Synopses & Reviews
Marcel Proust came into his own as a novelist comparatively late in life, yet only Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky were his equals when it came to creating characters as memorably human. As biographer Benjamin Taylor suggests, before writing In Search of Lost Time
, his multivolume masterwork, Proust was a literary lightweight, but, following a series of momentous historical and personal events, he becameandmdash;against all expectationsandmdash;one of the greatest writers of his, and indeed any, era.
This insightful, beautifully written biography examines Proustandrsquo;s artistic growth and stunning metamorphosis in the context of his times. Taylor provides an in-depth study of the authorandrsquo;s life while exploring how Proustandrsquo;s personal correspondence and published works were greatly informed by his motherandrsquo;s Judaism, his homosexuality, and such dramatic historical events as the Dreyfus Affair and, above all, the First World War.
"Compared to that parvenu Rome, southern Italy's metropolis is 'more ancient, less well-off...wiser, grander...glorious ghastly,' as well as the ideal setting for shaggy-dog repartee and philosophical ruminations, to judge by this beguiling travelogue. Taylor (Into the Open: Reflections on Genius and Modernity) offers a meandering, conversational account of 3000 years of Neapolitan history, one that veers off on interesting digressions on the origin of the alphabet to the fate of a lost American bomber crew but which always circles back to gossipy anecdotes about Roman emperors, medieval potentates, and latter-day literary figures and sexual outlaws. Meanwhile he leads readers on a journey through the modern city's cathedrals, poets' tombs, and famously finicky concert halls a chorus of boos erupts when a harp recital strays into the avant-garde modernism and periodically repairing to some cafÃ© for impromptu debates with locals about everything from Faulkner to CIA conspiracies. (Naples's buried Greek heritage provokes Taylor's own opinionated musings on the superiority of pagan spirituality, which he greatly prefers to Christianity's 'masochistic preoccupation with suffering, death and putrefaction' and 'untragic view of life.') Steeped in off-hand erudition and raptly attuned to the city's scruffy allure, Taylor makes a charming guide to an under-toured city. Photos. Agent: Irene Skolnick." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
andldquo;Splendid.andrdquo; and#160;- Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Lifeand#160;
There is no more witty, worldly, cultivated or amiably candid observer imaginable than Benjamin Taylor.andnbsp; This book belongs on the shelf of the very best literary travel guides.
- Phillip Lopate, author of Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan
Erudite and charming, Naples Declared
is remarkable book; it's about place and history and survival; it's fresh, it's wise, and it's not to be missed.andnbsp;
-Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
“Splendid.” - Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life
andldquo;From novelist/essayist/editor Taylor, an idiosyncratic, atmospheric portrait of andlsquo;the great open-air theater of Europe.andrsquo; The author wears his formidable erudition lightly as he cites classical authors and 20th-century travel writers with equal zest and acuity. Yet some of his most enjoyable pages are present-day encounters with a fervently communist doctor, with a chain-smoking student of Faulkner, and with novelist Shirley Hazzard, one of Naples many devoted longtime, part-time residents. Packed with elegant apercus and vibrant with the authorandrsquo;s rueful understanding that andlsquo;Naples the glorious and Naples the ghastly have always been one place,andrdquo; [in his] highly personal book the Neapolitan spirit is palpable.andrdquo;andmdash;Kirkus
andldquo;Taylorandrsquo;s book, like his subject, Naples, is a lot of things at once; there are lengthy discussions of history, philosophy, religion, art, culture, literature, customs.andnbsp; The book meanders between past and present, wanders in stream-of-thought fashion through the Naples streets, delves deeply into the cityandrsquo;s stories, lives, and lore, and drops in for conversations with locals; it is an accurate representation of what travel is and what it means.andnbsp; Scholarly and insightful and balanced with wit and levity, [Naples Declared] is written with an effortless poeticism.andrdquo;andmdash;Library Journal
