ADIEUX

A FAREWELL TO SARTRE

Two documentary additions—prosaic, unformed, but substantial—to the Jean-Paul Sartre biography, to the understanding of his oeuvre, to the history of the Beauvoir/Sartre relationship. First comes a fairly brief, inadequately annotated memoir of Sartre, 1970-1980, "based on the diary I kept during those ten years, and on the many testimonies I have gathered." De Beauvoir, a sometime companion in this period, mostly records the ups and downs in Sartre's health: diabetes, slight strokes, dizziness, teeth problems, incontinence, and—worst of all—near-blindness. (In one of the few emotional moments here: "Then he looked at me with a look of anxiety and almost of shame. 'Shall I never get my eyes back?' I said I was afraid he would not. It was so heartrending that I wept all night long."):' Even amid weakness and pain, however, Sartre continued to work on his Flaubert studies, to take on editing assignments for the Maoist magazines, to address workers' groups—in his desire to be "the new intellectual who endeavors to become integrated with the masses so as to bring about the triumph of true universality." (A subtle, curious undercurrent here is De Beauvoir's muted ambivalence about Sartre's final political allegiances—not to mention "his various young women" who kept him supplied with forbidden whiskey.) And the memoir ends with De Beauvoir's musings on the semi-serenity which Sartre achieved in the face of death, on the quasi-suicidal nature of his last illnesses, on the lack of philosophical comfort at the end: "His death does separate us. My death will not bring us together again. That is how things are. It was in itself splendid enough that we could live our lives in harmony so long." The bulk of this thick volume, however, consists of transcripts from 1974 taped conversations between De Beauvoir and Sartre—which "do not reveal any unexpected aspects of him, but. . . do allow one to follow the winding course of his thought and to hear his living voice." Responding to De Beauvoir's often-leading questions, then, an unenthusiastic Sartre talks about: his petit-bourgeois childhood (the hated stepfather, the boarding-school violence); his sometimes-conflicting roles as writer and philosopher (intriguing comments on varying approaches to fiction, criticism, philosophy); individual novels, plays, essays; the influence of Proust, Kafka, Giraudoux; soured friendships with Camus, Koestler, Giacometti, Genet; attitudes toward food, money, and sex—with his attraction to youth ("I find the adult male deeply disgusting"), his relationships with women, his small, ugly self-image. And the conversations turn finally to freedom and socialism (the dual crux of Sartre's politics), death, and God—"a prefabricated image of man, man multiplied by infinity." Repetitious, rarely surprising, enlivened here and there by the often-amusing De Beauvoir/Sartre subtext (e.g., her vain efforts to get him to endorse her version of shared memories): unscintillating but required reading—for students, followers, and other Sartre-watchers.

Pub Date: April 30, 1984

ISBN: 039472898X

Page Count: 453

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1984

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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