National Book Award-winning biographer Bair explores her 15 years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing the difficulties of writing biographies that did each of her subjects justice.
In this gripping 'bio-memoir,' Bair candidly, dramatically, and sometimes bemusedly recounts the shocking adversity, both devious and outright vicious, that she encountered throughout the seven long years she worked diligently on her groundbreaking book ... Bubbling with piquant profiles, astounding anecdotes, and illuminating insights into the ethics of and obstacles to biography, Bair’s look-back makes all the more remarkable her subsequent and exceptional biographies of Anaïs Nin, Carl Jung, Saul Steinberg, and Al Capone. A zippy biographer’s tale [.]
This is the real story of Parisian Lives. It promises insights into the art of biography, perhaps a little gossip, perhaps a more intimate look of Beckett and Beauvoir. Instead it is something more unusual: an itemized receipt of the costs of female ambition ... It is this thread that runs through the book: how professional and intellectual aspirations in women are mocked, diverted, punished ... [Bair] marks every slight, every humiliation, while noting how pleasant, how unruffled she tried to stay at the time ... Although she quotes the critic Margo Jefferson approvingly — 'How do you reveal yourself without asking for love or pity?' — this book clamors for love, sympathy, recognition; it rejects the concealments necessary to preserve certain forms of dignity, certain forms of injustice.
Anyone planning to write a biography of a living person might be forewarned by Deirdre Bair’s 'bio-memoir,' her gripping account ... In Parisian Lives, which reads much like a 'making of…' documentary, she gives us her off-camera take on her first two biographies. And, to our delight, we become voyeurs ... a story well told.