As is to be expected from Lessing (The Real Thing; 1992, etc.), whose clear and always intelligent no-nonsense writing has explored subjects that transcend the commonplace, this first volume of her autobiography reflects all her remarkable strengths. The year of her birth, 1919, was auspicious neither for her parents in particular nor for the world in general. The ill-matched Taylers had married not out of love but out of a mutual need to expunge the horror of the recently ended world war, which had maimed Lessing's father both physically and mentally -- he'd lost a leg in battle, but more important, be was embittered by what he considered Britain's poor treatment of her soldiers. Her mother, an able nurse, had lost a fiancÃ‰, and marriage now seemed to offer only the consolation of children. These disappointments, exacerbated by the harsh life in rural Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), where her family settled after a stint in Persia, would indelibly shape Lessing. She quarreled frequently with her mother, whose well-meaning strictures she resented; observed her father's despair and his failures as a settler-farmer; and resolved that she would not live like them -- "I will not, I will not!" -- even if it meant defying convention. Which she did, as she left her first husband and their two children for another man -- Gottried Lessing; joined the local Communist Party in the midst of WW II "because of the spirit of the times, because of the Zeitgeist"; and then moved in 1949 permanently to London. Like so many bright and alienated provincials, Lessing found an escape in voracious reading. Though determined to be a writer, the consuming distractions of motherhood, wartime society, and political activities frustrated this ambition for a long time. Refreshingly, not a self-indulgent mea culpa, but a brutally frank examination of how Lessing became what she is -- a distinguished writer, a woman who has lived life to the full, and a constant critic of cant.