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Category Archive for 'Autobiography/Memoir'

I Will Never See the World Again by Ahmet Altan, written from a cell in Turkey where the author has been imprisoned for the past three years, is a memoir so stunning in its description of his prison life and so remarkable for its positive revelations regarding Altan’s emotional state that I cannot imagine anyone not rejoicing in the publication of this book. While that reaction may seem absurd on its surface and oddly romantic in its vision of reality, the author has had three years to come to terms with his arrest and figure out ways to survive – and even benefit from it, hard as that may be to believe. Sharing observations from literature and philosophy in which he sees parallels to his prison life, he connects with the reader in a broader, more universal, and peaceful way than most readers will expect. He thinks of himself as Odysseus fighting Poseidon, appreciating that “there was the storm and there was me. We were going to fight.” Ultimately, he has dream adventures from all over the world, and he is happy, possessing “a godly arrogance. I am not in prison. I am a writer…[and] like all writers, I have magic.” An extraordinary memoir by an extraordinary man.

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Young Once, published originally in 1981, when Modiano was thirty-six, came as a huge and thrilling surprise to me, after I had already read eighteen of Modiano’s other autobiographical novels. Here, in what publisher New York Review Books describes as “his breakthrough novel,” Modiano “strips away the difficulties of his earlier work and finds a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief.” The fact that main character Louis Memling, is twenty immediately captured my own attention because that is the one stage of author Modiano’s life which had been a total blank for me in his novels. Incomplete but ominous references to this period in Sleep of Memory, published in France in 2017, and which I had just read, added to a sense of mystery. Here two young people, Louis and Odile, are “adopted” by two older men who help them in their lives and offer them work but also take advantage of their naivete´. Soon they discover that they are being used for a criminal enterprise by their “friends.” One of Modiano’s very best.

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Published originally as Livret de Famille in 1977, and written when Patrick Modiano was barely thirty, this collection of stories, all of them autobiographical, provide details about his early life and his search for answers. Nobel Prize winner Modiano had a bizarre childhood, one in which he grew up without any real supervision – and love. As a result, virtually all of his books focus on his search for who he is, what his values are, and who he might yet become as he moves forward in life. This book is particularly revelatory, including as it does, an opening chapter in which he sees his newborn daughter for the first time, and later the stories of his wedding day, the early life of his mother, his fraught relationship with his father, and his own friendships at various stages of his life. The dream-like stories here are set at various stages of his life, and they do not follow chronological order, creating a feeling for the reader that s/he is moving with the author through memories which have had continuing effects on the author’s life. These stories and others leave questions for which Patrick does not even yet have answers, but all have left their marks on him in some significant way. One of his most fascinating books.

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Originally published in November, 1996, when French author Patrick Modiano was fifty-one, Dora Bruder gives new insights into the complex life and career of this Nobel Prize winner from 2014. As the novel opens, Modiano is remembering back to 1988, when he discovered an ad in an old copy of Paris-Soir dated 31 December, 1941, announcing as MISSING young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, followed by her description. Since he knows the neighborhood in which the girl’s family lived, he decides to find out as much as he can about her life. Including his own memories, as he explores coincidences and events suggesting clairvoyance, Modiano spends eight years, during which he worked on other novels, searching for the missing Dora Bruder and her fate.

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In Melville House Publishing’s Last Interview series, Billie Holiday’s own words define her and and reflect her difficult life through eight interviews. The first is given on November 1, 1939, published in Downbeat Magazine, and the last is twenty years later, published in October, 1959, in Confidential Magazine, an interview she granted two days before her death in a New York hospital at age forty-four. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of Clarence Holiday of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, with whom she had little contact after the age of ten. According to Khanya Mtshali, who wrote the substantial Introduction to this book, Billie was raped at around age ten and sent to a Catholic reformatory school for about two years, but was released “with the help of relatives” and later moved to New York with her mother, “where they began engaging in sex work to make ends met. Holiday was only fourteen.” In the the book’s first interview by Dave Dexter, with Downbeat Magazine on Nov. 1, 1939, she talks about those early years when she and her mother “were so hungry we could barely breathe.” Then at fifteen she got her chance singing in a “joint” in New York. Eight years later, at twenty-three, she was a giant in the music world. This book describes her ascent, and her difficulties, in her own words.

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