ALFRED KAZIN'S AMERICA: Critical and Personal Writings

Ted Solotaroff, Author, Alfred Kazin, Author . HarperCollins $29.95 (592p) ISBN 978-0-06-621343-9

Intended as "a resource, rather than as a monument" this posthumous anthology traces a biographical arc through the work of one of America's finest literary critics, interspersing selections from almost all of his major critical works (On Native Grounds; God and the American Writer; etc.) with the remarkable memoirs published in his middle later years (A Walker in the City; Writing Was Everything; etc.). Few critics lend themselves to such integration, but as Solotaroff's extensive, nuanced introduction explains, Kazin (1915–1998) "wrote less as a literary critic than as a writer possessed by literature as moral testimony and lived history." The collection starts with his childhood in a provincial Brooklyn ghetto, where his work-dogged mother would leave her sewing machine only long enough to gaze briefly and lovingly out of the window at the world, and impoverished friends found transcendence in poetry and politics. Here, too, the teenaged Alfred, having already seized upon Blake and Hemingway, read the Gospel and found in the co-opted figure of "our Yeshua" a fulfillment of Jewish longing and "another writer I could instinctively trust." Then come Kazin's beginnings in the brave new and largely gentile literary world of the '30s; the months spent at the New York Public Library researching the brilliant study of American realism that made his career; the rise and decline of the literary left and the moral disillusionments following the war. The book ends with his canny but troubled assessment of letters in the early 1980s, the end of the American century. Kazin's great faculty as both a critic and a memoirist was his passionate belief in the voice on the page as a means of communicating historical experience. Here is a writer, and a reader, we can trust. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/22/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 540 pages - 978-0-06-051276-7
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