A thorough, but familiar, portrait of a tormented artist.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

A BIOGRAPHY

The rise and fall of the Nobel Prize–winning writer.

Dearborn (Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim, 2004, etc.), whose previous biographical subjects include Norman Mailer and Henry Miller, writers noted for their boastful machismo, distills a wealth of material for a richly detailed investigation of another writer intent on proving his vigor and manliness, on the page and off. The author writes that she has “no investment” in promoting the Hemingway legend but rather seeks to examine “what formed this remarkably complex man and brilliant writer” by tracing his career as it unfolded. That aim results in a scrupulous chronology, from which the usual suspects emerge: Hemingway’s wives; famous friends F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Robert McAlmon, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound; an ambitious mother, depressed father, and Hemingway’s sons. Even without attempting to burnish the Hemingway legend, Dearborn underscores the charisma of the handsome, athletic man who, critic Edmund Wilson remarked, had an “ominous resemblance to Clark Gable.” Nevertheless, she is clear about his shortcomings, especially his neediness and violent temper. “As long as people around him were worshipful and adoring,” one friend noted, “why then they were great.” If the adoration stopped, they were viciously cut off. This truculence began in childhood and intensified into paranoia as he aged. Also intensifying were Hemingway’s manic episodes, followed by black depressions. Dearborn asserts that this syndrome worsened after a series of traumatic brain injuries and was exacerbated by excessive consumption of alcohol. Not surprisingly, he ended up with liver disease, and although his physicians insisted he give up drinking, he never did. Taking on the question of Hemingway’s sexuality, Dearborn believes that his mother’s practice of styling him and his sister as twins until her son was 6 had lifelong repercussions, including his erotic obsessions with haircuts and color on which Dearborn focuses repeatedly.

A thorough, but familiar, portrait of a tormented artist.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-59467-9

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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