Books by Susan Rubin Suleiman

Released: Nov. 22, 2016

"A useful biographical portrait of an intriguing writer."
A literature scholar investigates the Jewish identity of novelist Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942). Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Suleiman (French/Harvard; Risking Who One Is, 1994) returns to her birthplace after more than 40 years, looking for her Hungarian Jewish roots. Susan Rubin was a little girl when her parents fled through darkened fields to escape the Communist regime in Hungary in 1949. Through a series of lucky accidents, they had managed to avoid the Nazis and their Hungarian henchmen during the Holocaust; now they were on the run to America. In 1984 Suleiman went back to Budapest with her two young sons for a vacation, trying to give them a sense of her childhood in that beautiful Central European city. Finally, nine years later, she returned again, this time on a six-month fellowship. The bulk of Budapest Diary recounts that lengthier visit, colored by memories of her childhood and her own imaginings of how her sons, now almost grown men, would regard this latest trip. At the heart of her book is the understandable desire to retrieve a piece of family history, to situate herself in ``a feeling of `at homeness,' '' as she puts it. Gradually, the author finds herself, a perpetual emigrant, developing something like that feeling for the city in which she was born. At the same time, she must come to terms with memories of her parents' stormy marriage; her father was a Hasidic rabbi, her mother a devotedly secular Jew who would taunt him for his ``slum'' upbringing. At its best, the book is a poignant piece of self-revelation, sprinkled with some trenchant observationis on the way the dead hand of history has weighed down the former Warsaw Pact countries. Unfortunately, too much of the second half of the book becomes a mere catalogue of movies seen, parties attended, and dinners eaten. Although this fails to deliver on the promise of its first half, the book is an engaging jaunt through one of the most interesting of the emerging eastern European nations. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

In the shadow of ``ethnic cleansing'' and rigid nationalism, a noted academic literary critic examines exemplary creations of the ``plural self'' and urges an extension of the private ironies of ``postmodern subjectivity'' into the public sphere. Suleiman (Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant- Garde, not reviewed) studies authors and artists who live ``between'' safely fixed categories: between national identities (memoirs of Holocaust survivors and war refugees, including the Hungarian-born author herself); between motherhood and creativity (Mary Gordon, Rosellen Brown, Toni Morrison); between languages (Christine Brooke-Rose, HÇläne Cixous); between love of male peers and irritation at their debasing idealizations (Leonora Carrington). Among autobiographies she favors ``the kind that tries to recover, through writing, an irrecoverable absence,'' a mother tongue for the uprooted and decentered. Although Suleiman is an acute reader of playful novelists like Angela Carter, most of her subjects have been gravely ``hurt into poetry.'' Interested in the beautiful and the beautifully ugly, Suleiman is drawn to literature and visual art that offers ``disruptive, painful self-exposure and self-exploration.'' She is a prober of wounds, including her own, when a Chicana reader faults her for class-bound views on author- mothers (the letter and its cogent rejoinder are reprinted here), or when she confronts the much-admired Simone de Beauvoir's dubious war conduct. Suleiman argues, finally, in contrast to thinkers like Richard Rorty, for an essential continuity between public and private spheres. Pinning future salvation to the inculcation of ``divided loyalties,'' she asserts that such divisions would create tolerance by instilling an awareness of how many conflicting interests each of us is made of. The admittedly utopian-sounding proposal she leaves us with is this: ``Since public rhetorics of certainty... don't seem to have worked all that well... why not try a public rhetoric of doubt?'' Detailed, generous analyses of complex artists, buttressed by lucid cultural speculation. Read full book review >