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Memoirs of Montparnasse (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – May 29, 2007
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"It's wonderful to see John Glassco's charming Memoirs of Montparnasse getting the international recognition it deserves. Like its author -- whom I knew quite well in the 1960s -- the book is a loveable and eccentric rogue, fond of style and up to mischief. It never fails to entertain." -- Margaret Atwood
"Memoirs of Montparnasse is one of the most joyous books on youth -- the thrill and the gall and the adventure of it. It is also one of the best books on being in literary Paris in the 1920s." --Michael Ondaatje
"[Memoirs of Montparnasse] should be read and at last recognized as the most dramatic of the many narratives dealing with Paris in the 1920's." --The New York Times
"The title calls to mind a whole genre of books...But Glassco's book, published from a manuscript nearly forty years old, is fresher and truer to the moment than the others, as well as being more novelistic and, in a sense, legendary."--The New Republic
"A very good book, perhaps a great book." --The Washington Star
"The best book of prose by a Canadian that I've ever read." --Montreal Gazette
"This is a delightful, on-the-spot report of the days when it was still possible to be very young, very hip and very happy all at the same time...this precious, witty document from a long-vanished younger generation has both the freshness and remoteness of some ornate space ship found intact in a forgotten tomb." --The New York Times
About the Author
John Glassco (1909-1981) was born in Montreal and attended McGill, but moved to Paris before attaining his degree. Glassco won the Governor General’s Award in 1971 for his Selected Poems.
Louis Begley lives in New York City. His previous novels are Wartime Lies, The Man Who Was Late, As Max Saw It, About Schimdt, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, and Shipwreck.
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Glassco was accused of promoting a fraud when he first published this decades later. He was actively working on his memoirs and publishing some of them while in Paris. The initial set up is that he returned to them a few years later when he lay seriously ill from TB in a European sanitarium and added some retrospective notes. In reality he relied on his original notebooks years later, changed some of the names to protect close friends and romantic liaisons, and reconstructed dialogues and occurrences as remembered or felt. In this age of creative nonfiction, we still classify that as nonfiction, not fraud or fiction, and scholars of the era have said Glassco nailed what Paris was. Whatever the case, it makes for a terrific read.
This edition augments the original text with period pictures of the scenes and players and a very helpful gloss of all the people mentioned appended to the back of the book. Louis Begley contributes a decent introduction (though it contains spoilers, so read it after Glassco's narrative). Begley repeatedly misspells the name Glassco made up for one of the women in his life, but that seems to be the only off thing. I had hoped for more on the author's life, but there isn't that much information out there. He returned to Canada after the TB treatment in the early 30s, lived on a farm, delivered mail, published poetry and erotica, married a couple of times and faded away.
an inventive mind and a witty way with words, along with
a worldliness that nothing can shake. This "memoir" of his
late teens in Paris in the 1920s exudes great style as the
author romps around recollections of George Moore, Hemingway-
Joyce-Stein, Man Ray, Bricktop and others, like Kay Boyle.
Many names have been changed. To what extent is the book true?
The answer is as unimportant as the question.
Key figure is writer-editor Robert McAlmon, a dashing literary,
social and sexual host to Montparnasse. While hedonists
and eccentrics graze the shimmer & shadow of life (including
the vulnerable author), John Glassco captures the human truths of
living with an honesty that sparkles.