A biography of a lesser-known figure of 20th-century literature, written by his distant cousin.
In this debut biography, Lurie takes readers on a journey through the life of his father’s cousin Lewis Galantière, who mingled with Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway in 1920s France, translated Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s works into English, and was part of the trans-Atlantic literary scene. In an effort to provide an accurate account, Lurie sorted through a variety of contradictory information and outright lies. Galantière had a tendency to embellish his academic credentials (as a literary critic who never attended college, he claimed a fanciful intellectual history) and reinvent his personal history (he said he was born in France rather than to Latvian immigrants in a Chicago tenement). With lengthy quotations from both Galantière’s writings and the papers of the historical figures he interacted with, Lurie builds a detailed portrait of a challenging man who aspired to distinction and—though he had frequent successes—often fell short of his own goals. The book seamlessly blends Galantière’s professional adventures—with publishers, the Federal Reserve, PEN International, and Radio Free Europe—with his personal life, including multiple marriages and affairs. A detailed notes section expands on many of the topics covered in the book and also provides a way for Lurie to incorporate anecdotes that do not fit into the primary narrative, adding further color and interest to Galantière’s story. The book’s one noteworthy shortcoming is a disinclination to grapple with some of its subject’s less savory traits—in particular, the Jewish Galantière’s occasional anti-Semitism, which Lurie describes but does not explore. On the whole, however, Lurie has produced a substantial, thoughtful biography of a man previously known only through his appearances in the papers of more famous individuals, acknowledging his contributions and placing him in historical context without attributing undue significance to a relatively minor figure in modern intellectual history.
A well-written, comprehensively researched account of one man with connections to key players in literature and politics throughout the 1900s.