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A talented author’s peripatetic self-regard.

Bruce Chatwin’s (1940–1989) wife Elizabeth and his authorized biographer Shakespeare compile the literary vagabond’s correspondence.

Chatwin, acclaimed for artistic conflations of fact and fiction and reportage and reflection—e.g., In Patagonia (1977) and On the Black Hill (1982)—was the archetype of the travelling Briton with the temperament of an esthete culture snob—at least that’s the tone of this copious collection. The few long, carefully composed letters are nearly choked by the vagrant postcards and instructions to his spouse from an absent husband. With so much ephemeral, quotidian chaff, starting at age eight until his death of AIDS four decades later, the late author’s considered pieces—which display his celebrated acute ear and antic eye—are too rare. Chatwin’s correspondence proceeds apace from schooldays, when things were sometimes “absolutely wizard” and continued education as a porter at Sotheby’s, where things were less exciting. Then came marriage and study at the University of Edinburgh where, as at the auction house, the author experienced disillusion. Always, there were friends and acquaintances to whom to write; some were famous (Jacqueline Onassis, Susan Sontag, Paul Theroux), others less so—all are identified here in largely bothersome footnotes. Chatwin covered many topics in his letters, including upcoming plans, frequent complaints, money, weather, gossip and, most often, wandering. (Interestingly, a recurring theme was the author’s feckless attempt at a major text on a history of the nomadic life). As his career flourished, the author wrote of his travels to Abidjan, Sikkim, Málaga, Warsaw, Vienna, Florence, Sydney, New Delhi, New York, Dahomey (now Benin), Yaddo et al., with the occasional dateline from home at Wotton-under-Edge. In a sad, moving coda, the wandering ended, with Chatwin deluded and bedridden in Nice. Unfortunately, there’s little here to enhance the writer’s reputation.

A talented author’s peripatetic self-regard.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02246-5

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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