Whimsical illustrations meet quirky prose in this tag-team reinvention of the iconic 1933 book.
An award-winning New Yorker illustrator, designer, and author, Kalman (Swami on Rye: Max in India, 2018, etc.) takes on the challenge of illustrating Stein’s iconic “auto” biography of her longtime companion Toklas. Even though it’s not as ambitious as Zak Smith’s Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow (2006) or Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick in Pictures (2011), Kalman’s 70-plus color illustrations, rendered in her distinctive playful and Fauve-esque style, perfectly reflect the artistic and intellectual world of Paris in the 1920s and ’30s. In a short afterword, written in Kalman’s distinctive script, she describes the book as a “love story” about how “two people, joined together, become themselves. They cannot breathe right without each other.” An accompanying illustration shows them sitting together at a table, Stein reading a book (aloud?), Toklas looking on (listening?). On the final page of the book, Stein notes that Toklas probably will not write her autobiography, so “I am going to write it for you….And she did and this is it.” On first meeting Stein, Toklas said there are a “great many things to tell of what was happening then….I must describe what I saw when I came.” With the current volume, we see what Kalman saw. Here’s Stein sitting in a bright yellow chair at her popular Paris home at 27 rue de Fleurus, Picasso’s famous portrait of Stein on the wall behind her. Luminaries came and went, all beautifully captured with Kalman’s bright brush strokes: Toulouse-Lautrec; Seurat, who “caught his fatal cold”; the “extraordinarily brilliant” Guillaume Apollinaire; William James, Stein’s former teacher; Marcel Duchamp (“everybody loved him)”; Isadora Duncan and Nijinsky; James Joyce and Sylvia Beach; Hemingway; the “beautiful” Edith Sitwell; and of course, Toklas, wearing one of her hats with “lovely artificial flowers” on top.
A sparkling, imaginative rendition of a literary classic.