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Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir Paperback – June 24, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

Brilliant, funny, penetrating observations on life and culture in N.Y.C. after WW II from critic Broyard, who died of cancer in 1990 (Intoxicated by My Illness, 1992). ``Nineteen forty-six was a good time--perhaps the best time-- in the twentieth century,'' writes Broyard, and the reader wishes that the critic were still here to write a dozen more books just like this wonderful one to explain further exactly what he means. Broyard was 26 the year after the war, and his entree to then housing-scarce Greenwich Village took the form of moving in with the difficult and challenging Sheri Donatti, enigmatic abstract painter, wearer of no underpants, and proteg‚e of Ana‹s Nin. Comedy both ribald and poignant follows as Broyard tells the tale of his brief life with Sheri--including, along the way, sketches of his meetings with the likes of W.H. Auden (whom Sheri bumps into- -literally), Erich Fromm, Meyer Schapiro, Delmore Schwartz and others, including Nin herself (``Her lipstick was precise, her eyebrows shaved off and penciled in, giving the impression,'' remarks Broyard, ``that she had written her own face''). A break with Sheri is inevitable but, by the time it comes, the reader knows how thoroughly she emblemized the complicated ironies (and dead-ends) of postwar criticism and art--and how Broyard was to manage going on afterward in his own way. Again and again, his independence and right judgment reveal themselves in a mind that, in a Whitmanesque way, passionately insists on a genuine integration of life and art: ``I wanted to be an intellectual, too, to see life from a great height, yet I didn't want to give up my sense of connection, my intimacy with things. When I read a book, I always kept one eye on the world, like someone watching the clock.'' Vital criticism that--in these woebegone days especially--is wondrously to be valued. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A memoir of a sensualist… Sentence by sentence, it’s as beautifully precise as any contemporary American work I know.”- Pauline Kael
“If you’ve ever been young, ever lived in or wanted to live in Greenwich Village, ever loved books or sex or both, you’ll savor this memoir.”- Detroit Free Press
“Full of Broyard’s wit, compassion and rich insight… His mind, his aesthetic, his view of the world, shimmer brightly in this memoir.”- Chicago Tribune
“Seductive, ardently written…a valentine with barbs.”- Washington Post Book World


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 24, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679781269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679781264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
One brilliantly sunny day in July, I decided to head out to the lake to bask in the sun and read. Unforuntately, I realized halfway there that I hadn't bought anything to read. So, I trotted over to my local used bookstore and began browsing their recent acquisition table. This little volume immediately gained my attention. It looked like fun, it looked like it would be a quick read, and it was short enough that it wouldn't keep me from continuing in any of the other books that I was already reading. So, off to the lake with this book in hand I went.
KAFKA WAS THE RAGE was quite a nifty little read. I had read a fair amount about the Beats at one point, so this had some of the same post-WW II Manhattan atmosphere, but that was set more in the area of Columbia University, so this shifted the scene further south. There is no real story to tell here. Broyard merely recounts in a more or less anecdotal form a number of events and individuals from a particular moment in time. He has a gift for summoning up particular moments in vivid detail, and a talent for the brilliant line. An example of the former is his recounting of an adventure in which he took Delmore Schwartz, Clement Greenberg, and Dwight MacDonald to a Spanish Harlem nightclub. Another is his description of his art professor Meyer Schapiro.
Some great lines:
"I thought that being a Communist was a penalty you had to pay for being interested in politics."
[on Dylan Thomas] "To him, an American party was like being in a bad pub with the wrong people."
[on Delmore Schwartz] "Like Samuel Johnson, whom he resembled in many ways, Delmore was not interested in prospects, views, or landscape. He had looked at the city when he was young, and saw no need to do it again.
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Format: Paperback
In 1947, Anatole Broyard was a 25 year old veteran who chose to live in Greenwich Village rather than return to his parents home in Brooklyn after the war. His family was New Orleans French and he was raised a Catholic. The Village at that time represented freedom and new ways of thinking. It was a world of artists and writers. A world of intellectual and sexual freedom. A world where the latest in psychological theory was being taught at the New School by leaders in the field. There was peace and prosperity and a bright new world for the young.
Especially since it was written in 1989, when Broyard was a writer with ripened talent, it is especially interesting. Broyard looks back at himself and the world as it existed then with a mature perspective and a sense of humor that kept me giggling as I turned the pages. His is not the voice of a disaffected beat generation; it is the voice of a wide-eyed young man coming of age at a time when anything seemed possible. He writes about abstract art, jazz, going to dance clubs in Spanish Harlem, meeting H.W. Auden and a funny incident with the wife of Dylan Thomas. There's a lot about sex and his various girlfriends. And apartments with bathtubs in the kitchen and a toilet in the hall. It is a history of New York as I've never quite seen it before.
At 147 pages, this book seems much too short and I understand from the postscript that he became ill before he had a change to finish it. Too bad. Because I thoroughly enjoyed it. And am so glad that his wife decided to publish it now. I love the writing. It's simple prose with lots of good thinking behind it. A pure delight to read.
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Broyard brings a first-hand perspective to midcentury life in Greenwich Village, and offers some interesting insights into veteran migration at the end of WWII and pre-60s relations between the sexes. He overplays the wide-eyed sexual innocence of his life at this time, casting himself as the protagonist of Dawn Powell's *Golden Spur*-- he nevers mentions that by the time he returns from the war at age 26 he was separating from his wife and daughter. Instead, he portrays his stay at his parents' Brooklyn home until he moves into a girlfriend's apartment in Manhattan as a single young soldier's re-entry to the States. This type of self-editing was part of the author's writing style, given the way he handled a racial background that was finally explored by his daughter's memoir. Broyard had completed only two thirds of his memoir before putting it aside, and never returned to the volume to complete the story he wanted to tell or rewrite what he had already committed to paper. Despite the early-draft status of the memoir, he makes some good metaphors about his life amongst writers, artists, and ex-pat German psychiatrists associated with the New School.
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Broyard writes well, but I kept getting the feeling that these essays were a kind of first draft that needed to be fleshed out with more details and examples, as there were a number of unsupported generalizations here. Lots of name dropping of influential and inmportant people in literature and the social scene of the late 1940s in New York. I was not surprised when I reached the end of the book and found the postscript by Broyard's widow about how Anatole had put this manuscript aside when he learned of his terminal illness and worked on other things, i.e. his last book, Intoxicated by Illness. I think Broyard's meditations on the mysteries and frustrations of sex are better than what he has to say about books and literature. I remember reading John Barth's book, The End of the Road, many years ago in which he commented on sex as the being a powerful urge that is what drives innovation, invention and the progress of civilization itself - I'm not gonna look for his exact quote - and I was reminded of that when I read comments by Broyard like this one:

"The energy of unspent desire, of looking forward to sex, was an immense current running through American life ... It was fueled by failures, as well as by successes. The force of it would have been enough to send a million rockets to the moon ..."

I know that Broyard was an important NYTimes critic and a recognized writer, so I am probably being enormously arrogant in mentioning the shortcomings of this book, but I don't mean to be. I'm just quite certain that it would have been much better had he had more time to spend on it - to "finish" it. I feel sad that he was not allowed that time. - Tim Bazzett, author of Soldier Boy: At Play in the ASA
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