Books by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

AN ACCIDENTAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: June 3, 1996

The joys of travel and and the pleasures of the flesh (especially eating) define a woman's life and a philosophy of excess. The anti-Walden. Harrison (The Astonishing World, 1992, etc.), a long-time travel writer, starts her ninth book off poignantly: At age 60 she can barely breathe as a result of, among other things, a virus picked up on a trip to India. Alas, by the last chapter it is the reader who's gasping. Overwritten and random in form and content, this book is essentially a melding of essays penned over a six year period—some are indeed autobiographical while others pay tribute to her intellectual or materialistic heroes—that portray the author as a deprived child who grew up to drown her sorrows in indulgence. The foods she loves, the locales she adores, even the furnishings in her rooms, are described in such hedonistic and privileged terms that little sympathy can be felt for her terrible childhood as the daughter of a disturbed mother and a possibly homicidal father. There is quite an inventory of possessions, and a bit of namedropping as well: ``A Courtier of the Nizam of Hyderabad gave me a string of carved, unpolished Mogul emeralds,'' she boasts. Not that there aren't some anecdotal pearls: In Bali, a monkey runs off with her Xanax, and later she discovers who owns Napoleon's much-traveled penis. The French emperor aside, Harrison writes much about the men in her life, but, with the exception of a beautiful six-page reverie of her relationship with a black jazz musician, her lovers are as lifeless as her collectibles. The former husband is referred to simply and always as Mr. Harrison. Putting him at a safe distance from her heart may protect her peace of mind, but it does little to deepen her memoir. With no discernable lessons to be learned from this fragmentary record of a very full life, the reader might as well go shopping. (Author tour) Read full book review >
THE ASTONISHING WORLD by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: July 14, 1992

Essayist, novelist, and travel writer, Harrison (Italian Days, 1989, etc.) here collects pieces drawn from such disparate magazines as Partisan Review and European Travel and Life. Together, they're meant to track her spiritual journeys through a world at once sacred and ordinary. But that asks too much from journalism and short fictions that are mostly just ordinary. Harrison's travel articles, though full of color and anecdote, develop no higher themes. Impressions of Morocco, Tuscany, Budapest, and Dubrovnik concentrate on bad odors and personal discomfort. Even in her profile of former gymnastics star Nadia Comaneci, Harrison seems obsessed with the athlete's rank smell. Portraits of Mario Cuomo and Gore Vidal succeed because the author allows these men to be themselves, witty and entertaining. On the set of The Godfather, Part III, Harrison discovers the remarkably obvious connections between Coppola's family and the Corleone saga. Equally unprofound is her essay on ``Women and Blacks and Bensonhurst,'' an attempt to contextualize the racial violence in her native Brooklyn, which includes the declaration of authority that ``My first lover was a black man.'' The two best articles return to the subject explored in Harrison's book-length study of Jehovah's Witnesses: cults. Here, she includes a chilling portrait of a dangerous messianic sect in northern Vermont. And a pilgrimage to a Yugoslavian shrine where the Virgin Mary purportedly appeared reveals the political agenda behind this recent Marian cult. The fictional pieces in this volume are the weakest: humorless bits about failed marriages, repressive families, and death. No Joan Didion, Harrison editorializes too much and edits too little. Read full book review >