Tag Archives: Literary Biographies

Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury by Carolyn Burke

Foursome by Carolyn BurkeTitle: Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury
Author: Carolyn Burke
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9780307957290
Genre: Art History, Literary Biographies
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had only known of Georgia O’Keeffe before reading this book. The others were merely names till I read this biography. Of course, I was aware that Alfred was Georgia’s mentor and love, but that’s that. This book is not about the gossip, as much as it is about art and what it does to artists. Foursome is a read about four brilliant artists and their place in the world. It is about an “inner circle” – their turmoils in relation to art, their successes, the places they lived and visited, and the relationship they shared with each other.

Foursome is a book that takes its time to grow on you. You cannot jump into it expecting immediate gratification as a reader. You have to be patient with it for itself to be shown to you. Burke’s new impressive book Foursome is also about America in the making. This book also made me see that perhaps personal relationships (no matter how crucial to artists) are not larger than the artistic ones that develop between people who would go to any lengths for their creative passions.

The centre of Burke’s research are the years from 1920 to 1934 in which the four companions (can term them that) flirted, developed and knew their passions, experimented artistically, and also saw fame – some greater, some lesser. It is almost like living in a bubble surrounded by people you can feed off artistically. And I think this is what led them to become such sources of gossip. Burke looks at all of this and more. She strives to write about what went on in the world as well, while their stories and lives were unfolding. History then becomes a parallel story-teller of sorts, drawing upon what changed and therefore how their relationships altered.

Foursome is the kind of biography that makes you want to jump right in and read more about the world at that time and the people who inhabited them. It is about people who take their chances, and are aware of their flaws, strengths, and all of it. The nature of art and its relationship with artists is of course the crux of the book but Burke goes further and gives us journal entries, letters, and conversations (some recorded, most not) that adds to the telling of lives that is fascinating, intriguing, and above all just makes you think about people who influenced the structure of twentieth-century art.

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Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris

VWTitle: Virginia Woolf
Author: Alexandra Harris
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
ISBN: 978-0500290866
Genre: Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I remember being all of 13 and attempting to read Mrs. Dalloway. It didn’t make any sense to me back then. Nothing whatsoever. In fact, I also remember dumping it and not picking up any Woolf till I turned 21. That’s when life truly made sense. Virginia Woolf’s writing has captivated me like no other author, not even Murakami for that matter.

Having said that, I wish I had read this book before reading her works, as it provides so much insight and fodder into who she was as a person and how that impacted her writing. Not only that, it goes a step ahead speaking very closely about her family, husband, and influences when it came to The Bloomsbury Group.

This edition by Alexandra Harris might be a brief one when it comes to Woolf’s life, but might I say that she has captured every phase and essence of the writer’s life and works to perfection. I say this because I have read Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee and that is quite an extensive work. Harris does not gloss over anything and provides a view that is completely unbiased and yet thankfully you can see the admiration for Woolf shine in this short biography.

Harris also takes into account Woolf’s relationship with her contemporaries and how she worked on building the Bloomsbury group. Those chapters swept me away, not to also forget how she came to write the novels that she did and her mental health always there -sometimes in the background and sometimes right there at the front.

“Virginia Woolf” by Alexandra Harris captivated me more than any tome on her could have. The writing is crisp and engaging and works well with the accompaniment of 46 photos of Woolf, only adding to the entire narrative. A read for all Woolf lovers and also for those who are afraid of her writing, just so you are encouraged to pick any of her books and read her, thus converting for life.

 

Manto Saheb: Friends and Enemies on the Great Maverick. Translated by Vibha Chauhan and Khalid Alvi

Manto Saheb - Friends and Enemies on the Great Maverick.jpg Title: Manto Saheb: Friends and Enemies on the Great Maverick
Authors: Various
Translated by Vibha S. Chauhan and Khalid Alvi
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited
ISBN: 978-9388070256
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Literary Biographies, Anthology, Writers on Writers
Pages: 296
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How can anything written by Manto or about him not be a fascinating read? Or intriguing for that matter? Or also sometimes contemplative, mostly that is? Manto is and will always remain a maverick – no matter how many writers come and go from the subcontinent – or for that matter even from Pakistan. He is in a way, a shared legacy. And it is this legacy that this anthology celebrates (even when berating sometimes) through essays by his friends and enemies (or as the title very tongue-in-cheek tells us). I had been wanting to read this since the time it was announced and I am so glad I finally did. If you love Manto and his works, then this book is a treat. Even if you aren’t acquainted with Manto, then too I suggest you read this book, so you can then read what he wrote.

“Manto Saheb” is a collection of essays that also scratches away the writer and shows you the person Manto was – but also it made me think that the writer had to but after all be inspired from the person. Manto’s stories though were never reflective of who he was – maybe given the times he lived in what he wanted to communicate or show through his works. This anthology shows Manto at his candid best, gossipy best, the individual who never believed in taking things the way they were and the one who sometimes also gave up too easily. The facets and shades to Manto so to say are brilliantly revealed, layer by layer in this collection by his friends, family and rivals – from Chughtai to Upendranath Ashk (one of his well-known rivals), to Krishan Chander (his ever-loyal friend), his daughter Nuzhat and even his nephew Hamid Jalal.

There is also the opening essay which has been written by Manto about himself – hilarious, witty and as real as it can get. The book gives the reader brilliant insights into the kind of writer he was, constantly seeking validation and attention (even in his personal life for that matter), how he needed alcohol just, so he could momentarily not remember what he was going through and how leaving India and moving to Lahore was perhaps the single-most tragedy of his life. Every essay transports you to the time before and after Partition and makes you want to be there, witnessing what happened in the life and times of Manto.

What I love the most about this collection is when people speak of his works – from Hatak to Toba Tek Singh to Boo to also his plays (which are lesser known) and how he worked on them – how he wouldn’t take criticism and how when he was unhappy with the world at large, he became a recluse and just wrote. Also, the translations by Vibha S. Chauhan and Khalid Alvi are spot on – they haven’t compromised at all when it comes to simplifying it for the reader or dumbing it down – it is what it is. Most of the Urdu/Hindi flows effortlessly through English and you don’t feel that you are missing out on something.

“Manto-Saheb” is a treat for all literary biography aficionados. The enthusiasm to know more about your favourite writers is never satiated I think. There is always so much more to know and there are of course some books such as these that aim to uncover some aspects of their life and works. A must-read. Also, read it with his short stories, as you go along. The experience is extremely fruitful and rewarding.