Autobiography of Mark Twain: Vol. 1

Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith, Univ. of California, $34.95 (744p) ISBN 978-0-520-26719-0
Mark Twain is his own greatest character in this brilliant self-portrait, the first of three volumes collected by the Mark Twain Project on the centenary of the author's death. It is published complete and unexpurgated for the first time. (Twain wanted his more scalding opinions suppressed until long after his death.) Eschewing chronology and organization, Twain simply meanders from observation to anecdote and between past and present. There are gorgeous reminiscences from his youth of landscapes, rural idylls, and Tom Sawyeresque japes; acid-etched profiles of friends and enemies, from his "fiendish" Florentine landlady to the fatuous and "grotesque" Rockefellers; a searing polemic on a 1906 American massacre of Filipino insurgents; a hilarious screed against a hapless editor who dared tweak his prose; and countless tales of the author's own bamboozlement, unto bankruptcy, by publishers, business partners, doctors, miscellaneous moochers; he was even outsmarted by a wild turkey. Laced with Twain's unique blend of humor and vitriol, the haphazard narrative is engrossing, hugely funny, and deeply revealing of its author's mind. His is a world where every piety conceals fraud and every arcadia a trace of violence; he relishes the human comedy and reveres true nobility, yet as he tolls the bell for friends and family—most tenderly in an elegy for his daughter Susy, who died in her early 20s of meningitis—he feels that life is a pointless charade. Twain's memoirs are a pointillist masterpiece from which his vision of America—half paradise, half swindle—emerges with indelible force. 66 photos and line illus. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/27/2010
Release date: 11/01/2010
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