The Russian-French-American painter and writer (Voices in the Snow, not reviewed, etc.) sketches her life and extensive
acquaintances from 1935 to 1975.
The cosmopolitan Carlisle was born into a distinguished Russian family living in France. Her grandfather Leonid Andreyev
was a leading pro-Soviet writer; her uncle Daniel was a mystical poet tortured and imprisoned by Stalin’s henchmen; he died
shortly after a long term in the Gulag. She writes vividly of her coming-of-age and adult years in Paris, where she met and
married Henry Carlisle, the American literary scholar, editor, novelist, and her eventual coauthor (The Idealists, 1999). He was
descended from an old-line Protestant family in Nantucket, where the couple moved before the island became chic. Despite many
descriptions of the natural world and the author’s in-laws, the Nantucket pages are far less interesting than Carlisle’s last major
section, covering the 1950s and '60s, when the couple and their son, Michael, lived in New York City. Even though she resists
the reigning school of abstract expressionism, the introverted, aesthetically independent Carlisle manages to be in the thick of
things in the New York art world, getting to know such figures as Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko, as well as literary stars
Robert Lowell and Norman Mailer. Unfortunately, except when she recounts her romance with Henry, Carlisle is reserved about
her feelings and her family life, and sometimes slights important details in describing events and personalities. In an otherwise
fascinating section, she describes how she and Henry came to represent Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn with Western publishers during
the early 1970s and to translate part of The Gulag Archipelago, only to see the Nobel laureate turn furiously on them for what
he felt were translating and publishing errors. Yet she never explains just what went wrong.
While a significant number of passages here seem too cursory, Carlisle’s life emerges as stimulating, self-aware, and
culturally rich. Many readers will hope for a sequel.