Books by Anatole Broyard

KAFKA WAS THE RAGE by Anatole Broyard
Released: Oct. 6, 1993

Brilliant, funny, penetrating observations on life and culture in N.Y.C. after WW II from critic Broyard, who died of cancer in 1990 (Intoxicated by My Illness, 1992). ``Nineteen forty-six was a good time—perhaps the best time— in the twentieth century,'' writes Broyard, and the reader wishes that the critic were still here to write a dozen more books just like this wonderful one to explain further exactly what he means. Broyard was 26 the year after the war, and his entree to then housing-scarce Greenwich Village took the form of moving in with the difficult and challenging Sheri Donatti, enigmatic abstract painter, wearer of no underpants, and protegÇe of Anaãs Nin. Comedy both ribald and poignant follows as Broyard tells the tale of his brief life with Sheri—including, along the way, sketches of his meetings with the likes of W.H. Auden (whom Sheri bumps into- -literally), Erich Fromm, Meyer Schapiro, Delmore Schwartz and others, including Nin herself (``Her lipstick was precise, her eyebrows shaved off and penciled in, giving the impression,'' remarks Broyard, ``that she had written her own face''). A break with Sheri is inevitable but, by the time it comes, the reader knows how thoroughly she emblemized the complicated ironies (and dead-ends) of postwar criticism and art—and how Broyard was to manage going on afterward in his own way. Again and again, his independence and right judgment reveal themselves in a mind that, in a Whitmanesque way, passionately insists on a genuine integration of life and art: ``I wanted to be an intellectual, too, to see life from a great height, yet I didn't want to give up my sense of connection, my intimacy with things. When I read a book, I always kept one eye on the world, like someone watching the clock.'' Vital criticism that—in these woebegone days especially—is wondrously to be valued. Read full book review >
Released: May 8, 1992

Writer and New York Times book critic Broyard died of cancer in 1990. Here is a slender volume of writings he produced on the subject of his illness itself, filled out with a handful of earlier pieces on ``The Literature of Death,'' and ending with the grippingly autobiographical short story ``What the Cystoscope Said,'' written by Broyard after his own father's death, also of cancer, in 1948. In 1981, Broyard wrote that ``the vocabulary of death is anticlimactic. It seems that we die in clichÇs.'' In his own struggle with illness and the death that it foreshadowed, however, he summoned up an intellectual rigor that attempted to deny either clichÇ or passivity. ``As a patient I'm a mere beginner,'' he wrote: ``Yet I am a critic, and being critically ill, I thought I might accept the pun and turn it on my condition.'' And so his effort to think his illness into submission begins. ``My intention,'' he writes in a journal entry, ``is to show people who are ill'' that ``[they] can make a game, a career, even an art form of opposing their illness.'' Broyard's own ``art form'' is one, as it always was, that draws on an astonishing breadth of learning and that positively bristles with aphoristic perceptions. ``Soul is the part of you that you summon up in emergencies,'' he writes; and, on doctors and patients: ``The patient is always on the brink of revelation, and he needs an amanuensis.'' This is not Dylan Thomas's raging against the night, but instead the consistent and steady application of the thinking mind against the awful austerities and urgencies of death. ``Writing a book,'' says Broyard, ``would be a counterpoint to my illness. It would force the cancer to go through my character before it can get to me.'' Courageous, vintage Broyard. The trouble is, though, that death was the winner, and the reader is left not with Broyard's ``intoxication,'' but with regret, loss, and a certain chill and ungainly fear. Read full book review >