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Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Edmund White is in luck. According to him-- and he now is fluent in the language he could not speak when he moved to Paris in 1983 in part to get away from the AIDS crisis in New York City-- there is no word in French for name-dropping. Names drop on practically every page in his latest work of gossipy nonfiction INSIDE A PEARL: MY YEARS IN PARIS. (Is it name-dropping I ask if you are as well-known as some of the people whose names you scatter in your narrative.) Mr. White either is friends with, knows or at least has met dozens of the famous or near-famous: Yves Saint Laurent, Lauren Bacall, Catherine Deneuve, the writers Peter Taylor, Salman Rushdie, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Julian Barnes, Raymond Carver, Ian McEwan, Louise Erdrich, Bruce Chatwin, Martin Amis, Stephen Fry, Alan Hollinghurst, John Hawkes et al. The list seems endless.

Mr. White says in the beginning of this memoir that he "discovered" France through Marie-Claude de Brunhoff whom he met at a party in New York in 1975. Over the years they became good friends and she is the one person with her white cigarette holder and flowing skirts that shows up again and again while other characters come and go, among them his many sex partners and lovers. He figures that by the early 1980's he had slept with 3,000 men and says later in the book that "I had lots of sex in Paris. Like everyone." And there apparently is no detail of his sex life too private to write about. But there is so much more here as Mr. White discusses French culture, literature, art, architecture, cuisine, the differences he sees between Americans and the French (for example, we always want to know, upon meeting someone for the first time at a party that we arrived at on time, where he is from and what does he do , questions that the always-late Frenchman would never ask and does not like to answer).

Anyone familiar with Mr. White's considerable body of work knows that he is a master of the English language. Examples, always apt and sometimes beautiful, abound: When an American complains about Paris, he says, "'I like it. To me it seems so calm after New York. As if I'd already died and gone to heaven. It's like living inside a pearl.'" And "the rains never let up, but they were gentle mists, really, as if the landscape were sprayed with an old fashioned gold-mesh atomizer attached to a cut-glass perfume flask the color of amethyst. As if we were living inside a pearl." A woman friend of his he describes as having "lovely, fair features, as cleanly drawn as those on a freshly minted dime." And Mr. White tells us that the British writer "Adam [Mars-Jones] had provided his very high-grade seed to a lesbian who'd selected him to fertilize her."

Just when I had decided that I could not read any further in this densely-written book with names of people and places bombarding me, White, who tested positive for HIV in 1985 and has lost countless friends to AIDS, writes about the death of his dear friend Marie-Claude from cancer in a paragraph that moved me tremendously: "I was dry-eyed. My mother had died; John Purcell had died; my best friend, David Kalstone, had died; perhaps a hundred other friends, French and American, had died. James Lord had died, and even for him I was inconsolable. Numb. I was alive in order to--well, to teach, to trick, to write, to memorialize, to be a faithful scribe, to record the loss of my dead." That passage alone would make INSIDE A PEARL a book not to be missed.
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32 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2014
I had a friend who used to drop names assiduously. We called it 'the silver spoon drop' - a sort of jangly, tinny sound where sterling (or maybe silver plate) met the everyday.
This book is nothing but the endless ringing clatter of dropped spoons - Stephen Fry and Salman Rushdie come for dinner. The Rothschild's are seen going out for their dinner. Marina Warner was or wasn't his best friend in London and Martin Amis definitely wasn't but was very nice all the same. Julian Barnes's wife was a lesbian who had an affair with Jeanette Winterson but that's OK because Edmund said something nice to them about it. And Yves St Laurent was stoned.
This is all a shame. Edmund White can be a great writer and I've followed him since his very first book. But when it comes to the autobiographical pieces his worst traits are all on display and laziness takes over. He's strip-mining himself for anecdote and it feels tired.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 12, 2015
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My favorite line in Edmund White's memoir, "Inside a Pearl", is found on page 53, where a friend tells him, "...you are an artist - artists should never pay!" This quote sums up the spirit of this book - expansive, generous and rewarding. Every page is a delight of snappy dialogue, larger-than-life characters, and glamorous gatherings of people with a ridiculous amount of creative energy and savoir vivre.

