Distinguished journalist, novelist and biographer du Plessix Gray (Simone Weil, 2001, etc.) turns her descriptive and analytic powers to the legendary lives of her glamorous, Russian-born mother and stepfather.
Only child Francine was often sidelined growing up in the towering, narcissistic presence of the former Tatiana Iakovleva of St. Petersburg, who later gained fame as Saks Fifth Avenue’s hat designer, and Tatiana’s debonair second husband, Alexander Liberman, who rose through the editorial ranks at Condé Nast to become second in command to owner Si Newhouse. Du Plessix Gray writes about her parents with wary diffidence, fulfilling with reluctance her filial duty as biographer while making lively work of it. Most fascinating are the stories of old-world ancestors, aristocratic artists, and intellectuals like Tatiana’s father, an engineer who designed theaters for the czar; and her uncle Sasha, dashing explorer, linguist and celebrated artist who brought his niece out of revolutionary Russia to modernist Paris. There, teenager Tatiana apprenticed with a hat-maker while attracting notable suitors such as poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Ever the opportunist, Tatiana made a better match with aristocratic French diplomat Bertrand du Plessix, though they were estranged after Tatiana ruined his career prospects with social faux pas in Warsaw. Bertrand went missing in action while working for the Free French, allowing Tatiana and her lover Liberman, a Russian-Jewish artist schooled in England, to head for New York with young Francine in tow to start a new life. Expanded from a New Yorker article, du Plessix Gray’s generous, astute study paints two compelling, Machiavellian personalities. Tatiana and Alex, stars of the émigré community, ascended the New York social ladder by dint of sheer personality and hard work, astutely using and dropping friends as they went. They gave little thought to the psychic health of their pampered young charge, who responds as an adult by running hot and cold by turns while depicting their glamorous, casually destructive life together.
Famous names and juicy stories, served up with literary elegance.