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Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice


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About the Author

Janet Malcolm is the author of The Journalist and the Murderer, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and Reading Chekhov, among other books. She writes for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and lives in New York City.


In this startling study of Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, acclaimed journalist Malcolm (The Journalist and the Murderer) puts their relationship in a new light, demonstrating that lives and biographies are not always self-evident. Through careful readings of Stein's writing, Malcolm makes the case, quoting English professor Ulla Dydo, that Stein's "lifting words from the lockstep of standard usage" was indeed, the work of a (granted, self-described) genius. Malcolm gets into more controversial territory in exploring Stein and Toklas's stormy and complicated relationship-fraught with sadomasochistic emotional undercurrents-and their energetic sex life. But her real discovery is that Stein and Toklas-two elderly Jewish women-survived the German occupation of France because of their close friendship with the wealthy, anti-Semitic Frenchman Bernard Fay, a collaborator responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Freemasons. Fay continually intervened with the authorities on the pair's behalf. This friendship was so deep that after the war Toklas helped the imprisoned Fay escape. Malcolm's prose is a joy to read, and her passion for Stein's writing and life is evident. This is a vital addition to Stein criticism as well as an important work that critiques the political responsibility of the artist (even a genius) to the larger world. Photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Listed as #5 on the Editors' top 10 list in Biography and #4 in Gay & Lesbian for 2007 by
Named one of the 100 Notable Book of 2007 by The New York Times Book Review
Listed as one of the 2007 Biography 'Books We Liked Best' by the Christian Science Monitor
Selected as a Best Book of 2007 by Entertainment Weekly
A 2007 Top Seller in Literature as compiled by YBP Library Services

Malcolm (The Journalist and the Murderer) presents a masterful glimpse into the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, whose 40-year relationship is one of the most intriguing of the 20th century. Rather than attempting to include as many details as possible, Malcolm wisely chooses to illuminate the truth of several perplexing questions as thoroughly as any biographer possibly could. The result is a remarkably readable, honest, intelligent, and insightful book in which she reveals some ugly truths about the man who protected Stein and Toklas during World War II and shares her struggles to comprehend Stein's most enigmatic work, The Making of Americans. Several other Stein scholars disclose their frustrations with Leon Katz, the Columbia doctoral student who in the 1950s discovered Stein's notebooks on the novel and interviewed Toklas extensively. Despite the potential of Katz's work to change the course of Stein scholarship, he has yet to publish it. Malcolm's attempt to interview the elderly Katz ends in failure, and the secrets of the notebooks and the results of the Toklas interviews remain largely untold. Preserving something of the mystery is perhaps exactly what Stein would have wanted. Highly recommended for academic and larger libraries.-Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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