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Rich with surprises and erudition, informed by an alchemist’s imagination.

Nobel Laureate Naipaul (Magic Seeds, 2004, etc.) looks back at the education, writers, books, countries, people and circumstances that have influenced him and his work.

“All my life I have had to think about ways of looking and how they alter the configuration of the world,” the author declares in an opening passage about his boyhood in Trinidad. He then offers five interconnected essays that explore various aspects of this thesis, sometimes through the experiences of the notable (Gandhi), sometimes through the eyes of the nearly anonymous (an upholsterer), sometimes through those tiny moments of immense significance that have long been a feature of Naipaul’s work. At various points he lengthily—and not always flatteringly—examines the careers of other literary figures. When he finally gets around to reading A Dance to the Music of Time after his friend Anthony Powell’s death, for example, Naipaul is “appalled” by the carelessness and superficiality of much of its prose. Likewise, he confesses an inability to appreciate Graham Greene and assails Salammbô, the long historical novel Flaubert wrote after Madame Bovary (which Naipaul loves). Earning gentler treatment are Derek Walcott’s poems and Gandhi’s autobiography, the latter deemed “a masterpiece.” Unobtrusively, Naipaul offers slender slices of his own life: his experiences writing book reviews (he no longer likes to do them), as a struggling novelist trying to find his voice and as a lifelong voracious reader. Some gripping paragraphs anatomize the art of writing; academic work, he believes, retards a “real” writer’s development. Here and there, small surprises leap out, such as the seven-word revelation that his mother never read a word of his work. But Naipaul is most interested throughout in how Trinidad, India, England and other places affect the writer’s vision and the artist’s craft.

Rich with surprises and erudition, informed by an alchemist’s imagination.

Pub Date: May 5, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-40738-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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