A dreadful book--ill-conceived, labored, mired in trivia, and vastly overlong. (In every respect, inferior to Alice Wexler's...



A dreadful book--ill-conceived, labored, mired in trivia, and vastly overlong. (In every respect, inferior to Alice Wexler's Emma Goldman, below.) Falk happened upon some tormented letters from anarchist Emma Goldman to the faithless, boorish, much-younger love-of-her-life, hobo-turned-physician/activist Ben Reitman--and gaped: ""there was. . . a tone of depression, even of resignation, that I had never associated with this freedom fighter."" Goldman herself, Falk learned, had worried that her passion for Reitman would hurt her image (and played it down in her autobiography, Living My Life); but an attitude understandable in Goldman is ridiculous in Falk. The book itself is built around the Reitman relationship, with minute attention to other liaisons--obscuring even the importance of Goldman's lifelong, not-primarily-sexual affiliation with fellow-anarchist Alexander Berkman. (The only explanation of anarchism is a Goldman definition; her involvement with ""anarchist"" McKinley-assassin Leon Czolgosz is typically obscured--while we have, also typically, a long paragraph on an ex-lover's later life and second thoughts.) The central account of her ten years with Reitman, focusing on her reaction to his compulsive womanizing and obsessive attachment to his mother, is dreary, monotonous, trite: ""She kept expecting him to transform himself and longed for an affirmation of his devotion to her that would match her idealized vision of love."" (In a single chapter, with just a few excerpts from the letters, Wexler conveys the truly erotic nature of the bond, her domineering and dependence.) The upshot of all these meetings and partings, recriminations and pleadings--followed into Goldman's exile from America, after 1919--is a mÉlange of simplicisms: she escaped ""unpleasant personal situation[s] through ennobling work""; she moved ""beyond her particular emotional limitations by giving the world a vision of unlimited freedom""; her conflicts ""have meaning for anyone who aspires to live honestly and generously. . . [but] her reactions were more often rooted in her past than in her present dilemmas."" Falk's part in collecting the Goldman papers does her more credit.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1984