Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rich and Continuing Saga, November 24, 2004
This review is from: The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 5: 1947-1955 (Paperback)
I just finished a book I didn't want to read, The Journals of Anaïs Nin: Volume Five (1947-1955). I had planned to read it, and its time came, but I just didn't feel like it. Happily, it took me about two pages to change my mind and enjoy this book in a little less than a week.

Anaïs Nin was born Angela Anais Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell in France in 1903 to composer Joaquin Nin, who was of Cuban and Spanish background, and his wife, Rosa, who was Cuban, French and Danish. After Joaquin abandoned the family, the family moved to the United States in 1914. With the disapproval of her mother, Nin began work as an artist's model to help pay the family bills, and then returned to Europe in 1923. She studied psychoanalysis under Otto Rank, practiced as a lay analyst and underwent therapy with Carl Jung for a time. Nin is also well known her for lovers, Henry Miller, Otto Rank, Gore Vidal and Edmund Wilson. She was married, I believe, twice, once to Hugh Guiler, who looked the other way regarding her affairs, and once, bigamously, to Rupert Cole.

Nin's fame these days is primarily as a diarist, and there seem to be two veins of her diaries, those she published in an expurgated form in ten volumes, which remain popular, and another five-volume series of unexpurgated journals that focus on a shorter window of time around the decade of the 1930s. This book is from the former series, and is copyrighted in 1974. I have no idea where I got it.

Nin also wrote fiction, and I've read two of her fictional works, Spy in the House of Love and Delta of Venus. I also have read a biography, Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin by Noel Riley Fitch. She was a peripheral literary figure during most of her lifetime and she died in 1977.

The main focus of her work seems to be psychological realism, and as she grew older, she seemed to see her diaries as the primary outlet of that stream of thought. As she writes in a letter to Max Geismar, copied into her journal in the winter of 1954-1955, "I only need to continue my personal life, so beautiful and in full bloom, and to do my major work, which is the diary. I merely forgot for a few years what I had set out to do."

This diary focuses on various themes of her life during this time, her struggle to get Spy published (she ends up self-publishing it), her travels and time spent living in Mexico, her friendships with Geismars and Jim Herlihy, her psychoanalysis with a Dr. Inge Bogner, and a return to the focus of her work as a diarist. She includes wonderful interludes about her life in Acapulco; a return trip to Paris, which is deliciously recounted with her nostalgic expectations sometimes being born out and sometimes failing; letters to and from Henry Miller; the fruit of her work with Bogner; and the story of her last days with her mother before Rosa's death from a heart attack.

This last is touchingly told, and she follows her feelings about both her parents to see how she reclaimed their characteristics with pride once they were lost to her, the same characteristics she sought to reject in herself while her parents were living.

Nin's writing is rich, like a filling meal, so the episodic and brief passages of the expurgated journals are suitable, somewhat "bite-sized," so to speak. In many ways she is very likable, and her descriptions of her life, travels, lectures and parties (she attends a costume party for which attendees were to dress as their own madness. She went bare-breasted with a bird-cage on her head...!) are fascinating, a look at her social circle and those who influenced her.

And sometimes, I thought, "Wow! I really would not like her!" especially when she wrote about meeting a very bizarre woman in New York, Nina Gitana de la Primavera, whom Nin admired for living even less in reality than Nin herself did. From Nin's diary description, I thought, "This woman is just crazy!" but Nin and Herlihy had a brief friendship with her, even though they had at first a deep visceral negative reaction to her. Herlihy attributed this reaction to his fear that Primavera was living as he would have liked, but was too afraid to do, so they forced themselves to spend time with her.

The book ends with Nin recounting an LSD trip she experienced at the behest of a psychologist who was trying to study its effects. He wanted her to participate because as a writer, she could better articulate the experience, which is clearly drawn in the journal. She seems to come to the conclusion that the drugs merely heightened what was in her own mind, as symbols appeared real to her that she had previously used in her work.

While the book is an enjoyable interlude, there is an underlying loneliness to it, as Nin fights the sadness of being rejected for her work and her dedication to creating a reality that links intellect and emotion in a fiction that she finds truer than literary realism. " I have raged at the wall growing denser between myself and others. I do not want to be exiled, alone, cut off. I wept at being isolated, at the blockade of the publishers." I found the book very interesting and readable. I recommend it.
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