andquot;Superb . . . What Chatwin did for Australia and Mathiessen for the Himalayas, Taylor now does for the storied city of Naples.andnbsp; Iandnbsp;will steal a line from Leon Wieseltier's review of Taylor's previous book, andquot;Saul Bellow: Lettersandquot; to describe his newest one:andnbsp; andquot;an elegantissimo book.andquot;andnbsp; [In Naples Declared,] Taylor deftly sums up more than 3,000 years of history, ranging from the establishment of a Mycenaean entrepandocirc;t in 1800 B.C.E. to the signal event of 2011: andldquo;Renewed garbage crisis.andrdquo;andnbsp;Like all great travel memoirs, however, andldquo;Naples Declaredandrdquo; owes some of its best moments to the firsthand experiences of the author in the place he writes about.andnbsp;He is a watchful traveler and a charming raconteur, and so we are treated to accounts of his successful effort to cure the hiccups of an aristocratic Englishwoman known to the hotel staff as andldquo;Lady So-and-So,andrdquo; his inventory of the cast-off items and the poignant graffiti that he spots in an ancient aqueduct used as a bomb-shelter during World War II . . . Taylorandrsquo;s book offers a full measure of history and reportage. andldquo;My modus operandi,andrdquo; he explains, andldquo;has been to walk a knowledge of Naples into my bloodstream.andrdquo; But the book is also a reverie. andldquo;In this place, my dream said, trust to the promise of renewable wonder,andrdquo; he concludes, andldquo;every loverandrsquo;s hope and prayer.andrdquo; There is no better way to sum up what Taylor has captured in andldquo;Naples Declared,andrdquo; a wholly delightful example of what the literary travel memoir can achieve.andquot;--Jonathan Kirsch, JewishJournal.com
andldquo;Those who found reading Proust too grand an undertaking over the years because of distractions and deficiencies of their own, might well rush to reconsider after confronting this dazzlingly elegant biography.andrdquo;andmdash;Philip Roth
andldquo;Taylorandrsquo;s endeavor is not to explain the life by the novel or the novel by the life but to show how different events, different emotional upheavals, fired Proustandrsquo;s imagination and, albeit sometimes completely transformed, appeared in his work. The result is a very subtle, thought-provoking book.andrdquo;andmdash;Anka Muhlstein, author of Balzacandrsquo;s Omelette and Monsieur Proustandrsquo;s Library
andquot;A sensitive study of literatureand#39;s favorite neurasthenic . . . Readers of Proust will be fascinated to find clues as to who his characters were in real life, and they should be moved to appreciation by Taylorand#39;s assessment of Proustand#39;s accomplishment . . . A densely packed and rewarding book.andquot;andmdash;Kirkus Reviews
It is a city of seemingly irreconcilable opposites, simultaneously glorious and ghastly. And it is Ben Taylorandrsquo;s remarkable ability to meld these contradictions into a whole that makes this the exciting and original book it is. He takes his stroll around the bay with the acute sensitivity of a lover, the good humor of a friend, and the wisdom of a seeker who has immersed himself in all aspects of this contrapuntal culture. His curiosity leads him to many byways, both real and metaphoric, and his passion for this ancient city and its people becomes, in his graceful prose and amusing anecdotes, irresistibly contagious.
A lively, elegantly concise historic tour of Italy’s city by the bay
An invaluable addition to the art of literary travel writing, Naples Declared
presents an informative and compulsively readable account of three thousand years of Naples history. From the catacombs of San Gennaro to the luminous paintings of Caravaggio to the ruins of Pompeii in nearby Campania, renowned author Benjamin Taylor takes readers on a stroll around the city Italians lovingly call Il Cratere. Gracefully written and full of good humor, wisdom, and amusing anecdotes, Naples Declared
is a wholly original work that will be welcomed by anyone seeking to know more about the art, culture, and history of this fabled place.
An arresting new study of the life, times, and achievement of one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century
About the Author
Benjamin Taylor is the author of two acclaimed novelsandmdash;The Book of Getting Even
and Tales Out of School
andmdash;and the editor of Saul Bellow: Letters,
called by The New York Times Book Review
book. Our literatureandrsquo;s debt to Taylor is considerable.andrdquo;