The American Scholar

A Biographer Looks Back

PARISIAN LIVES: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me


Nan A. Talese, 368 pp., $29.95

ONE OF THE QUESTIONS confronting biographers is the extent to which they should write themselves into the lives of others. Like an accompanist playing too loud alongside a musical performer, an intrusive narrator runs the risk of drowning out the star. And yet, biographers are implicitly called upon to demonstrate that they are the right person for the job—a requirement usually met by a brief preface and an acknowledgments page. This is precisely the material that Deirdre Bair scales up in her new “bio-memoir,” in which she recalls the writing of her biographies of in 1990 as one of the year’s best books), and more particularly the effects of that work on her own life.

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