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Mganga with the Lion

Kenneth Silverman: Hemingway, 2 September 1999

Hemingway: The Thirties 
by Michael Reynolds.
Norton, 360 pp., £9.95, October 1998, 0 393 31778 1
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Hemingway: The Final Years 
by Michael Reynolds.
Norton, 416 pp., £19.95, July 1999, 0 393 04748 2
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True at First Light 
by Ernest Hemingway.
Heinemann, 319 pp., £16.99, July 1999, 9780434008322
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... published a book in ten years. And the novel turned even some sympathetic reviewers into hangmen. Alfred Kazin reported feeling ‘embarrassment, even pity, that so important a writer can make such a travesty of himself’. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and the next year a (greatly deserved) Nobel Prize. But he was being ...

How to do the life

Lorna Sage, 10 February 1994

Writing Dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World 
by Carol Brightman.
Lime Tree, 714 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 413 45821 0
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... from whence they came’, even when she’s impressed by it. McCarthy’s authority, according to Alfred Kazin, increased in relation to ‘the growing conviction of meaninglessness in the air’, and the climax of this process was The Group, where she’d planned what she described as a ‘compendious history of that faith in progress of the Thirties ...

Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... the critics, the obverse was true: Lionel Trilling wrote fiction, Harold Rosenberg wrote poetry, Alfred Kazin wrote his memoirs. They weren’t just critics: they were writers. With the rise of mass education after World War Two, the demand for English professors grew, more university presses were established, and increasing specialisation occurred as ...

To be like us isn’t easy

Emily Cooke: Dorothy Baker, 20 June 2013

Young Man with a Horn 
by Dorothy Baker.
NYRB, 185 pp., £8.99, March 2012, 978 1 59017 577 4
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Cassandra at the Wedding 
by Dorothy Baker.
NYRB, 241 pp., £8.99, September 2012, 978 1 59017 601 6
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... The fourth and final novel, Cassandra at the Wedding (1962), did better, winning the admiration of Alfred Kazin and Carson McCullers. Still, a good portion of the 1962 interview concerns Baker’s sense of failure. Twenty-five years into her career, she was not among the handful of writers considered the very best. The fact desolated her. Baker’s ...

Popcorn and Stale Plush

Namara Smith: Joyce Carol Oates in Motion, 10 February 2022

by Joyce Carol Oates.
Fourth Estate, 365 pp., £16.99, August 2021, 978 0 00 849088 1
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... riots of 1967, which Oates witnessed while teaching in the city. Writing in Harper’s in 1971, Alfred Kazin praised her openness to ‘social havoc and turbulence’ and her affinity with the ‘avalanche’ of the times. But five years later, she no longer seemed in touch with the zeitgeist. Hilton Kramer dismissed her novels in Commentary as the ...

The Hagiography Factory

Thomas Meaney: Arthur Schlesinger Jr, 8 February 2018

Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian 
by Richard Aldous.
Norton, 486 pp., £23.99, November 2017, 978 0 393 24470 0
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... from the get-go. Intellectuals were back in vogue. Schlesinger brokered lunch between Kennedy and Alfred Kazin (their exchanges appear to have been weightier than the mutual flattery of those between Obama and Marilynne Robinson). But Schlesinger’s main duties kicked in after the assassination. A Thousand Days, Schlesinger’s 1032-page memorial – a ...

Yuh wanna play bad?

Christopher Tayler: Henry Roth, 23 March 2006

Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth 
by Steven Kellman.
Norton, 372 pp., $16.99, September 2005, 0 393 05779 8
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Call It Sleep 
by Henry Roth.
Picador US, 462 pp., $15, July 2005, 0 312 42412 4
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... Above all, the translated Yiddish dialogue is splendid: ‘almost too splendid’, according to Alfred Kazin, who wrote the introduction to a 1991 edition of the novel, since it makes everyday idioms sound impossibly elevated. ‘Even the fixed word wavers, eh?’ Albert snarls when he thinks he’s caught his wife backtracking. ‘We must cleave to ...


