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Parisian Lives

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Member Reviews

"...We live now in an age of indecency, when nothing is off-limits…"
Bair wrote her book in a time when decorum and respect for others ruled. The story of Bair’s seven year struggle to finish and get her book to press was somewhat painful to read, but heartwarming to see her persistence and steadfastness to achieve her goal. To think she sat with and interviewed the literary giant Beckett is amazing in itself.  
…”I would feel superior to my own work if I tried to explain it.” (Samuel Beckett)
The above statement is not surprising at all. Bair’s job was to write the story of Beckett’s life. There is no way she could possibly deconstruct his work or persuade him to help. Though I never read Bair’s Beckett biography it was fascinating to read how she went about it. 
" of my favorite Beckett sayings has it, “no symbols where none intended”…I sat on their rock talking to myself. I told myself that I had written the best book I could and I had nothing to be ashamed of or to apologize for. I would hold my head up high and not let a bunch of spiteful mediocrities tell me otherwise…"
There was a period in which the publication was in doubt. Again Bair held her own and persevered. But her tenure and professorship was put in jeopardy. 
"...Just after the Beckett book was published, I read a remark made by the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who told an interview that “a woman has no place as an artist until she proves over and over that she won’t be eliminated.” It became one of the mantras with which I fortified myself for possible combat…"
And she did. The academics and book reviewers who would decide her fate were by and far mostly male. Bair would remark they could "...disappear into their own assholes…"
" she had colluded with Sartre in the seduction of one of her pupils, Bianca Bienenfeld Lamblin—was much easier to understand…"
The second section focusing on Bair’s relationship with Simone de Beauvoir was also fascinating.  Both charming and accessible, getting the unfiltered truth out of Beauvoir proved more difficult. The one supreme failure was in regards to Bianca Bienenfeld. But we know the gist already and the confession wasn’t necessary. An explanation might have been helpful. But connecting the dots isn’t difficult.

"...the best (or worse) thing about my writing is that I never tell readers what to think but expect them to form their own opinions. And the individual writing that draws this divided response most of all is the chapter on The Second Sex…"
Parisian Lives is a feminist’s story, a memoir where hard work and persistence is exhibited.  Though not a perfect five-star read the book certainly merits a good hard look and perhaps a glimpse, at least for some of us, into the abyss we see as mirror.
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In “Parisian Lives”, Deidre Bair takes us behind the scenes during the two decades she spent writing the biographies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. 

Towards the end of the book Bair writes “those of us who wrote literary biography should ensure that our readers ended our books by wanting to turn immediately to our subjects’ writings and to read more about the historical times in which they lived.''

I can’t speak for her biographies (yet) not having read them, but her memoir piqued my interest in Beckett, who I knew little about and deepened my interest in de Beauvoir. Midway through the book, I ordered and now have two thick volumes waiting for me (I opted for the biographies of de Beauvoir and Anais Nin). By the end, I was emotional as Bair describes her last conversation with Beckett before his death and openly crying as she attends de Beauvoir’s funeral.

Writers and fans of Beckett or de Beauvoir alike will find value in this memoir. Bair details her writing process and how she managed to separate her own opinions from fact to produce works that were focused on the subject. She does this while under tremendous scrutiny and criticism from her university colleagues and Beckett fanatics among others, not to mention the weight of the sexism and misogyny that was rampant in academia in the 70s and 80s.
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"Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir" is a beautifully written book that pulls you in slowly but deeply. It isn't just about writing about two famous authors but the memoir writer's life as well and what it takes to be a biographer. I would recommend this book to fans of Samuel  Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, as well as biographies in general.

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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