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Memoirs of Montparnasse (New York Review Books Classics) [Kindle Edition]

John Glassco , Louis Begley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Memoirs of Montparnasse is a delicious book about being young, restless, reckless, and without cares. It is also the best and liveliest of the many chronicles of 1920s Paris and the exploits of the lost generation. In 1928, nineteen-year-old John Glassco escaped Montreal and his overbearing father for the wilder shores of Montparnasse. He remained there until his money ran out and his health collapsed, and he enjoyed every minute of his stay. Remarkable for their candor and humor, Glassco’s memoirs have the daft logic of a wild but utterly absorbing adventure, a tale of desire set free that is only faintly shadowed by sadness at the inevitable passage of time.

Product Description


"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), born in Montreal, attended McGill University without graduating, visited Paris as a sixteen-year-old and two years later, in 1928, accompanied by his friend Graeme Taylor. It was on this more lengthy and eventful stay, in the city he loved, that he based his Memoirs of Montparnasse (1970), which was published, and presented by Glassco, as an authentic memoir though it was later discovered to be in many respects a work of fiction. Before publication he had confided to his friend Kay Boyle: "It has the form of fiction—i.e. with lots of dialogue, speed, rearranged and telescoped action; never a dull moment—and is more a montage of those days than literal truth." It is, however, firmly based in reality and felt experience, and probably contains as much fact as fiction. Glassco once remarked that he was "as much a novelist, anthologist, translator and pornographer" as he was a poet or a memoirist. His Selected Poems (1971) won a Governor General's Award, then Canada's leading literary honor.

Louis Begley is a novelist and retired lawyer. He has written eight novels, including Wartime Lies, About Schmidt. and Matters of Honor, which was published in 2007. He is a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres of France and served as the president of American pen from 1993 to 1995. He lives in New York with his wife, Anka Muhlstein, an historian of France.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 8730 KB
  • Print Length: 296 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (15 Feb. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005SGW6NA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #527,643 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I had been there 12 Jun. 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A literal romp through the most exciting period in French cultural life and history, actually if not Europe or the world. it seemed like a time that Paris was stuffed full of the great and the infamous. Painters, thinkers, artists, chancers and losers.
His description of Gertrude Stein being like "the turret of a tank turning" is priceless. Makes a nice change from the breathless adortation of her that seems to be all anyone else is capable of.
I loved his youth, his irreverence, iresponsibility, delight and ability to record an event so objectively, amusingly and unforgetabley. Unlike my spelling.
Read it if you want to the real skinny on what was happening in Paris behind the scene. Egos, silliness, drunkeness, love, giving everything a go because you are young and don't really care.....bliss.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mix yourself a long cold drink... 30 Jun. 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
...and kick back with this immensely entertaining account of a Canadian in Paris in the 1920s.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in what "the Lost Generation" got up to should read these memoirs. Glassco weaves anyone and everyone, with some names changed to protect the (not-so) innocent, into a heady cocktail of bohemian times which in places plays as fast and loose with the facts as it does with the times.

Sure to spice up any Eurostar trip.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unintentional Masterpiece 16 July 2000
By Chris Yanda - Published on
It was 1927; John Glassco was 17 when he left Montreal to go to Paris with the intention of becoming a famous writer. He kept a journal of his life there for the next five years. He was convinced he was a genius who would one day produce a masterpiece. The irony is that the masterpiece turned out to be these memoirs edited and published when he was 59.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoy yourself (it's later than you think) 24 Aug. 2008
By J. W. Reitsma - Published on
It's good to see that John Glassco's hilarious if not always reliable memoir of his youthful exploits in Paris is back in print. From what I gather, this edition includes an introduction that comments on the fictitiousness of some events described in the book and its real date of composition. (I'll give you a clue: it's later than you think.) So I would like to exhort everyone and anyone with an appetite for stories about the good old days in Paris, when James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein roamed freely, to pick up this book and enjoy themselves.

However, you should bear in mind that around 25 per cent of it is fiction. Also, if you really want to know who's who, you are better off with the 1995 OUP edition with notes by Michael Gnarowski. This contains a good introduction and reveals the real identity of many thinly veiled characters in an appendix. (Djuna Barnes' lover Thelma Wood is renamed Emily Pine - you get the idea.) But if you are less detective minded than me, I guess this new edition will do just fine.

For further reading, I warmly recommend Being Geniuses Together by the very outspoken Robert McAlmon, with later material interpolated by Kay Boyle, yet another unreliable narrator. Both of these memoirs are infinitely more entertaining than Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Hemingway's maudlin A Moveable Feast. The last of these was hailed as a return to form, but I believe it contains much material that was actually written *earlier* than you'd think. Quite the opposite of Glassco in that respect!
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memories 7 July 2004
By Shadow Woman - Published on
John Glassco writes about the Paris arts scene of the 1920s, telling the story of an artist as a young man. It's not always true, but it is always fun, as fiction and autobiography blend to create a good read. Has all the sex, boozing and pathos that was typical of 1920s Paris as its been memorialized in literature, whether that's a good thing or not is for you to decide.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific read, has all the details missing from the other memoirs 28 April 2011
By C. Ebeling - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I never tire of memoirs of the arts community in Paris in the first half of the 20th century. I find John Glassco's Memoirs of Montparnasse to provide a breadth unavailable in those of Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast), Sylvia Beach (Shakespeare and Company), Morley Callaghan (The Last Summer in Paris), and Gertrude Stein (Alice B. Toklas). Glassco was the younger of this group, the least experienced and established, one of the later arrivals on the scene (1927--only Callaghan would arrive a few months later, in 1928), and possibly the cockiest. Barely out of Magill College at age 19, he and fellow Canadian youth Graeme Taylor, dove into the all night café and party scenes, the brothels, the promiscuity, the bisexual experimentation, the nightclubs and the drinking, as well as the intellectual scene. They were open to everyone and anyone (well, as time wore on, not quite everyone). As a result, his book is much more of a Who's Who than the others, it offers anecdotes about Joyce and Stein you won't find in the other books, and it provides more of a sense of the day-to-day, happy-go-lucky, hand-to-mouth experience. Glassco unabashedly sought pleasure.

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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eternal Paris 25 July 2011
By Joseph G. Pfeffer - Published on
If you liked Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, you'll love Memoirs Of Montparnasse. It's a novel disguised as a memoir, which bothers the dour literalists who think there's a difference between fact and fiction. It didn't bother Glassco, who never claimed he stuck to literalness. What Glassco tried to do was to write "not so much a record of 'what happened' as a re-creation of the spirit of a period in time," as he wrote to Kay Boyle (who comes out as 2 people in the book, Diana Tree and Kay Boyle). Memoirs of Montparnasse, captures not just the spirit of the time but the whole metaphysical concept of expatriates in Paris in the '20s, the group Gertrude Stein called the lost generation Many of the chapters in Memoirs amount to self-contained short stories, and they're as good as any short fiction you'll ever read. Glassco's humor shines through on every page. His descriptions of people are so sharp you feel them sitting in the room with you. He captures the transiency and underlying tristesse of the time as well. You know the party's going to end, though you hope it never does. You wish you could stay with Glassco and his friends forever.

Leon Edel said John Glassco was the best prose writer Canada ever produced. Even after Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, that's still true.
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