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Janet Malcolm: Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

Janet Malcolm: Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice

USA/UK 2008, 229 pp., brochure, € 19.95
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»How had the pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis?« Janet Malcolm askes at the beginning of this literary biography. The pair, of course, is Gertrude Stein, the modernist master »whose charm was as conspicuous as her fatness«, and »thin, plain, tense, sour« Alice B. Toklas, the »worker bee« who ministered to Stein's needs throughout their 40 years of expatriate »marriage«. As the biographer pursues the truth of the couple's charmed life in a village in Vichy France, her subject becomes the larger question of biographical truth. The portrait of the legendary couple is unexpectedly charged: both world wars Stein and Toklas lived through together are paralleled by the private war that went on between them. This war sometimes flared into bitter combat.
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