Friday, February 27, 2009

Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir
Kafka Was the Rage: 
A Greenwich Village Memoir 

"Nineteen forty-six was a good time--perhaps the best time--in the twentieth century.  The war was over, the Depression had ended, and everyone was rediscovering the simple pleasures.  A war is like an illness and when it's over you think you've never felt so well.  There's a terrific sense of coming back, of repossessing your life." (p7)
This is a book that carries you away to another time and place written by a near perfect writer. It was a joy to read and imagine the feeling of excitement experienced by the denizens of Greenwich Village in 1946. Broyard's memoir is full of life, yet the undercurrent of mortality seems to be there as well.
The memoir reads like a story, one that is full of unique moments -- literary bon mots -- whether chatting with Delmore Schwartz at the San Remo Bar, running into Auden on the street or dancing with Hemingway; there is always a vivacious bohemian life with friends, and best of all reading, discussing, living with books. Anatole Broyard tells of opening a used book store when books were still truly appreciated (well at least more than now). 
"In 1946 in the Village our feelings about books…went beyond love. It was as if we didn’t know where we ended and books began. We didn’t simply read books; we became them. We took them into ourselves and made them into our histories. While it would be easy to say that we escaped into books, it might be truer to say that books escaped into us. They showed us what was possible." (p 29-30)
And he indulged in psychoanalysis - his analyst was "the sort of man who read Schiller, Heine, and Kleist, who listened to Schubert and Mahler". Who wouldn't want to engage an analyst like that; perhaps he could only be equaled by the analyst in Daniel Menaker's novel, The Treatment. It is a reminder of the influence that Freud and other thinkers had on culture in that era -- the excitement of discovery of those writers who, it seemed, could help explain a world ravished by two world wars. But I focus too much on the dark side, for there was lightness and the dance as well. This is a delightful read whose only downside is length - it is too short and you will finish it wishing there was more.

Kafka was the Rage by Anatole Broyard. Carol Southern Books, New York. 1993.

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