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Two Lives: Gertrude and Aliceby Janet Malcolm
Synopses & Reviews
"How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis?and#8221; Janet Malcolm asks at the beginning of this extraordinary work of literary biography and investigative journalism. The pair, of course, is Gertrude Stein, the modernist master and#147;whose charm was as conspicuous as her fatnessand#8221; and and#147;thin, plain, tense, sourand#8221; Alice B. Toklas, the and#147;worker beeand#8221; who ministered to Steinand#8217;s needs throughout their forty-year expatriate and#147;marriage.and#8221; As Malcolm pursues the truth of the coupleand#8217;s charmed life in a village in Vichy France, her subject becomes the larger question of biographical truth. and#147;The instability of human knowledge is one of our few certainties,and#8221; she writes.and#160;
The portrait of the legendary couple that emerges from this work is unexpectedly charged. The two world wars Stein and Toklasand#160; lived through together are paralleled by the private war that went on between them. This war, as Malcolm learned, sometimes flared into bitter combat.
Two Lives is also a work of literary criticism. and#147;Even the most hermetic of [Steinand#8217;s] writings are works of submerged autobiography,and#8221; Malcolm writes. and#147;The key ofand#160; 'I' will not unlock the door to their meaningand#151;you need a crowbar for thatand#151;but will sometimes admit you to a kind of anteroom of suggestion.and#8221; Whether unpacking the accessible Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which Stein and#147;solves the koan of autobiography,and#8221; or wrestling with The Making of Americans, a masterwork of and#147;magisterial disorder,and#8221; Malcolm is stunningly perceptive.
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About the Author
Janet Malcolm is the author of The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and Reading Chekhov, among other books. She writes for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and lives in New York City.
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