Lost Years 1945-1951 Hardcover – 6 Jul 2000
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Christopher Isherwood is best known for publishing at least two minor classics, Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. His first volume of diaries, published in 1996, also met with rave reviews, and the memoir about his struggle with his sexuality, Christopher and his Kind, was also highly praised. Set against these, it must be said that these Lost Years 1945-1951, re-created from memory and scraps of paper, are rather desultory and unsatisfying, and will tend to appeal to die-hard Isherwood fans rather than the general reader. Nevertheless, they do contain some good nuggets: a meeting with Georgia O'Keefe, described as "that sturdy old weather-beaten cedar root"; and there is an amusing moment when an inebriated Isherwood ticks off Greta Garbo for "arrogance, affectation and egomania". The other undeniable virtue of these memoirs is their searing honesty, both in matters sexual (random couplings, with "upwards of four hundred men", frankly described), and as regards the difficult and temperamental character of the writer himself. --Christopher Hart
A compelling and explicit memoir of Isherwood's life immediately after WWII - the lost years that his diaries skate over.See all Product description
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Lost Years ★★ from Tony in Hanoi on 20 July 2017
Self indulgent nonsense
I enjoyed Isherwood, until now. 16 % through the book and struggling. Who gives a duck who he ducked? Who gives a duck who he sucked? This is just boastful name dropping serving no apparent purpose. I bought this out of my regard for Isherwood. Now I wonder about him. Very disappointed.
Clue to the above "duck" rhymes with...
'The Lost Years' is the missing part of this project. Until 1945 he kept detailed journals of his life. Then, during 1945-1951 he abandoned the practice and kept no diaries except a travel one ('The Condor and the Cows') and a pocket-diary recording the barest of facts. Twenty years later he decided to 'reconstruct' this missing journal, using the pocket-diaries to jog his memory and referring to other sources to fill it out. This makes for a curious document, not least because when memory fails him, which it often does, he says so: 'I have no memory of this' becomes a litany throughout the diary. He also uses the method that was used so successfully in his subsequent autobiography 'Christopher and his Kind', of referring to himself in the third person, but here it's not consistent. He switches seamlessly from the first person pronoun 'I' to 'Christopher' to denote his thinking now and his view of himself then and now so that we get a kind of double vision in two different time-frames. This may sound confusing but the effect isn't. Mercifully, the approach doesn't have the relentless detail and fulsomeness of the original diaries; it's a halfway house between memoir and diary; a patchwork method too in its inclusion of chatty long footnotes.
In this volume we learn what life for Isherwood was like working as a script writer in Hollywood on a number of not very memorable films; this was bread and butter work for which he had no great respect or enthusiasm. He wrote a travel diary of a trip to South America during this time and worked on a novel but with very slow progress. Much of the time he socialised with a huge circle of friends, some of whom are famous - Huxley, Mann, Capote, Spender, etc - and many of whom were young and gay and his sexual partners. Young gay men, not just wannabe writers, were attracted by his fame and very open to sex: this is a record of his sex life as much as anything else. It includes graphic details which some may find off-putting - this was not gratuitous, however: Isherwood felt it important to bear witness to the unromantic side of gay love as well as to its positive aspects. For much of this time he was living with William Caskey and it charts their partnership and eventual breakup with honesty and fairness. There's an extensive glossary of all the dramatis persona which is very useful; it's also necessary, for Isherwood's habit of assuming you know who he's talking about would leave you confused without it.
This memoir-cum-diary is all part of a detailed,extensive record and revelation of an extraordinary and exemplary life. It is buoyant, engaging and readable; but it is, it has to be said, very much for the Isherwood admirer rather than for the merely curious.
I saw "Chris and Don", this film made me interested in Isherwood, I'm still reading his fascinating books. I will be purchasing more of them.