We all grew up in Saul Steinberg’s America, a place he envisioned for us in his drawings and cartoons for The New Yorker—none more famous than his iconic image of a New Yorker’s view of the world. In this eccentric and unpredictable memoir, one of the twentieth century’s most intellectually nimble artists shares his view of the world, of America and his place in it.
A Romanian by birth, restless by inclination, Steinberg lived a peripatetic existence. In Reflections and Shadows, he introduces us to his family—his uncle Moritz, a sign painter, and his father (also Moritz), a bookbinder whose small factory produced cardboard boxes and ribbons for funeral wreaths. He tells us how he dodged the police in fascist Italy in 1940 and how he came to America, where he became a citizen, an officer in the U.S. Navy, and the foremost visionary satirist of his time.
No one has depicted America with all its strengths and foibles more enduringly than Saul Steinberg. In this playful meditation, based on a series of interviews with Aldo Buzzi that has never before been published in English, and interwoven with more than a dozen drawings, Steinberg delivers a laconic hymn to America: its baseball, its diners, and its exhibitionism. “It is stinginess,” Steinberg writes, speaking of his art and method, “that holds us back.” But he had none of that: the personality that emerges from these pages is capacious, acutely discriminating, full of serendipitous curiosities, and consistently engaging.
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“America was made to order for Steinberg. In linking art to the modern consciousness, no artist is more relevant.”
“Steinberg is our national treasure, his hand the hand through which the nation inscribes itself in order to discover its true soul.”
“For decades he has been regarded as the best cartoonist in America....[His oeuvre is] the product of an intelligence so finely drawn, restless, ironic, insinuating and (at times) sadistic, so refracted in its own seemingly innocent maze of linguistic mirrors, as to suggest no ready parallels. The best of Steinberg presents you with a master. But a master of what? The short answer is: of writing.”
Born on June 15, 1914, in Romania, Saul Steinberg studied philosophy and literature at the University of Bucharest and architecture in Milan, where he published cartoons from 1936 to 1939. He fled to America in 1940 and joined the navy. After the war he settled down in New York and became an internationally celebrated artist, contributing some of his best work for more than fifty years to The New Yorker. His previous books include All in Line, The Passport, The Labyrinth, The Inspector, and The Discovery of America. Steinberg elevated the graphic language of the cartoon to the realm of fine art and came to be recognized as one of the most original artists of his time. He died in 1999.
Aldo Buzzi was trained as an architect in Milan. He worked in the Italian cinema for many years and then as a publisher. He is the author of Journey to the Land of the Flies and A Weakness for Almost Everything.
John Shepley’s translation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Roman Nights and Other Stories won the first Italo Calvino Translation Award in 1987. He is currently working on a translation of Roberto Calasso.
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