The majority of the book takes place in Paris, in the early 80s, where White moves to after winning a Guggenheim fellowship. He stays in France for the next 15 years. For the French, manners, decorum and talent are respected independent of affiliations and beliefs. It's a bigger sin in his adopted country to be boring than it is to be gay, liberal, aging, pudgy, and, eventually HIV-positive. His writing reputation opens salon door after salon door.

What keeps White's story from veering into camp or eccentricity is how gracefully he writes about his friends and their adventures despite their excesses. Perhaps his Midwest roots (Ohio and Michigan), explain his lack of pretense or sarcasm in either his relationships or his writing, the latter of which brims with enthusiasm and wonder at how splendidly his life and work turned out.

White is a natural storyteller who also clearly took careful notes of his times abroad. The ability to put the reader in the moment is a unique gift. Highly recommend this memoir and his many other excellent works, as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris" by Edmund White is a great memoir about a gay man's move to Paris from New York in the 1980's in the midst of the AID crisis. I found this book to be very enjoyable to read, name dropping and all...oh, I do love gossip! It was great to read about this American in Paris and how he navigated his way through going from a French newbie to spending a solid 15 years there. I want to go to Paris so badly I simply absorbed every word of this book and am even itchier to get there.

I love White's style of writing as much as I loved his adventures and experiences. The flow was wonderful for me and had me turning pages like mad. Everyone who had their name dropped or made an appearance in this book only added to the story. I kept thinking of White as the "Literary Warhol" in Paris.

A great read for those who love France and good gossip!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Edmund Valentine White III is an American novelist, as well as a writer of memoirs and an essayist on literary and social topics. Much of his writing is on the theme of same-sex love. His hugely successful books include his autobiogray `A Boy's Own Story', `The Beautiful Room is Empty', `The Farwell Symphony', `Forgetting Elena', `Nocturnes for the King of Naples', `The Married Man', `City Boy', `The Flaneur', Jack Holmes and his Friends', `States of Desire', `The Joy of Gay Sex', probing essays on Jean Genet and Michel Foucault, and now he reminisces about his 15 year ex-patriot years in Paris from 1983 to 1998.

Now at age 74 he is just as brisk, learned, polished and fascinating a writer as his bulging resume would indicate, but not there is a wondrous sense of melancholy as he recalls his loss of friends to AIDS (including some of the Violet Quill group of authors to which he belonged with Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, George Whitmore, Michael Grumley, Christopher Cox and Robert Ferro), and the varitions in the way of looking at love and life in contrasting America with France (or rather New York with Paris). His love affairs and consignations in Paris are described in full as are his gradually developing obsessions with all things French.

But the real joy, or for this reader the primary joy, in reading Edmund White is his consummate use of the English language, inserting many French phrases that fit so well, and sharing the Parisian style that few have ever shared so well. The book is rich in humor and philosophy and reflects his life participation in the gay rights movement. From his book we become acquainted with innumerable French artists in every form of art, but even more fascinating is his ability to convey the 'French mannerisms' that elude so many other writers. This is a book to read slowly, like sipping a fine French wine. Highly recommended for those who savor fine writing. Grady Harp, January 14
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2014
This is a compilation of anecdotes about various individuals in Paris who might be familiar to you if you assiduously read Vanity Fair in the 80's and 90's - and cared deeply about fashion. If you've ever wondered what creative icons discuss when they gather for dinner, you can now rest calmly knowing that it's the basic gossip - who's having an affair, where they're vacationing, what's "in" this season. Lots of name dropping, all quite boring and pointless.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was excited to read this book mostly because of White’s New Yorker Magazine fame but also to learn more about Paris. I was disappointed. France and her contribution and impact on our culture and culture in general has always been an enticing draw for me and White lived there for many years and became familiar with some of its citizens. He’s very upfront about how limited his French language skills are and how that stifled his ability to learn about Paris. His solution was to find French natives who spoke clearly and who were willing to nurse him along in the culture. He choose these friends not because he was interested in them or because they possessed special knowledge but because they could communicate.

