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Category Archive for 'Autobiography/Memoir'

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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“At thirty I had almost forgotten what it was like to be alone in a forest, or to immerse myself in a river, or to run along the edge of a crest beyond which there is only sky. I had done these things and they were my happiest memories. To me, the young urban adult I had become seemed like the exact opposite of that wild boy, and hence the desire grew to go in search of him. It wasn’t so much the need to leave as the desire to return; not to discover an unknown part of myself but to recover an old and deep-seated one I felt that I had lost.” Paolo Cognetti, author of 2017’s prize-winning THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS, continues the story of life in the alpine heights of northern Italy during summer vacations, with his own memoir, THE WILD BOY. Readers of EIGHT MOUNTAINS will be familiar with the area and the personality of his main character, remarkably like his own, as shown in this memoir by a man who has just reached age thirty. Newbies unfamiliar with Cognetti should enjoy an opportunity to share the life of a person of letters who is wondering about the direction he may take – a quiet book by a thoughtful writer for whom the trip to the mountains is a chance to relive times past through the activity of the present and learn from it

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In the years between 1973 and 1981, Uruguay was ruled by the rich and powerful – autocrats who used the power of the military to secure their rule and their continuing wealth – while the needs of the rest of the country were ignored.  Uruguayan author Mario Orlando Benedetti, widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in South America, was himself arrested and exiled during this time, and he knew many people who were imprisoned, if not executed.  Using his firsthand knowledge, he published this extraordinary and revelatory book in 1982, in the days immediately following the end of military rule, giving his audience and the rest of the world a vibrant, literary study of the effects of imprisonment on the hearts, minds, and psyches of people like himself, and of those at home who loved them. On the Favorites List for 2019.

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