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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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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