As you’d expect from a proud outspoken (written) homosexual many of his European contacts were from that culture, many of them wildly famous and influential. This is where his writing about Paris and European culture in general takes off and becomes interesting. His contacts here have a richness that his more mainstream acquaintances do not. There is a richness and an excitement that adds depth to his memories and that can’t fail to interest most readers. There’s a universality that’s affecting.

My main problem with White’s memoir is that it never quite comes alive outside the gay subculture. This isn’t necessarily a negative however. It depends on the individual reader. As always his writing is wonderful especially his insightful descriptions and insights into himself and others. I love his drollness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2014
Edmund White is a prolific, mid-century writer who knew everyone, it seems, not only during his years in France but in London and New York City. The sheer number is overwhelming. Even though writers have some free time, I don't know how he was able to socialize to the extent he did. As a result this is a fascinating read about manners, comparison of cultures, language, class, and styles of living.

He was openly gay and the book is full of his attitudes and practices. He did get AIDS, but it didn't develop rapidly and he was able to outlive many of his friends.

My hesitation with recommending this particular book is that the journalistic style wanders all over the place. I would have preferred a more chronological account because of, again, the sheer number of places and people he writes about. My favorite sections relate his adventures with his dear friend Marie-Claude de Brunhoff, (the the wife of the French author of the Babar the Elephant children's books) the stylish literary critic who regularly hosted salons. She introduced White to Parisian society and he took it from there.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When he was in his 40's, Edmund White, after the success of his novel, "A Boy's Own Story" moved to Paris. He had won a Guggenheim fellowship for sixteen thousand dollars and he had the loan of an apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis.

"Inside a Pearl" chronicles White's life in Paris from 1983 until he returned to the United States in '98 to accept a writing professorship at Princeton.

Each chapter is a vignette about his friends, the French people, the language, his writing, the writers he met, people he interviewed for French Vogue, his travels, gay Paree, AIDS.

The book reads like a "who's who" of literary glitterati The fact that I'd never heard of half of them didn't diminish my interest in the least. White is a gifted story teller and he has a sense of the absurd that often punctuates his episodic adventures. In 1989, the year that Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" won the The Booker Prize, White had been a judge on the panel. His date for the awards dinner was Nigella Lawson. Nigella had once invited White and his partner Michael to dinner -- the other guests being Stephen Fry and Salman Rushdie while he was still in hiding. Witty repartee is remembered by White and revealed. In fact, this memoire is nothing if not revealing; the author is not shy about revealing anything at all from petty squabbles to his randy predisposition. Occasionally this reader was dumbfounded by one or another of his erotic disclosures.

The author also writes in-depth about his significant and long-term friendship with the Parisian artist Marie-Claude (MC) de Brunhoff. She and White were best friends and supportive of each other for many years. When MC's husband Laurent (author of a series of Babar The Elephant books) left her, White was there during MC's subsequent breakdown and lengthy recovery.

Strolling with MC once through the Parc de Saint-Cloud, during her convalescence, the damp, gray atmosphere reminded White of photos by Eugene Atget. Pearl gray -- as if they were living inside a pearl. (Years ago I happened to see these luminous, dreamy photographs of Paris at an exhibit in Boston.)

I chose this book because it was about Paris. Although I didn't know who Edmund White was until I read "Inside a Pearl," I was tantalized by his intimate self-portrait told with candor and feeling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2014
Edmund White might be called the gay man's gay-man. He teaches at Princeton University and is a prolific writer of novels, essays, and autobiographies. Claiming more than a thousand sexual liaisons throughout his life, he has also had a few somewhat long-term partners which he names in this book. In fact, he drops names on virtually every page of this book of the people populating the artsy circles in which he travels. Example: "When I finished The Beautiful Room is Empty in 1985 I dictated it to Rachel Stella, who became a close friend. Her father was the famous painter Frank Stella and her mother was Barbara Rose, the art critic, who had divorced Stella and married Jerry Leiber, half of the songwriting duo who'd written "Hound Dog.""
You get the idea.
What I find most delightful about White's writing is his comments on French behavior and culture. When he places it in juxtaposition with American culture, it is quite instructive.
Not everyone will like this book, but White has an easy writing style that keeps you moving from beginning to end.
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