Tom Stoppard: A Life

Hermione Lee. Knopf, $35 (896p) ISBN 978-0-451-49322-4
Lee (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life) tackles the life and works of a playwright who started “without a cause, except the cause of good language and good art” in this exhaustive biography of Tom Stoppard. To account for the prolific artist who “suddenly became famous in the late 1960s,” Lee makes use of diaries, drafts, and letters, as well as interviews. Stoppard was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937; two years later, his family moved to Singapore, then to India, and, finally, England. Lee sheds light on Stoppard’s relationship to his “Czech-ness” (in the late 1960s he was indifferent, but in the late 2000s he “spoke with tender feelings about his origins”) and his Jewishness (he was unaware his mother was Jewish until 1993). His political activity is also covered, in particular his relationship with Václav Havel, a writer who became Czechoslovakia’s president and whose works Stoppard translated. Lee’s treatment of Stoppard’s plays (including 1966’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and 1974’s Travesties) break down the playwright’s process, detailing a play’s conception and production: Travesties, for example, was written in his “most intense period of fatherhood” and took nine months. Lee’s account is a deeply detailed and valuable contribution to literary history. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 12/23/2020
Release date: 02/23/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-0-451-49323-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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