A retrospective collection from an illustrious writer’s long career.
Segal (Half the Kingdom, 2013, etc.) was 10 when she was sent, by Kindertransport, from Vienna to England. Eventually, she and what was left of her family made their way to New York. Now in her 90s, Segal’s still there and long overdue for a retrospective of her writing. This is a spectacular volume. It collects excerpts from Segal’s major novels with short stories and essays, some new, some previously uncollected. Throughout her long career, Segal has returned again and again to the biographical impetus that launched it: Her first novel, Other People’s Houses (excerpted here), draws directly from her childhood flight to England and subsequent life with various foster families. Other pieces reflect an abiding interest in Jane Austen, racial inequality, and aging: One particularly delightful story describes an elderly woman at a party for which she can’t quite remember the occasion, or the hostess. As it turns out, it’s not a party after all. In all of these pieces, Segal’s prose is exquisite—crystalline, clear, and utterly unsentimental. In a chapter excerpted from her 1985 novel, Her First American, Segal describes a group of friends—some black, some white—who summer together in a large house in the 1950s. These scenes can be wickedly funny, and excruciatingly awkward, as the well-intentioned white characters bumble around. Segal is critical of liberal white hypocrisy but never cruel to her characters—whatever their race or religion.
Segal is a monumental writer, one of the finest of her generation; this lovely collection is a fine introduction to her work.