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Written Lives

In addition to his own busy career as "one of Europe's most intriguing contemporary writers" (TLS), Javier Marias is also the translator into Spanish of works by Hardy, Stevenson, Conrad, Faulkner, Nabokov, and Laurence Sterne. His love for these authors is the touchstone of Written Lives. Collected here are twenty pieces recounting great writers' lives, "or, more precisely, snippets of writers' lives." Thomas Mann, Rilke, Arthur Conan Doyle, Turgenev, Djuna Barnes, Emily Bronte, Malcolm Lowry, and Kipling appear ("all fairly disastrous individuals"), and "almost nothing" in his stories is invented. Like Isak Dinesen (who "claimed to have poor sight, yet could spot a four-leaf clover in a field from a remarkable distance away"), Marias has a sharp eye. Nabokov is here, making "the highly improbable assertion that he is 'as American as April in Arizona,'" as is Oscar Wilde, who, in debt on his deathbed, ordered up champagne, "remarking cheerfully, 'I am dying beyond my means.'" Faulkner, we find, when fired from his post office job, explained that he was not prepared "to be beholden to any son-of-a-bitch who had two cents to buy a stamp." Affection glows in the pages of Written Lives, evidence, as Marias remarks, that "although I have enjoyed writing all my books, this was the one with which I had the most fun."
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About the Author

Javier Marias is an award-winning Spanish novelist. He is also a translator and columnist, as well as the current king of Redonda. He was born in Madrid in 1951 and published his first novel at the age of nineteen. He has held academic posts in Spain, the US (he was a visiting professor at Wellesley College) and Britain, as a lecturer in Spanish Literature at Oxford University. He has been translated into 34 languages, and more than six million copies of his books have been sold worldwide. In 1997 he won the Nelly Sachs Award; the Comunidad de Madrid award in 1998; in 2000 the Grinzane Cavour Award, the Alberto Moravia Prize, and the Dublin IMPAC Award. He also won the Spanish National Translation Award in 1979 for his translation of Tristram Shandy in 1979. He was a professor at Oxford University and the Complutense of Madrid. He currently lives in Madrid. Margaret Jull Costa is an award-winning translator of Portuguese and Spanish literature. She lives in the United Kingdom.


The writers whose lives are sketched in this quirky and appealing book by the world-renowned (though less so here) Spanish writer Marias are familiar to any avid reader: Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Djuna Barnes and William Faulkner, among others. Marias says his aim is to examine writers about whom "absolutely everything" is already known and portray them "as if they were fictional characters." He distills each writer's salient personality traits to outline definitive if idiosyncratic portraits: thus "Nabokov in Rapture"; "Ivan Turgenev in His Sadness." Almost all of these essays display Marias's dry humor and affectionate tolerance for his subjects' eccentricities, but the portrayals of Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Yukio Mishima bristle with Marias's disdain. And sometimes the title phrase is tailored to an id?e fixe rather than intrinsic to the subject ("Robert Louis Stevenson Among Criminals"). The book is distinguished by supple turns of phrase and bon mots ("every true gentleman has behaved like a scoundrel at least once in his life") and by the photos of each writer from the author's own collection. Reading these portraits is addictive; one keeps turning pages in anticipation of Marias's keen and amusing analyses. (Feb. 28) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Mini-biographies of classic authors like Nabokov, Wilde, Rimbaud, Faulkner and Bronte written from the point of view of everything that went wrong in their lives. But funny! A must-read for any bibliophile." -- Caroline Stanley - Flavorwire "I am greatly impressed by the quality of Marias's writing." -- W. G. Sebald "Javier Marias is in my opinion one of the best contemporary writers." -- J. M. Coetzee "A great writer." -- Salman Rushdie "His prose demonstrates an unusual blend of sophistication and accessibility." -- Wyatt Mason - The New Yorker "Reading these portraits is addictive; one keeps turning pages in anticipation of Marias' keen and amusing analyses." -- Publishers Weekly "They may be miniatures, but they're curious, addictive, and profound in their brevity... The next thing Marias deserves is the Nobel Prize." -- The Observer [London] "It is difficult to be moderate about the charm of these brief portraits...Delicious, slyly ironic... A delightful volume." -- Michael Dirda - The Washington Post Book World

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