cover image Leaving Home

Leaving Home

Art Buchwald. Putnam, $22.95 (254pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13864-5

Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Buchwald here delivers a bright, funny and poignant memoir of his early years, from a lonely childhood in Queens, New York City, to his start as a Herald-Tribune columnist in postwar Paris. He never saw his Hungarian-born, mentally ill mother, who was institutionalized shortly after his birth in 1925. His father, a Yiddish-speaking Austrian immigrant, a drape hanger, was a devoted parent, but was forced to place the author and his sisters in foster homes. It was a life with ``no hugging,'' but Buchwald survived through humor born of much anger and sadness (``This stinks. I'm going to become a humorist,'' he told himself), eventually fleeing to join the Marine Corps in 1942. His later years would be ``a lifelong search'' for a surrogate mother and included two suicidal depressions. We see the development of a young writer in a book rich in incidents and rendered in wonderfully vivid scenes: Buchwald rollerskating down Queens Boulevard, losing his virginity to a hotel chambermaid, pulling burial detail as a Marine in the Marshall Islands, aspiring to screenwriting at the University of Southern California, where he studied on the G.I. Bill, and finally sipping Pernod in Hemingway-heady Parisian cafes on the eve of the 1950s. ``I am new at writing memoirs,'' declares the author of this mature, immensely appealing look back at a youth of ``luck and chutzpah.'' He is very good at it, too. (Jan.)