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About My Life and the Kept Woman: A Memoirby John Rechy
"John Rechy's latest book is a memoir that reads like a novel, complete with cliff-hanging chapter conclusions, long dialogue scenes, a regularly repeating leitmotif (of a mysterious, glamorous woman), and a clear progression of accumulated effect. Fair enough, since he's stated that he believes there's something fictionalized about any memory." Edmund White, The New York Review of Books (read the entire New York Review of Books review)
Synopses & Reviews
The untold personal life story of the novelist whom Gore Vidal has hailed as "one of the few original American writers of the last century." John Rechy's first novel, City of Night, is a modern classic and his subsequent body of work has kept him among America's most important writers.
Now, for the first time, he writes about his life, in a volume that is a testament to the power of pride and self-acceptance. Rechy was raised Mexican-American in Texas, at a time when Latino children were routinely discriminated against. As he grew older — and as his fascination with a notorious kept woman from his childhood deepened — Rechy became aware that his differences lay not just in his heritage but in his sexuality. While he performed the roles others wanted for him, he never allowed them to define him — whether it was the authoritarians in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, the bigoted relatives of his Anglo college classmates, or the men and women who wanted him to be something he was not.
About My Life and the Kept Woman is as much a portrait of intolerance as of an individual who defied it to forge his own path.
"Reflecting on his long life with a calm, clear eye, novelist Rechy (The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens) probes his nascent self-identity as a Mexican-American and a homosexual. Growing up during the Depression in El Paso, Tex., the youngest son of a Mexican woman who spoke no English and a Scottish musician father, Rechy recalls his early fascination with beauty, especially in his older adored sister, Olga, who married early, and in the cool, glamorous regard of the notorious 'kept woman' of Mexican politician Augusto de Leon, Marisa Guzman, whom the young narrator glimpsed briefly and memorably at his sister's wedding. Moreover, amid a society that excoriated Mexicans, young Rechy grew into a beautiful, fair-skinned young man torn between feeling proud of his Mexican roots and shame because of them. Fleeing the restricted prospects of El Paso and the depressive rages of his father, Rechy, a budding writer, attended college, then joined the army during the Korean War and began traveling, to Paris, New York City and Los Angeles, where he found hustling for sex from anonymous men suited him. The memoir meanders through years of drifting among jobs and numerous sexual encounters, which became the fodder for his acclaimed City of Night (1963) and other works. Self-adulation aside, Rechy's memoir possesses many fine stylistic vignettes." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen and resident of Germany, had been traveling in Pakistan in December 2001 when he was detained on his way to the airport and handed over to the U.S. military. He was 19 years old. After a couple of agonizing months in Kandahar, he was sent, shackled and hooded, to Guantanamo and imprisoned there for almost five years, despite the fact that both U.S. and German intelligence... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) had concluded as early as 2002 that there was no evidence linking him to terrorism. Kurnaz's account of his imprisonment is almost unbearably painful to read, precisely because his tone is so measured and low-key. He endured beatings, waterboarding, electric shock, isolation and the disruption of all sense of time and space. He was asked the same meaningless questions again and again. There were also petty, gratuitous cruelties: In Kandahar, prisoners were fed military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) but with part of the food removed so that they were perpetually hungry. On one occasion, Kurnaz's MRE contained pork, which he, as a Muslim, could not eat. When a fellow prisoner, a boy of about 16, offered to share his own meager ration of chicken, soldiers rushed in to hit him. There was little apparent concern in Kandahar over whether prisoners lived or died. One night Kurnaz saw a man being kicked and beaten to death by seven guards. Kurnaz himself was hoisted by a chain from the ceiling and left there for about five days, during which he observed another man hanging like himself and concluded, after some time, that this man was dead: 'His body was mostly swollen and blue, although in some places it was pale and white. I could see a lot of blood in his face, dark streams of it.' The circumstances in Guantanamo were not much better. At one point, Kurnaz was joined in his cage by Abdul, a young man whose legs had been amputated in Bagram because of frostbite, and whose stumps still oozed blood and pus. Despite his constant pain, Abdul was treated as brutally as the other prisoners; when he clutched the fence in an attempt to hoist himself onto the bucket that served as a latrine, a guard hit his hands with a club. Perhaps the worst part of the tortures Kurnaz describes is that there was no respite from them, no time to recuperate between beatings and interrogations, no uninterrupted sleep. For years he saw neither stars nor sunlight. It is tempting to think of Kurnaz's story as exaggerated, but almost everything he describes jibes with the reports of other detainees and of human rights groups. This is a book politicians should read, and it should inspire anguished soul-searching among the rest of us. John Rechy's story begins when, as a youngster, he encountered a notorious and strikingly beautiful woman at his sister's wedding. He learned that she was a kept woman. This glimpse of someone who lived without apology outside social norms inspired him for the rest of his life. Rechy first gained prominence in 1963 with a novel called 'City of Night,' a heartfelt and poeticized account of life in the shadow world of pimps and gay hustlers. Coming in an era when rebels and outsiders — particularly as personified by beautiful and sexually ambiguous young men — were popular icons, the novel received a great deal of attention and acclaim. To some extent, Rechy is working the same soil here, and using the same heightened prose. Unfocused at first, his memoir flashes into life when he begins describing his own years as a street hustler, always accepting the touch of other men but never reciprocating — in short, having become the kind of impermeable icon he imagines the kept woman to have been. The writing in this book sometimes feels a little dated, but Rechy tells a good and occasionally insightful story. Juliet Wittman teaches writing at the University of Colorado." Reviewed by Juliet Wittman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The best parts of the memoir are his reaction to the publication of City of Night, the encounters with his editor Don Allen, as well as those with theater director Wilford Leach...novelist Christopher Isherwood and poet Allen Ginsberg." San Francisco Chronicle
"For those readers who already know John Rechy, About My Life and the Kept Woman will provide additional insight. But if you have never read Rechy, go back to his early novels. There you will find a world of possibility and magic and danger." Los Angeles Times
"Rechy lived a most unusual existence whose central motive was his effort to grow beyond the world of his Latino family without completely losing its love and support." Library Journal
"Keenly observed and well-written — readers will hope that a sequel is forthcoming." Kirkus Reviews
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