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Them: A Memoir of Parents Paperback – June 6, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037194
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #885,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. "My mother enjoyed claiming direct descent from Genghis Khan," Gray explains as she opens this complex and rewarding family memoir. That claim gave her mother "both the aristocratic pedigree and the freedom to be a barbarian." Tatiana Yakovleva du Plessix Liberman was 19 and hungry in 1925 when she left the Soviet Union for France. Tatiana and Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky soon fell passionately in love, but the ever-practical woman married aristocratic Frenchman Bertrand du Plessix instead. They had one child, Francine, before du Plessix was killed in early WWII combat. Tatiana then became involved with Alexander Liberman, a British- and French-educated artistic Jewish-Russian émigré. Alex, Tatiana and Francine fled to New York in 1941 and started a new life—Tatiana designing hats for Bendel's before a career with Saks, Alex scaling the fashion journalism ladder at Condé Nast. New Yorker contributor Gray tells the story of this talented, self-absorbed couple from their roots to their graves. The final chapters—with the death of Demerol-addicted Tatiana and Alex's remarriage to an adoring nurse—are unbearably tragic, and the inside story of the Liberman ménage is more addictive than any Vanity Fair exclusive. Gray is such a fine writer, her family story reads like a novel of early 20th-century bohemianism gone corporate. Rich with history of early to mid-20th-century design and publishing, this memoir stands as an instructive model of how to write a difficult story honestly. Gray's parents were not nice people, but she loved them, and readers, by the end, understand why. Photos. Agents, Georges and Anne Borchardt. (May 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Gray is an engaging writer with a natural eye for the parts of her parents' lives that are most interesting to readers. It certainly helps that they were active and fascinating people. Her mother, Tatiana, was a hat designer in Paris and for Saks Fifth Avenue; her stepfather, Alexander Liberman, was an artist who came to run the giant Condé Nast publishing house. Both being social animals, their tale brings with it appearances by the rich and famous of the mid-20th century; the couple's often cruel behavior as they strove to advance in this world is interesting if unpleasant. Both individuals were Russian émigrés. Tatiana came from an artistic family whose influence ranged from her native country to France and, through her painter uncle, across the world. She became heavily involved with a leading Soviet poet, which ensured her own place in Soviet history. Alexander's father was one of Lenin's leading economic advisers, a non-Bolshevik whose abilities gained him trust and support. The book takes in many more relatives and, given their lives, includes courtiers, artists, spies, and heroes. It provides a good look at many different aspects of 20th-century social and political history, which alone makes it worthwhile reading. Black-and-white photos are included.–Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The author seems to be one of the most lovely people in the world.
G. C. Picchetti
By the end, the book takes a tragic twist when we learn that the mother was a drug addict for most of her life and long before the Betty Ford Clinic was ever invented.
Bradley F. Smith
Unlike most memoirs, Du Plessix Gray delves deeply into the historical context.
Kristin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on May 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Francine du Plessix Gray who, has written several fine novels as well as complex and satisfying biographies of the Marquis de Sade and Simone Weil, now tenderly explores the lives of her famously mercurial parents. "Them" is a success any way you look at it; the elegant writing and the loving way she examines the life she had with these completely self-absorbed people make this memoir worth reading.

Her parents were Tatiana Yakoleva, a renowned New York designer of hats, and Alex Liberman, who was one of the creators of modern fashion journalism at Vogue. The du Plessix in Francine's name comes from her birth father, a hero of the French Resistance who died early in World War II. Although he never adopted her, Alex Liberman was the father she knew and loved, the man she and her mother always saw as the one who rescued them from the horrors of war. Tatiana had already fled one revolution, leaving Russia to live in Paris as a teenager with her grandmother, aunt, and uncle. In her early 20s, she met the dynamic Russian revolutionary poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky during one of his visits to France. He wrote one of his most beautiful poems to her and begged her to return to Russia with him. But her fear was too great, and she married diplomat Bertrand du Plessix before Mayakovsky could return to again persuade her. Mayakovsky had been under growing scrutiny for his criticism of increasing oppression in the new Soviet Union, and he committed suicide shortly thereafter. His letters were one of the Tatiana's most carefully guarded items when she fled Europe.

Photos from the family's arrival in New York make them look like a tight-knit trio, but Tatiana and Alex were terrible parents.
Read more ›
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Pollock on October 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw the author at Barnes & Noble earlier this year, and I admit I was skeptical about her book. Was this another self-involved memoir? Upon reading it, I was proven delightfully wrong! Her parents' story is so beautifully told, in sentences so artfully crafted as to create an esthetic experience of the highest level. You feel she has carefully adjusted every nuance, every word, and placed each sentence for maximum effect. In fact, I wonder if her gift for exquisite language is not akin to her mother's for the perfect placement of decoration on her hat designs. There is a similar obsession with the telling detail, a similar esthetic sensibility. I loved this story, it moved slowly but it was ultimately so satisfying. There are really several, four or five, stories -- the colorful Russian relatives, the family's escape from France and early years in New York, the author's upbringing as a neglected child of privilege, the later years of Tatiana's decline and Alex's marriage to a Philippine nurse (read: interloper) and his alienation from Francine and her children. There is so much sheer story telling skill here, told with artistic virtuosity. Francine du Plessix Gray has entirely won me over, and I thoroughly appreciate her as a writer and as a woman of depth and generosity. Most of all, this memoir is indeed one "of parents", not of herself, and that she keeps herself fairly in the background is one of the foremost accomplishments of this luminous memoir.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Alex M. Bobotis on May 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Them" is an engrossing read. Mrs. Gray portrays her parents in their full roundedness with no holds barred when it comes to revealing their faults as well as their virtues. In reading the memoir, I found myself saying "what fascinating people yet how obnoxious. . . how powerful an emotion love is to permit a daughter to see all her parents' faults and still treat them with respect." The book is also a portrait of a time and an industry (magazine publishing) and of people finely attuned to the needs of fashionable society. It's also about Change and how we all become outmoded when our work fails to meet changing fashions.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A. W. Einstein Jr. on February 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book of many parts. A daughter's memoir of extraordinary parents it is, which was what I expected. And indeed that is the organizing thread. But it also offers delicious insights into the Conde Nast publishing empire. It's about fleeing France in 1940 - about fleeing the Russian revolution in 1920 - about the emigre experience - about arrogance, pride, generousity,selfishness and monumental ego. It's about Paris between the wars and America during and after WWII. A story beautifully written, lovingly told - and I honestly couldn't put it down.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kristin on October 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I absolutely loved this book. Du Plessix Gray describes her parents' lives with insight, intelligence, honesty and humor. She offers us a behind-the-scenes look into a world that its inhabitants were obsessed with keeping hidden from view. The degree to which her parents' lives intersected with the history of the twentieth century is amazing. Unlike most memoirs, Du Plessix Gray delves deeply into the historical context. The pace never lags; I was enthralled from the first page to the last.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sheas on January 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A great read and very engrossing story. Francine du Plessix Gray has a way of conveying her family's history and her experiences in childhood and adulthood without ever sounding bitter or resentful.
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