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Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography to 1949 [Hardcover]

Doris May Lessing
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 1994
This first part of Doris Lessing's autobiography covers her African childhood and youth, her involvement in communist politics, and her departure for England and a new life. It is a self-portrait of a woman who lived through "an extraordinary time, the end of the British Empire in Africa". Being lifted high up onto her father's horse, watching ostriches high-stepping over the empty distances of the Cape, travelling in ox carts to the new African farm with trunks full of Liberty material and English silver - so begins Doris Lessing's childhood. Born in 1919, into the aftermath of World War I, Doris Lessing was the daughter of middle-class English parents lured by the false promises of the Empire Exhibition to seek their fortune in African farming. For her parents, life in dry, dusty Africa never fulfilled its expectations, but for Doris Lessing, her early life in Southern Rhodesia, with its contradictions and complexities, proved to be fundamental to her evolution as a writer. Readers are taken through her childhood and early youth on the farm, first marriage, the rapturous births of her children, the abandonment of her family to gain independence and a political life, and her second marriage to Gottfried Lessing, an authoritarian, rigorous communist. The book ends as she loses hope of ever changing Africa, and prepares to leave for England with the manuscript of her first novel, "The Grass is Springing" - the key to a new life.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography to 1949 + Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-1962: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-62
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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; 1st U.S. Edition edition (Oct 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060171502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060171506
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,029,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007, is one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of recent decades. A Companion of Honour and a Companion of Literature, she has been awarded the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize, the International Catalunya Award and the S. T. Dupont Golden PEN Award for a
Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature, as well as a host of other international awards.
Doris Lessing died on 17 November 2013.

Product Description

Review

‘Passionate and compelling, a book so packed with extraordinary images that it has obliterated almost everything else I read in 1994.’ Rose Tremain

‘In this immediate, vivid, beautifully paced memoir, Doris Lessing sets the individual against history, the personal against the general and shows, by the example of her life set down honestly, how biography and fiction mesh, how fiction transmutes the personal to the general, how the particular experience illuminates the universe. By putting her life on the page, she has created her greatest work of art.’ Hilary Mantel, LRB

‘The book pulsates with life. The intensity of the sensory world is brilliantly evoked … Not just the story of the first thirty years of one life, this is the biography also of an age.’ Jane Dunn, Observer

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

This, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, begins with her childhood in Africa and ends on her arrival in London in 1949 with the typescript of her first novel, 'The Grass is Singing', in her suitcase. It charts the evolution first of her consciousness, then of her sexuality and finally of her political awareness with an almost overwhelming immediacy, and is as distinctive and challenging as anything she has ever written. It is already recognised as one of the great autobiographies of the twentieth century.

'In this immediate, vivid, beautifully paced memoir, Doris Lessing sets the individual against history, the personal against the general and shows, by the example of her life set down honestly, how biography and fiction mesh, how fiction transmutes the personal to the general, how the particular experience illuminates the universe. By putting her life on the page, she has created her greatest work of art.'
HILARY MANTEL, 'London Review of Books'

'The book pulsates with life. The intensity of the sensory world is brilliantly evoked. The bush, the freedom to explore, the wonder of her world, are beautifully described. Not just the story of the first thirty years of one life, this is the biography also of an age.'
JANE DUNN, 'Observer'

'No mere review can do justice to an autobiography which is not just about a particular childhood but about all childhoods, not just about white marginality, but about all forms of interior exile, rebellion, subversion and secret self-making. A voice of wise and fearless honesty cuts through this book, the best Doris Lessing has ever written.'
LYNDALL GORDON, 'Times Higher Education Supplement'

