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Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  713 ratings  ·  64 reviews
"I was born with skins too few. Or they were scrubbed off me by...robust and efficient hands."

The experiences absorbed through these "skins too few" are evoked in this memoir of Doris Lessing's childhood and youth as the daughter of a British colonial family in Persia and Southern Rhodesia Honestly and with overwhelming immediacy, Lessing maps the growth of her consciousne
Paperback, 448 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Harper Perennial (first published 1994)
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Canadian Reader
“Here we are at the core of the problem of memory. You remember with what you are at the time of remembering.”

“Every novel is a story, but a life isn’t one, more of a sprawl of incidents.”

“How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you don’t?”

As might be expected, the first volume of Nobel-Prize-winning author Doris Lessing’s autobiography (covering her birth in Kermanshah, Persia, and her childhood, youth, and early adult years—to the age of 30–in Southern Rhodesia) is a
Jan 08, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, britain, favorites
It's indicative of how over-stuffed and self-indulgent this book is that chapter nine, page 155, begins: "My fourteenth was a make or break year." My fourteenth! And yet Doris Lessing is always interesting, never boring, though she certainly takes her time remembering everything she ever did or said over her entire childhood.
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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 with t ...more
Apr 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-2014, biography
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
Dec 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Dierdre Milin
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
The great strength of the first volume of Lessing's autobiography is that she's reflecting from 60 years on, and brings substantial perspective to the historical currents she lived through in mid-20th-century Africa (Rhodesia). She's uber-dark, and very critical. Really interesting person. It bogs down a bit in the second half ...
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 14, 2017 added it
Found the first three quarters fascinating. The profound effects of WWI on multiple generations. The build up to WWII resonates with present political and cultural events. Got a bit bored during her communist phase towards the end.
What Possessed Me
Feb 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
Terrifying woman. Angry, angry.
Feb 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
I like Doris Lessing's novels but this memoir was disappointing.
Uli Vogel
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Autobiographies are always a reflection on the past and reliant on the untrustworthy servant of memory. Lessing takes advantage of her skill as a novellist to enter the mind of herself as she was when a child and then a young woman. There can be few accounts that are so vivid of a time (between the two world wars of the twentieth century and during the second one) long past and place (southern Rhodesia) changed forever. Although the reader is always aware of Lessing the writer considering her li ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Doris Lessing is a good writer, but I don't think I would have liked her very much. Some parts of this were super boring, and others interesting.

This was required reading in one of my classes.
Abigail Smith
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
A very grudging 3 stars, as I couldn't help but admire her writing style, while increasingly disliking her character as it was portrayed.
Gabriel Perlin
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent autobiography by a strong and fascinating author.
Sy DeMaya
Couldn’t get into it.
Barbara Phi
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating journey into the life, and under the skin of a fascinating life.
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 F Davidson
Jan 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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, & then engulfed t ...more
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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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