Informed and sympathetic portrait of a genius struggling to complete his life’s work, no matter what.

PROUST AT THE MAJESTIC

THE LAST DAYS OF THE AUTHOR WHOSE BOOK CHANGED PARIS

An admiring, even loving, look at the dying Marcel Proust’s final six months, with many glances backward (and sometimes askance) at the novelist’s family and friends.

British historian Davenport-Hines (The Pursuit of Oblivion, 2002, etc.) begins with a terrific set piece: a description of the lavish party at the Majestic Hotel in Paris arranged on May 18, 1922, by Violet and Sydney Schiff, to honor the Ballets Russes’ first public performance of Le Renard. The guest list included many of the artistic geniuses of the early 20th century, including Igor Stravinsky (the ballet’s composer), Serge Diaghilev (the dance company’s impresario), James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and the late-arriving Proust. (The Schiffs get their own chapter later, in which they are chided for their sometimes unwelcome intrusions on the writer in his last days.) Chapter Two offers a quick look at Proust’s family and childhood. In 1908, the author tells us, the 37-year-old author settled on the structure of his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, the multi-volume work that would consume him until his last breaths in that famous bedroom with the cork-lined walls. There the sickly Proust lay writing and suffering and adhering to one of earth’s oddest diets: cold beer, café au lait, ice cream and occasional injections of adrenaline. Some interesting folks populate these pages, among them Jean Cocteau and Edith Wharton (an early advocate of Proust’s work). Davenport-Hines closely examines Proust’s fascination with the upper reaches of society and his views on sex, crediting Lost Time for opening world literature to unconventional sexual behavior. The author marvels, too, at Proust’s reputation in his beloved Paris. His books sold briskly, and celebrity quickly followed publication of the first volume. A final chapter details the writer’s death on Nov. 18, 1922, his funeral and burial.

Informed and sympathetic portrait of a genius struggling to complete his life’s work, no matter what.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58234-471-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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