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Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography to 1949 Hardcover – 1 Oct 1994
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‘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 the Paperback edition.
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'
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Lessing's autobiography is as readable and immediate as a good novel, full of fascinating information about Southern Rhodesia and its culture clashes and racism among British settlers, about farming in often near-impossible circumstances, about growing up in the remote bush and about her early discoveries of the joy of reading. Her descriptions of family, friends and lovers (apart from perhaps first husband Frank, who remains a somewhat shadowy figure) are vivid, and her explanations of why she became a Communist and how she eventually made herself into a writer fascinating. If I have any criticism, it is that Lessing never fully explains why she was so reluctant to attempt to get a better education (she became a fierce champion of education for others in later life), or why she married two men neither of whom she appears to have loved (unlike at least one of her later lovers) - or indeed why she had a third child, with a husband with whom she was clearly not planning to stay. But maybe she herself found it hard to untangle precisely why she made those particular choices.
A superb book, which I'd warmly recommend. It's a shame Lessing only wrote two volumes of autobiography - I'd have loved to have learnt more about her life.
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.
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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