A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH by Virgilia Peterson


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One can dislike this book intensely or like it as intensely, but one cannot be indifferent to it- or for that matter lay it aside unfinished. There is an almost obsessive -- sometimes morbid - fascination which it exerts, as Virgilia Peterson lays bare the motivations, the inner springs, of an unusual life. She is sceptical as to the need of love in childhood; she is persuaded that understanding is vital -- and she addresses this autobiography to the mother from whom she had neither love nor understanding (and to whom she could never give love- and only belatedly, understanding). It is not an autobiography in the sense of being a chronology of successive events, but in her search for self-knowledge, she explores the major incidents:- her oddly sheltered, prosperous middle-class childhood; an education that had its contradictions and variants from the norm; an illness (polio) in late adolescence, that might well have marred her physically and emotionally; her meeting- parting- and eventual marriage to a Polish prince (Polish Profile was the catapult that launched her on her ""public"" life); her brief marital interlude and casual sex episodes that interrupted the other and major emotional experience; the war- which left her oddly untouched though it changed the flow of life; motherhood- strangely peripheral; post-war and a new love; the catastrophe that almost wrote finis to her life- and ever and always, her stumbling ineptitude in human relations, growing- she feels- out of that failure in understanding that stemmed back to the mother she hated. There are many gaps in facts- but it seems to matter little in the almost uncomfortably honest search for herself. She is widely known- through her Author Meets the Critic programs, through her nationwide lecture pilgrimages. But when one reads this book one meets yet another person. Curiosity, eagerness to know what a person in the public eye is like, these will be factors that will spur interest. Here is a book that advertising cannot launch- only word of mouth advertising (which cannot be bought) will make it into a wide seller. Watch it!

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1961
Publisher: Atheneum