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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SHE WAS VERY PRETTY but all she cared about was horses and dancing' Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars masterful autobiography 14 Feb 2003
Format:Paperback
Under My Skin
Doris Lessing's autobiography traces her political and emotional development from her earliest childhood memories to her growing, overwhelming, disenchantment with provincial (as she saw it) small town life. "Small town" life for her was pre-WWII Salisbury in the (then) British colony of Southern Rhodesia. Salisbury was a complacent capital city of 10,000 white settlers in a country the size of Spain.
Lessing is quick to debunk the myth of the prosperous, close knit, white farming community - poverty was a real fact of life both for blacks and whites. Her most vivid childhood memories are of escaping from the family home and off into the limitless veld. The emptiness of the veld parallels her youthful emptiness and her growing convictions that the communist party represents a real hope for the world.
The book, a masterpiece of autobiographical writing, is brutally honest in parts and wilfully obscure in others. Some of her emotional mistakes are hardly glanced at (leaving her first two children, for example) but others (the joys of being part of a fast, hard drinking sect, embracing radical politics) are wonderfully engaging. Reading her thoughts you could be forgiven for thinking that the "party" was the only opposition to conservative white rule in Salisbury. This is what makes her book so appealing, her supreme skill as a novelist allowing us to enter the heady world of rushed meetings, leftist newspaper deliveries, drinks on the sports club verandah and back in time to find the cook still waiting to prepare supper. Naturally it couldn't last and Lessing is far too intelligent to think that that is all there is to life. The book ends in 1949 as she arrives in London, apprehensive and hopeful in the capital city of her parents.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unvarnished 12 Oct 2007
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is a candid autobiography with as main themes love, sex (good sex, as the author calls it, is a right for everybody) and politics (communism) in South-Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) ruled by the blank minority.,
It is a gripping, moving, and realistic picture, wherein the author tries to find answers to personal and more general human questions: why was she so outspoken rebellious and, on the contrary, so strictly loyal to the communist movement?
Why are people fighting relentlessly each other, and on the other hand, striving for happiness?
Are the people of her generation all children of World War I? Why was her father a freemason?

This book is written like an irresistible waterfall. Not to be missed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Autobiography 6 Feb 2003
Format:Paperback
... Doris Lessing's autobiography traces her political and emotional development from her earliest childhood memories to her growing, overwhelming, disenchantment with provincial (as she saw it) small town life. "Small town" life for her was pre-WWII Salisbury in the (then) British colony of Southern Rhodesia. Salisbury was a complacent capital city of 10,000 white settlers in a country the size of Spain.
Lessing is quick to debunk the myth of the prosperous, close knit, white farming community - poverty was a real fact of life both for blacks and whites. Her most vivid childhood memories are of escaping from the family home and off into the limitless veld. The emptiness of the veld parallels her youthful emptiness and her growing convictions that the communist party represents a real hope for the world.
The book, a masterpiece of autobiographical writing, is brutally honest in parts and wilfully obscure in others. Some of her emotional mistakes are hardly glanced at (leaving her first two children, for example) but others (the joys of being part of a fast, hard drinking sect, embracing radical politics) are wonderfully engaging. Reading her thoughts you could be forgiven for thinking that the "party" was the only opposition to conservative white rule in Salisbury. This is what makes her book so appealing, her supreme skill as a novelist allowing us to enter the heady world of rushed meetings, leftist newspaper deliveries, drinks on the sports club verandah and back in time to find the cook still waiting to prepare supper. Naturally it couldn't last and Lessing is far too intelligent to think that that is all there is to life. The book ends in 1949 as she arrives in London, apprehensive and hopeful in the capital city of her parents.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honesty and subjectivity. key ingredients! 13 Jan 2012
By steelo
Format:Paperback
The first volume of Lessing's autobiography often reminds the reader of the biased version of the narrative she gives us. Memory is a deceiving and partial thing, distorting small events and making other things from the past totally disappear.
She takes the reader along for her archaeological inquiry into remnants of her past and you visit her view of Persia, where she spent the first years of her childhood, you see England through her first brief contact with it and then you move with her parents (analyzed in detail and portrayed as tragic characters) and younger brother to the distant lands of Southern Rhodesia, where white farmers dreamed of making it big. The book debunks the myths of prosperity which those colonists had, while giving the reader a first person perspective of what it must have been like to be young an curious, rebellious and restless.

The book also gives you a concrete example of a cultural hybrid through Lessing herself. She is a product of late British Imperialism and also a product of the first world war, given how both her parents were affected by it.

A fine psychological and self-reflexive novel with historical details which become so personal under her skin.
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