Synopses & Reviews
From one of our most admired cultural critics ("A marvelous, canny writer" Terry Castle, London Review of Books
), 31 essays on some of the most influential artists of our time writers, dancers, choreographers, sculptors and two saints of all time, Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene. Among the people discussed: Italo Svevo, Stefan Zweig, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Yourcenar, Joseph Roth, Vaslav Nijinsky, Lincoln Kirstein, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham, Bob Fosse, H. L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Susan Sontag, and Philip Roth.
What unites the book is Acocella's interest in the making of art and in the courage, perseverance, and, sometimes, dumb luck that it requires.
Here is Acocella on Primo Levi, a chemist who, after the Nazis failed to kill him, wrote Survival in Auschwitz, the noblest of the camp memoirs, and followed it with 12 more books... Hilary Mantel, the aspiring young lawyer stuck on a couch with a chronic and debilitating illness, who asked herself, "What can one do on a couch?" (well, one could write) and went on to become one of England's premier novelists... M. F. K. Fisher, who, numb with grief over her husband's suicide, dictated to her sister the witty and classic How to Cook a Wolf... Marguerite Yourcenar, the victim of a 10-year writer's block, who found in an old trunk a draft of a forgotten novel and finished the book: Memoirs of Hadrian... George Balanchine, who, after losing his family at age nine, survived the Russian Revolution, escaped from the Soviet Union at 20, was for five years house choreographer for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, came to the United States with the promise that he could set up a ballet company, and had to wait another 15 years before being able to establish his extraordinary New York City Ballet... and Acocella on Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc reminds us that saints in the service of their visions like artists in the creation of their art draw power from the very blows of fortune that might be expected to defeat them.
"Acocella is the New Yorker's dance critic, but dancers and choreographers comprise a minority of the artists featured in this elegant collection of writings mostly from the New Yorker. The dance pieces are literally the center of the book, sandwiched between Acocella's lucid assessments of writers (and one sculptor, Louise Bourgeois). She has a taste for early 20th-century European, often Jewish novelists who, she says, helped create the modern consciousness in literature: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Italo Svevo, among others. In featuring these long-forgotten writers, she fulfills what, in a fascinating profile of Susan Sontag, she calls 'an essential function of criticism: that of introducing readers to... strange work, things they wouldn't ordinarily encounter.' A particularly affecting look at Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1998 portrays a man long in search of an artistic home who had to find that home, finally, within himself. The essays that follow the dance pieces focus largely on American and British writers (Bellow, Philip Roth, Sybille Bedford). Acocella can flatten a book she dislikes with cool derision ('The less she knows, the more she tells us,' Acocella says of Carol Shloss's biography of Lucia Joyce), but her passionate and penetrating endorsements of other works make you want to discover their pleasures firsthand the best service a critic can render." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Acocella's obsessively detailed essays on dancers and choreographers are the book's most enthralling." Kirkus Reviews
"Critic Acocella's deep knowledge of and organic feel for dance infuses her fleet-footed and witty prose....How agile these firmly rooted yet whirling essays are, and how very enlightening." Booklist
Here is a dazzling collection from Joan Acocella, one of our most admired cultural critics: thirty-one essays that consider the life and work of some of the most influential artists of our time (and two saints: Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene).
Acocella writes about Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and chemist, who wrote the classic memoir, Survival in Auschwitz; M. F. K. Fisher who, numb with grief over her husband's suicide, dictated the witty and classic How to Cook a Wolf; and many other subjects, including Dorothy Parker, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Saul Bellow. Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints is indispensable reading on the making of art and the courage, perseverance, and, sometimes, dumb luck that it requires.
About the Author
Joan Acocella is a staff writer for The New Yorker
, where she covers dance and books. She has also written for The New York Review of Books
and The Wall Street Journal
. She is the author of the critical biography Mark Morris; Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder
; and Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism
. She edited the unexpurgated Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky
and, with Lynn Garafola, André Levinson on Dance
. Acocella was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in New York.
From the Hardcover edition.