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By Diana Souhami

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-04-440833-1

 Here, the odd, legendary, and passionate collaboration between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is eyed with detailed objectivity by London critic Souhami (Gluck: Her Biography, 1989- -not reviewed). ``Gertrude and Alice made a strange looking pair,'' Souhami begins. She calls them ``indomitable,'' ``so emphatically and uncompromisingly themselves that the world could do nothing less than accept them as they were.'' Both children of Jewish immigrants raised near San Francisco, they met in Paris in 1907 when Gertrude was writing The Making of Americans, living with her brother Leo, and collecting the paintings of Matisse and Picasso that first drew the avant-garde to her door. Souhami maps the workings of their 39- year relationship, while giving a sense of Gertrude's voice by quoting her work. ``Their deepest point of agreement, and the focus of much of their shared life, was that Gertrude was a genius,'' the author says, quoting Gertrude as saying, ``Twentieth-century literature is Gertrude Stein.'' According to Souhami, Gertrude, with ``huge personality'' and ``easy laughter,'' wrote, talked, and thought; ``sharp'' Alice ``did the rest.'' But far beyond the daily typing of manuscripts, Alice stood as ``the power behind the throne,'' managing and promoting their mutual image, even publishing Gertrude's writings. Souhami's nonjudgmental (sometimes witty) reporting serves the reader well by scrutinizing this idiosyncratic pairing in all aspects, appealing and not. During WW I, Stein and Toklas distributed supplies to French hospitals. During WW II, they supported resistance fighters, but also used the protection of Bernard Fay (later imprisoned as a collaborator) to stay in France. After Stein's death in 1946, Toklas courageously carried on, her income at times withheld by the Stein family, her apartment walls stripped of the famous paintings. The engaging backstage story to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas--and, surprisingly, the first Stein biography in more than a decade. Photographs by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton stand out among 45 illustrations that convey Stein and her world.