A LIFETIME BURNING IN EVERY MOMENT by Alfred Kazin

A LIFETIME BURNING IN EVERY MOMENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 With over 50 years' worth of raw material to plunder and pick through, Kazin unearths pieces of autobiographical and critical prototypes, along with literary gossip, academic kvetching, private rhapsodies, and 20th-century angst. Overlapping with Starting Out in the Thirties (1965), New York Jew (1978), and Writing Was Everything (1995), these journal selections naturally lose out by comparison, being fragmentary and, for Kazin, unpolished. Yet they still have their own allure, offering the freshness of first impressions and (relatively) uncensored honesty and self-examination. Many of the entries on Kazin's intimate life--several failed marriages, feelings of inadequacy, and old-age ailments--read embarrassingly, but the passages on his public, intellectual life, amplified by the 20th- century history he has witnessed, more than make up for any longueurs. From vantages in London, Italy, Amherst, Yaddo, Stanford, and, naturally, New York, Kazin's portraits of five decades are vivid but sometimes hit-and-miss, but his personal portraits are winning throughout, with vibrant cameos of Zero Mostel, Arthur Miller, Robert Frost, Saul Steinberg, Harold Bloom, and Jerzy Kosinski, to name a few described in these populous pages. Perhaps the most touching portrait here is of his friendship in the 1950s with Josephine Herbst, a penniless, ``politically exhausted relic'' of a leftist activist and proletarian novelist, who shows Kazin her indomitable spunk while reliving the 1930s for him. Other friendships prove more complicated over time: Kazin had an intense but increasingly difficult relationship with Hannah Arendt and became estranged from Saul Bellow. His intellectual relationships, chiefly revolving around his love of America, his hatred of ideology, and his independent Jewish identity, are even more complicated. A composite intellectual and literary album, travelogue, commonplace book, and confessional diary from a leading critic still ``writing up things in my notebook as if my peace depended on it.''

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-019037-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996




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