GENET by Edmund White


A Biography
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 An exhaustive and perhaps definitive biography of the celebrated French writer and thief (1910-86), who looks almost human through the eyes of the much tamer White (The Beautiful Room is Empty, 1988, etc.). It's to Genet's credit that, once he became famous enough to establish a public persona, he quite frankly assumed the role of a criminal outcast. The son of an unknown father and an impoverished mother, Genet was raised in a dreary succession of orphanages and foster homes. As a child, he showed signs of great intelligence and creativity, but, as a ward of the state, he couldn't be educated for anything other than manual labor. Incorrigible and fiercely independent, he turned to theft at an early age and spent most of his adolescent years in reform schools and prisons. It was during this period that he became conscious of his homosexuality; throughout the rest of his life, he tried to insulate himself in masculine societies that re-created the brutal and isolated asylums of his youth. ``Boiling over with contradictions, Genet was cruel and sensitive,'' says White, ``a moralist who stole from friends, a petty thief who forged copies of his own quite genuine masterpieces.'' Genet's early writings--Our Lady of the Flowers and The Miracle of the Rose--brought him to the attention of Cocteau and the surrealists, but it was the patronage of Sartre that made Genet famous--and that brought him a pardon from the president of France. Ironically, Genet found it more difficult to write as a free man than as a prisoner, and, in his later years, he nearly stopped working altogether. He finally left France for Morocco (where he's buried) and took up the cause of the Palestinians. A thorough and painstaking job that, however, could have been accomplished in half the space. Scholars will find Genet essential; most others will find a lot to skim. (Useful notes; 16 pages of photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-57171-1
Page count: 848pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993


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