AN AMERICAN PAST: An Early Autobiography by Bentz Plagemann
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AN AMERICAN PAST: An Early Autobiography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A long literary life deepened by a struggle with polio, stunningly recounted by the author of Wolfe's Cloister, 1974, The Boxwood Maze, 1972, etc. At the onset of the Depression, Plagemann--an earnest young Catholic of German and Irish descent--resigned his post at an Ohio grocery store and lit out for New York to become a famous author. A series of dingy YMCA rooms eventually gave way to a position as personal assistant to the elegant Mr. Brentano, Sr., at his renowned Fifth Avenue store--and as favored escort to Mr. Brentano's lively unmarried daughter, Rowena. ""Lofty young men like me are often clerks in bookstores,"" Plagemann states, ""which is probably one of the major reasons why so many bookstores go broke."" Plagemann's young writerly pretensions are humorously recalled as he watched the Duchesse de Talleyrand, among others, make ""the stately promenade"" the length of the shop's Fifth Avenue Annex; unpacked some of Europe's most valuable first editions; and witnessed the New York reunion of Paris's expatriate American literati (whose flight before the Germans, Plagemann suggests, bore an unfortunate resemblance to rats leaving a sinking ship). As Rowena's escort, Plagemann spent his evenings at the Stork Club, El Morocco, and the Blue Angel, whose cafe society flourished with the recent influx of Europeans. His carefree life ended with the war, when Plagemann contracted polio aboard a Navy ship and returned home crippled and severely depressed. His subsequent adjustments irrevocably altered his orientation toward life. Returning to New York, he married on Ohio native, moved with her to the country, and embarked upon a literary life as fulfilling, if perhaps less glamorous, as that which he had long craved. Nostalgia at its purest and best.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1990
Publisher: Morrow