Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography--1949-1962

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9780060182953: Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography--1949-1962

Doris Lessing joined the Communist Party in London, and here she explores the allure Communism held for artists, intellectuals, and social reformist idealists in the '50s. A fascinating meditation on the psychological, sociological and historical roots of a generation's behavior, Lessing offers insight into the ideological and political madness of the post-war era.

Lessing also evokes the bohemian life she led in post-war London: her work in the theater, her romantic liaisons, her books, her single parenting and the tenor and texture of life in the '50s. Among those who appear in these pages are Clancy Sigal, Nelson Algren, Henry Kissinger, Kenneth Tynan and Bertrand Russell, to name a few. She muses at length about the relationships between men and women, offering provocative insights into the attitudes of American men toward sex, women and love.

The last section of the memoir describes the writing of her most famous novel, The Golden Notebook. It offers a fascinating account of the creative process by which a literary masterpiece is conceived and executed.

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Review:

More casually written and organized than Under My Skin, the second volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography boasts the same acute, brutally frank insights. She begins with her 1949 arrival in London as a 30-year-old single mother from Rhodesia who is searching for a place and a means to write freely; Lessing closes in 1962 with the publication of her most famous novel, The Golden Notebook. In between, she covers love affairs, years of psychotherapy, and her increasingly disenchanted involvement with the Communist Party. Walking in the Shade is essential reading for anyone interested in mid-century British culture.

About the Author:

Doris Lessing was born Doris May Taylor in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919. Both of her parents were British: Her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Her mother installed Doris in a covenant school, and then later in an all-girls high school in the capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out. She was 13, and it was the end of her formal education.

Lessing's life has been a challenge to her belief that people cannot resist the currents of their time, as she fought against the cultural and biological imperatives that fated her to sink without a murmur into marriage and motherhood. Lessing believes that she was freer than most people because she became a writer. For her, writing is a process of "setting a distance," taking the "raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into the realm of the general."

Lessing's fiction is deeply autobiographical, much of it emerging out of her experiences in Africa. Drawing upon her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has written about the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle among opposing elements within an individual's own personality, and the conflict between the individual conscience and the collective good.

Over the years, Lessing has attempted to accommodate what she admires in the novels of the 19th century their "climate of ethical judgment" to the demands of 20th-century ideas about consciousness and time. After writing the Children of Violence series (1952-1959), a formally conventional bildungsroman (novel of education) about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail. Anna Wolf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wolf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook. Her "inner-space fiction" deals with cosmic fantasies Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions (Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974), and science-fiction probings of higher planes of existence (Canopus in Argos: Archives, 1979-1983). These reflect Lessing's interest, since the 1960s, in Idries Shah, whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society.

Lessing's other novels include The Good Terrorist (1985) and The Fifth Child (1988); she also published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers (The Diary of a Good Neighbor, 1983, and If the Old Could., 1984). In addition, she has written several nonfiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 was recently joined by Walking in the Shade: 1949 to 1962, both published by HarperCollins.

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