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Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices Hardcover – November 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Writer, matriarch, mentor, friend, and icon, L'Engle was a complex person, ably presented here through the voices of family, friends, and acquaintances. A children's literature star, as author of the Newbery-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels as well as the Austin family series, L'Engle was also a committed Christian, a spiritual guide to many, and librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Marcus has wisely chosen not to try to simplify his portrait of this complicated woman, about whom many have very strong, sometimes contradictory, memories and feelings. "L'Engle tended carefully to departmentalize her vast and many-faceted universe," he explains. After an introductory summary, he presents more than 50 deftly edited interviews, organized by the role she played. The result is more like Hokusai's collection of views of Mt. Fuji, always with the subject in focus but also revealing a great deal of the surroundings. It is this rich addition that makes this biography a standout. Readers who may not have thought they needed or wanted to know quite so much about L'Engle's life will be charmed.-Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MDα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

That indefatigable interlocutor Marcus, who has seemingly interviewed everyone who is anyone in the world of children’s literature, now directs his attention to the late Madeleine L’Engle and his questions to a host of those who knew her. The book is divided into six sections: Madeleine in the Making, Writer, Matriarch, Mentor, Friend, and Icon. Best known for her Newbery Medal–winning and groundbreaking A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle was also a memoirist and a writer of adult nonfiction, much of it spiritual in nature. This aspect of her distinguished work might have made another section of the book but, as it is, remains a leitmotif throughout. If the work is a focus, what of the writer herself? The interviews are chockablock with adjectives and phrases that create this portrait in many voices. She appears to have been stately, formidable, scary, regal, noble, a grande dame, a classic presence, glamorous but also occasionally otherworldly, and, by many accounts, generous, charming, and gracious, especially to her friends and many mentees. That she was clearly a complex and fascinating person makes this a fascinating book and an excellent introduction to both L’Engle and her work. --Michael Cart

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374298971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374298975
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #659,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dana Catharine de Ruiz was born in New York and brought up in Northeastern Connecticut where she met the man she ultimately married, Mario Ruiz Santillan. They moved to the provincial capital of Guanajuato, in the center of Mexico where they both taught, and traveled the country playing Medieval and Renaissance music with Las Flautas Barrocas de Guanajuato, and Los Tiempos Pasados.

Much of Catharine de Ruiz's writing is informed by her love and understanding of Mexico, where she lived for many years. Unlike many Americans who move to a foreign country, she lived an almost entirely Mexican life. Her ability to speak Spanish fluently allowed her to live her experiences profoundly.
The contrast between her life in the central, provincial capital where she lived and worked and the Northeatern United States where she grew up provokes constant meditations on life, many of wich she writes about in her blog, La Otra Mexicana.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It seems as if children's book critic Leonard S. Marcus has interviewed everyone of note in the world of children's literature. This experience serves him extremely well in his latest book, LISTENING FOR MADELEINE. Madeleine L'Engle, who died in 2007 after a long illness, is probably best known to readers as the author of A WRINKLE IN TIME and many other books for young people. She also published a number of memoirs, in which (as Marcus's numerous interviews make clear) she provided a somewhat idealized portrait of her childhood, marriage and family life.

Following a detailed and comprehensive introduction to L'Engle's life and works, Marcus divides his interviews --- many of which are recast as stand-alone narratives unpunctuated by interviewer questions --- into several sections, loosely grouping his interviewees according to the nature of their relationship with L'Engle. These include "Madeleine in the Making," "Writer," "Matriarch," "Mentor" and "Friend."

Most interesting are the voices from L'Engle's childhood, through whom we learn about her distant relationship with her parents, particularly her father, and about her tendency to live her life through her imagination rather than through social relationships --- more than one interviewee describes L'Engle as aloof or standoffish compared to her peers. Marcus seems to suggest that her lonely childhood and longing for her dad contributed to the number of absent fathers in her work, most notably Meg's quest to rescue her father in A WRINKLE IN TIME.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Judy Dearborn Nill on November 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Leonard S. Marcus has given Madeleine L'Engle fans a great gift in this carefully prepared and meticulously researched collection of interviews. By choosing to interview 50 people who knew L'Engle (in addition to the author of the controversial 2004 NEW YORKER article), Marcus allows us to see his subject in all her humanness. L'Engle herself tended to sugarcoat her life according to some interviewees, while others said she simply protected her own and her family's privacy. Marcus's interviewees go into many of the paradoxes of L'Engle's public persona, from troubles at home to idolization abroad. What emerges is a full-blooded portrait of an amazing woman: indominatable, hard-working, prolific, determined, generous, energetic, deeply spiritual while unafraid to challenge sacred cows, extraverted yet inner-oriented, headstrong, kind but capable of great insensitivity, proud and clear of purpose. L'Engle gained many fierce admirers in life but wound up with some critics and disillusioned fans as well. Don't expect this book to be a tell-all, however. Marcus maintains a respectful distance from the private lives of L'Engle's family and friends. Apparently, he decided that if L'Engle didn't want the specifics of her husband's infidelity, her adopted daughter's alienation or her son's fatal alcoholism known, he wouldn't take that approach either. Only as much as was printed in the NEW YORKER article, which Madeleine and her family approved while she still lived, is discussed in this book. I found it all fascinating. I highly recommend LISTENING FOR MADELEINE to anyone interested in a more complete picture of Madeleine L'Engle, human being and author extraordinaire.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Shelton on December 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a major Madeleine L'Engle fan, who actually met her, I found this book to be quite fascinating. I couldn't put it down. It is not what I expected it to be when I ordered it, but it was a wonderful book. In the end, it gives one a good picture of what Ms. L'Engle was really like: a gifted writer who was put on a pedestal by many, but who was a complex human being, like everyone else. I highly recommend this book, especially for Madeleine L'Engle fans.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By molly on January 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Her name says it all. I have been a fan since Wrinkle in Time first came out. Always wished I'd been able to meet the author, but feel after reading and collecting all her books that I kind of know her anyway. Now this book comes along and WOW--it's as though she is sitting in my living room telling me about her life. Can't say enough good things about this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert G. Leroe VINE VOICE on February 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I found Listening for Madeline an unconventional biography. Most biographers I suspect would have taken the interviews and crafted a typical biography. Leonard Marcus allows his sources to speak for themselves. At the same time I suspect he should be credited for making these voices so uniformly engaging. The result is a multi-faceted look at a complex woman, with lots of facts unlikely to be found in a traditional biography (for instance, she cooked with lots of garlic). A few of the contributors were people with brief encounters and one was hostile due to ideological differences (I find it unhelpful to view writers through such a lens). A notorious New Yorker magazine article comes up often, and it would've been helpful to have it included as an appendix (it is available on-line). The author of the article is the last interview, and her thoughts are helpful.

I am more familiar with Madeline's non-fiction, though I've read a few of her novels. The contributors filled in details not found in the Crosswicks journals and other semi-memoirs. I was surprised to find Madeline not regarded as "evangelical", though I suppose the definition of that term is up for debate. Luci Shaw (and most evangelicals I know) might disagree. At the same time, I think Madeline was a free-thinker, and difficult to pigeon-hole. She had a strong faith, yet with a streak of universalism (which is slowly becoming less heretical among evangelicals), and tolerance of divergent views. In spite of so many voices, Listening for Madeline was rarely repetitive and hard to put down. I read it on a snowy New England weekend that became for me a personal retreat.
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