Steven Shapin: The Pseudoscience Wars, 8 November 2012

The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe 
by Michael Gordin.
Chicago, 291 pp., £18.50, October 2012, 978 0 226 30442 7
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... that we are living in a safe, never perturbed, solar system and a safe, never perturbed past. Alfred Kazin, writing in the New Yorker, understood that this was part of Velikovsky’s appeal, and tellingly linked the great pseudoscientist with the Doomsday warnings of orthodox atomic scientists: Velikovsky’s work ‘plays right into the small talk ...

The Unstoppable Upward

James Wolcott: ‘The Life of Saul Bellow’, 24 January 2019

The Life of Saul Bellow: Love and Strife, 1965-2005 
by Zachary Leader.
Cape, 864 pp., £35, November 2018, 978 0 224 10188 2
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... found sustained exposure to Bellow’s vanity and droit de seigneur too hard on the eyes; so did Alfred Kazin, who had known him when they were both terriers on the Partisan Review scene and was now put out by Bellow’s imperial aura of serene self-possession and superiority, ‘sitting congealed like frozen matzoh ball soup in his conceit’, and the ...

More than ever, and for ever

Michael Rogin: Beauvoir and Nelson Algren, 17 September 1998

Beloved Chicago Man: Letters to Nelson Algren 1947-64 
by Simone de Beauvoir, edited by Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir.
Gollancz, 624 pp., £25, August 1998, 0 575 06590 7
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America Day by Day 
by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Carol Cosman.
California, 355 pp., $27.50, January 1999, 0 520 20979 6
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... mise-en-scène as farce. ‘I don’t think his book has anything real about it whatsoever,’ Alfred Kazin wrote in the New York Times, comparing Wild Side to the ‘harrowing and grimly honest’ Man with the Golden Arm, which ‘hurt like a blow’. The New York intellectuals now dismissed Algren as a Thirties leftover. Although he himself had ...

The Reviewer’s Song

Andrew O’Hagan: Mailer’s Last Punch, 7 November 2013

Norman Mailer: A Double Life 
by J. Michael Lennon.
Simon and Schuster, 947 pp., £30, November 2013, 978 1 84737 672 5
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... Lennon often puts his finger on the kind of detail that makes sense of Mailer’s character. Pearl Kazin (Alfred Kazin’s sister) was an editor at Harper’s Bazaar and her manner was said to be quite superior. She deployed it over the years to get American novelists to jump through hoops. And when she asked Mailer if ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... smoke hanging over noisy rooms on the Upper West Side or Greenwich Village where Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, Philip Rahv, Clement Greenberg and a supporting cast of kibitzers engaged in rhetorical (and, in Greenberg’s case, actual) fisticuffs. Like many men of ideas with impossibly high standards of intellectual probity, they could also be snarly ...

Sisyphus at the Selectric

James Wolcott: Undoing Philip Roth, 20 May 2021

Philip Roth: The Biography 
by Blake Bailey.
Cape, 898 pp., £30, April, 978 0 224 09817 5
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Philip Roth: A Counterlife 
by Ira Nadel.
Oxford, 546 pp., £22.99, May, 978 0 19 984610 8
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Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth 
by Benjamin Taylor.
Penguin, 192 pp., £18, May 2020, 978 0 525 50524 2
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... criticism was expended on Roth’s work when it was hot off the grill – by, among others, Alfred Kazin, Marvin Mudrick, Frank Kermode, Leslie A. Fiedler, Stanley Crouch and Vivian Gornick (how she has been vindicated! Her 1976 Village Voice essay on Roth and company, ‘Why Do These Men Hate Women?,’ was a warning siren) – that fresh ...

In the Egosphere

Adam Mars-Jones: The Plot against Roth, 23 January 2014

Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books 
by Claudia Roth Pierpont.
Cape, 353 pp., £25, January 2014, 978 0 224 09903 5
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... the National Book Award for a first book? With Saul Bellow, Leslie Fiedler, Irving Howe and Alfred Kazin in his corner – ‘four tigers’, as he describes them, of American Jewish literature – it might have been possible to ignore the fringe of pious malcontents, but appeasement has never gained ground in Roth’s personal style. In her ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters, 24 January 2013

Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... and his resuscitation through faith. What in hell am I doing with all these theatre types? Alfred Kazin’s journals, 26 December 1986 Discount Kazin’s weary, load-bearing sigh in this characteristic entry from his journals, which record him enduring party after party, decade after decade, as if it were his ...

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