 to 1957, I am the only man with whom Simone de Beauvoir lived a quasi-marital existence.") In 1952, Lanzmann also made his first trip to Israel. Though he has never learned Hebrew, he made his first film about the country in 1973: Israel, Why. That documentary led to his working for 12 years on Shoah, first screened in 1985, still internationally regarded as a milestone in film-making, and just broadcast on television to 5 million Turks and untold numbers f viewers in Iran. (less)
Denial is a difficult book, uncomfortable to read and even more uncomfortable to review. It is a first-hand, detailed account by a Harvard expert on ter...moreDenial is a difficult book, uncomfortable to read and even more uncomfortable to review. It is a first-hand, detailed account by a Harvard expert on terrorism of her rape by a stranger when she was 15 years old. Using police records and some of the same methodology she used to interview international terrorists, Jessica Stern tries to understand the man who raped her in 1973, as well as the rape╒s long-term sequelae for herself. Her story is often vivid, surprisingly candid and well- described but, at times, disjointed and unprocessed. The aftereffects of trauma inform both its content and style.
Stern, like so many contemporary writers with an interesting idea for a book, may have been ill-served by her advisors and rushed to print before she had enough time to integrate her very difficult material. These days, memoirs are regarded less as literary creations than as "projects" with more attention paid to marketing potential than to the transformation of memories into writing. Copy-editors and fact-checkers are figures of the past; editors are too busy acquiring to read carefully and edit. One of the results is that the reader is left to connect the dots that elude the author. (less)
Ambitious, by turns captivating and exasperating, this sprawling book is like an enormous photomontage – that popular German art form of the 1920s – m...moreAmbitious, by turns captivating and exasperating, this sprawling book is like an enormous photomontage – that popular German art form of the 1920s – made up of textual mosaics from newspaper articles, diary entries, letters, novels or, on occasion, FBI files. These bits – words, phrases, entire paragraphs -- are usually unattributed and range from notes about literature and publishing to medication, pets, shopping for and preparing food. Juers also mines the writing of non-German writers, including Virginia Woolf and James Joyce to contextualize the time and the refugees’ situation. Both style and content are arresting and Juers has mined sources unavailable to the average English-speaking reader. But House of Exiles is a problematic work of biography and had I not been reviewing it, I would have put it down long before the ending. I was, in the end, glad to have plowed on. The work is a requiem for a lost generation of German artists, musicians and writers and those that lived for them.(less)
Fun memoir that supplies to background to the stories of one of Yiddish lit's central writers. He himself thought this was the best book he had ever w...moreFun memoir that supplies to background to the stories of one of Yiddish lit's central writers. He himself thought this was the best book he had ever written. I disagree, but oh well. (less)
This is a book written in Freud's time that creates a narrative arc of suggestion between Anton Mesmer and hypnosis; Mary Baker Eddy and the power of...moreThis is a book written in Freud's time that creates a narrative arc of suggestion between Anton Mesmer and hypnosis; Mary Baker Eddy and the power of suggestion and Freud's psychoanalysis. The writer is one of the most popular and psychologically astute authors of his time. (less)