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.
Many people had asked her what these literary giants were really like. This book was to be the answer, and you do get an intimate close-up of two legendary Parisian writers, plus their friends and relations, over the two decades she spent researching, interviewing and writing about them. But Parisian Lives is more than a guidebook for literary tourists or would-be biographers. It is a scalding revenge on the gatekeepers Bair had to confront in order to write the book ... That confident woman is the narrator but not the subject of this memoir. Bair called on all her professional skill to bring her younger self back to life. Even after all her accomplishments and honours, she still felt the bitterness of that young woman and the hot rage of that wronged scholar, and that is the main reason Parisian Lives is so gripping. Sometimes it’s the thrill of the car crash, but mostly the triumph over the Becketteering boys in the back room.
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.