In the latest in the Jewish Lives series, an experienced biographer delves into Barbra Streisand's psyche.
Early on, Gabler (Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, 2006, etc.), two-time winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, establishes that he is not producing a detailed account of the singer/actress' life. Rather, he constructs a book-length biographical essay, filled with context about Streisand's Jewish persona as a hindrance and, eventually, in unexpected ways, as an aid to her professional successes. The author uses his stated goal as a partial explanation of why he never tried to interview his subject; his full explanation comes across as a series of rationales that weaken an otherwise admirable book. Born in 1942, Streisand harbored an urge to achieve stardom that seems nearly inexplicable considering the obstacles she faced. Gabler examines her childhood and adolescence with remarkable depth and skill given the book’s format as part of a limiting series theme. Streisand achieved many of her goals while still a teenager, making the author’s attention to her childhood and adolescence especially vital. At times, the author concedes certain ironies, as when Fanny Brice's daughter originally opposed casting Streisand as Brice in Funny Girl. "The girl who was always called too Jewish to play anyone but Jews was herself too Jewish to play a Jew who sought to temper her Jewishness," writes Gabler. Because Streisand's Jewish-looking face—particularly her large nose—figured prominently in the obstacles she overcame, Gabler is forced to deal with surface appearances, which leads to judgments that feel repetitive at times. When the author moves away from psychologizing to narrative reporting, fascinating details abound, such as the choosing of actor Omar Sharif, an Egyptian non-Jew, to play opposite Streisand in Funny Girl. The outbreak of war between Egypt and Israel nearly torpedoed that casting choice.
A worthy book, particularly for readers unfamiliar with any of the full-length Streisand biographies.