Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me
PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2019
National Book Award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair explores her fifteen remarkable years in Paris with Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir, painting intimate new portraits of two literary giants and revealing secrets of the biographical art.
In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist and a recently minted Ph.D. who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett. He agreed that she could be his biographer despite her never having written a biography before. The next seven years of probing conversations, intercontinental research, singular encounters with Beckett's friends, and peculiar cat-and-mouse games resulted in Samuel Beckett: A Biography, which went on to win the National Book Award and propel Bair to her next subject: Simone de Beauvoir.
Where Beckett had been retiring and elusive, Beauvoir was domineering and all encompassing. Plus, there was a catch: Beauvoir and Beckett despised each other--and lived in the same neighborhood. Bair, who resorted to dodging one subject or the other by hiding out in the great cafés of Paris, learned that what works in terms of process for one biography rarely applies to the next. Her seven-year relationship with the forceful and difficult Beauvoir required a radical change in approach and yielded another groundbreaking literary profile while also awakening Bair to an era of burgeoning feminist consciousness.
Drawing on Bair's extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives gives us an entirely new perspective on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers. It is also a warmly personal reflection on the writing life--its compromises, its joys, and its rewards.
Sparkling . . . Bair spent seven years on Beckett and ten on Beauvoir, and her dedication to her subjects is apparent. Into her accounts of working with these eminent, often exasperating writers she weaves recollections of malfunctioning tape recorders, grandstanding sources, and her travails as a professional and a mother commuting across the Atlantic, working in a field dominated by men.”
—The New Yorker
“Gripping . . . In Parisian Lives, which reads much like a ‘making of…’ documentary, Bair gives us her off-camera take on her first two biographies. And, to our delight, we become voyeurs. Can this inexperienced young American tame these two monstres sacrés? Will she be hoodwinked by two larger-than-life writers who want to influence, manipulate, control, even censor her—even as, all the while, they appear to cooperate? . . . A story well told.”
—Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review
“This juicy book, which [Bair] dubs a ‘bio-memoir,’ is at once a record of triumph over the skepticism and sexism she encountered on her path from journalist to academic and biographer and a valuable lesson in the art of biography . . . Parisian Lives is an unqualified success.”
—Heller McAlpin, The Wall Street Journal
“Parisian Lives promises insights into the art of biography, perhaps a little gossip, perhaps a more intimate look of Beckett and Beauvoir. Instead it is something more unusual: an itemized receipt of the costs of female ambition . . . This book clamors for love, sympathy, recognition; it rejects the concealments necessary to preserve certain forms of dignity, certain forms of injustice.”
—Parul Sehgal, The New York Times