SHARED LIVES by Lyndall Gordon


A Memoir
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 Gordon, a biographer of remarkable gifts (Eliot's New Life, 1988, etc.), turns her glass inward and examines the youth and maturity that she and her friends knew in Cape Town, Israel, New York, and Europe: a wide-ranging picaresque story bound together by childhood attachments never set aside. As a Jew growing up in South Africa in the 1950's, Gordon found herself doubly isolated, for the gentile community that surrounded her--and through which she could move only with the most practiced circumspection--was itself implacably sealed off from the black population that comprised the country's invisible majority. The effect was claustrophobic in the extreme and brought Gordon into alliance with schoolmates who suffered the contradictions as keenly as she did. Her narrative quickly focuses on three of these: Romy, Ellie, and Rose--all of whom died young, all of whom struggled against the social and imaginative constraints of their society. This is preeminently a story of exile--the actual exile of those (like Gordon) who left a world they could no longer endure, and the internal exile of those who tried to manage in a place that gave no scope to their desires--and it moves along that boundary between nostalgia and anger that is the exile's true domain. Good use is made of the diaries and letters of those concerned, and Gordon's voice is both intimate and precise throughout--especially as she describes her own difficulties in establishing an academic career. The tribute that she pays her friends is not entirely testimonial, however, for it sets forth the process by which Gordon grew into her own role--as an observer and interpreter of the lives of others. Elegant and strong: a subtle eye trained across years of memory. (Photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: June 29th, 1992
ISBN: 0-393-03164-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992


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