PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... splendid ... Previous histories of modern Greece by C.M. Woodhouse, Richard Clogg and Thomas Gallant have gotten bogged down in this Balkan complexity, but Mr. Beaton’s biographical conceit keeps the narrative focused, lively and clear. His accounts of the Metaxas dictatorship (1936-41), the Axis occupation and subsequent civil war are both gripping and remarkably balanced. Historians have seen the rise of the Communist Party in Greece and its violent suppression, with the help of Britain and the U.S. under the Truman Doctrine, as the start of the Cold War. But Mr. Beaton allows that Greek communists were not a monolithic force under Stalin’s control. They were terrible, but they represented a more local struggle against fascism and monarchy.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalPagan Light is a sequence of braided long-form profiles, full of bright digressions, horrors and lives that dead end. Among other things, it will send you on dozens of Google searches for books and artists you’ve never heard of before ... Mr. James is primarily interested in the undiscovered, the unheralded, the anomalous and obscure ... Mr. James deserves a lot of credit for giving attention to important artists who, in many cases, have not been sufficiently examined by critics. He also has stories to tell about well-known figures ... Mr. James could have said more about the island’s native population, who had to adapt to this influx of egos. It’s one of the few quibbles to make about his roguish, diverting book.
Jean Moorcroft Wilson
MixedThe Hudson ReviewThe new book by Jean Moorcroft Wilson, an expert on the poets of World War I, takes up the narrative established by Graves himself and deepens it with new material. Her telling of Graves’s early homosexuality is more open but still confusing. If you need to know precisely how he acted as a homosexual, you won’t get much help here. It’s all still very cloudy, wrapped up in his boyhood friendships and loyalties, with a gauze of closeted innocence and idealism. Wilson writes sympathetically about young men in the trenches ... Wilson’s book, at times so detailed that its pages blur before the eyes, is best in chapters on the war, a bit muddier about what follows.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[an] elegant, moving biography ... Taking up this biography, I sometimes felt that I could not possibly learn anything new. I was wrong. To begin with, Ms. Marshall was privy to letters kept by Bishop’s last lover, Alice Methfessel, and only made available on Alice’s death in 2009 ... But Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast has more to recommend it than these shocking revelations. It is a shapely experiment, mixing memoir with biography ... The difficulty of knowing another person becomes a theme of Ms. Marshall’s book. Each of her six major chapters takes for its title one of the six end words used in each stanza of A Miracle for Breakfast, and in turn each chapter is followed by a briefer memoir of Ms. Marshall’s life, her own family wreckage and conflicted relationship with her subject. The structure shouldn’t work, but it does, by involving us in recognition ... This new biography fuses sympathy with intelligence, sending us back to Bishop’s marvelous poems.