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Drunken Angel: A Memoir

Drunken Angel: A Memoir

5.0 2
by Alan Kaufman

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Alan Kaufman has been compared to Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, Hubert Selby Jr., even Ernest Hemmingway—his life reads so much like a great movie that the world of cinema has just optioned his first memoir, Jew Boy, for a feature film. Drunken Angel, his new autobiographical work, drops like a sledgehammer. It is the most gripping, chilling and inspiring account


Alan Kaufman has been compared to Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, Hubert Selby Jr., even Ernest Hemmingway—his life reads so much like a great movie that the world of cinema has just optioned his first memoir, Jew Boy, for a feature film. Drunken Angel, his new autobiographical work, drops like a sledgehammer. It is the most gripping, chilling and inspiring account ever written of a life-long battle with alcoholism and the struggle to write. Graphic in its grit, an education in pain, Drunken Angel is being hailed as "the Naked Lunch of memoirs." The book chronicles Kaufman’s headlong plunge into the piratical life of a literary drunk, and takes us shamelessly through noirish alleyways of S&M sensuality, forbidden pleasures and pitfalls of adultery, the thrilling horrors of war, plus raging poetry nights, mental illness, homelessness, literary struggle and his strange, magnificent rise into a sobriety of personal triumph as crazily improbable as the famous and notorious figures he meets along the way. Drunken Angel contains revealing portraits of such literary figures as Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, Barney Rosset, Anthony Burgess, Elie Wiesel, Ron Kolm, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jim Feast, Bernard Malamud, Hubert Selby Jr., Bob Holman, Sapphire, not to speak of the gutter dreamers, Nuyorican Poets, Unbearables, Babarians, Slammers, Black foot Indians, commandos, criminals, junkies, renegade cocktail waitresses, hoboes, painters, and a host of others who each in some way, big or small, play their part in peopling the wildly exilerating drama of Kaufman’s passionate and exotic life. Whether the addiction be booze, women, violence, writing or fame, Kaufman honors us with an explicit honesty that only a writer of enormous power and artistic greatness can attain, and his life, as Drunken Angel poignantly shows, is a profoundly meaningful quest for truth and spiritual values.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Drunken Angel ... details a sad, painful childhood that erupted into a violent adolescence, followed by an emotionally stunted, drunken adulthood with all its attendant miseries, abuse and bungled opportunities."
J Weekly

"Imagine if your childhood bedtime stories were of the Holocaust. With blunt honesty, Kaufman shares his harrowing life journey from the streets of NY and SF to the battlefields of Israel—through alcoholism and recovery. His narrative of loss, addiction and redemption explores the intersection of alcoholism, his Jewish lineage and the Holocaust—and what it may mean for us today."
Pacific Sun

“In more than two hundred pages of blistering hangovers, park bench nights, and fistfights, Kaufman becomes a celebrated writer and avant garde arts advocate… A clearly articulated roadmap to freedom for the addict, Drunken Angel is an easy and exciting memoir. This outlaw hero is someone to cheer for…” —Foreword Reviews

"[An] addictive memoir of self-destruction, recuperation and a literary coming-of-age." —Kirkus Reviews

"Whether the subject is parental abuse, alcoholism, or the travails of the writing life, Kaufman’s (Jew Boy; Matches) memoir violently grabs your attention, refusing to let up until he’s had his say. This is a brutish and riveting trek through a talented and severely alcoholic psyche. Those who persist are rewarded with stylish, intense writing and the intimate details of the author’s metamorphosis." —Publishers Weekly

"As a literary work the book is hugely successful. The detail, whether about his paranoid delusions, his psychosis, his family, the people that made up his tortured milieu is stunning. He gets into the mind of a self-destructing alcoholic that he was and is never far from becoming again."
Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

"The best recovery memoir I’ve ever read."
—Joe Clifford, author of Junkie Love

"Alan Kaufman, the author of the lively but exasperating autobiography of alcoholism, Drunken Angel, sweetens the pot considerably. He drops so many names, and finds himself involved in so many improbably episodes of transnational mayhem and kinky sex, that the escapades could almost fill a Bond novel. But to be fair, there’s nothing debonair going on here... Alan Kaufman is more Jack Kerouac than James Bond: One of the founding members of California’s Spoken Word scene, editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Kaufman bounced through the beat/hippie/downtown scenes in New York, and San Francisco and Israel, writing for Jewish publications, treating his wives shabbily, and blacking out all over whatever town he happened to be in. It’s not pretty, and it’s not meant to be." —Dirk Hanson, Addiction Inbox

"So, too, Kaufman’s trademark is that he wears his ravaged heart on his sleeve. Still, in using that last phrase, I would like to change its customary meaning, which generally refers to an author who is too open, too ready with the tears or shouts of joy. For Kaufman, it is almost the opposite. In passage after passage, we see the truths of the heart are hard won; and this, the psychic searching that is behind every emotion rendered, accounts for the book’s explosive, gripping caliber, both in terms of the solid resonance of the personal and social insights, which with the pages are full, and the ready flow of lyrical, wrenching prose, which, if I may use this metaphor, in each chapter, pours the reader a full measure of literary soul." —The Evergreen Review

"With an outsized heart to go with its outsized thirst, Drunken Angel tells the sort of truths that feel like myths and the sort of myths that feel like truth." —Daniel Handler, author of Adverbs

"As engrossing, moving and honest a literary memoir as one will ever read, Drunken Angel is that rare combination of aching beauty and haunting truth, all made vivid and alive with a poetry that is both turbulent and profoundly wise. Alan Kaufman takes his readers on a Jewish Huck Finn journey of addiction, regret, and rage. With his immense literary gifts as a storyteller, he turns the jagged, jaded tale of his life into a true work of art, and along way finds the reconciliation and peace that made this memoir possible, and for that, we should all be grateful." —Thane Rosenbaum, author of The Golems of Gotham, Second Hand Smoke,and Elijah Visible

"A great, amazing and honest book. An interesting life, a shameless sincerity and the talent to tell a story are the essential ingredients needed to create a captivating memoir and Alan Kaufman's 'Drunken Angel' has tons of all three."
—Etgar Keret, author of The Girl on the Fridge

"Drunken Angel reads like a recovery memoir written in another time, from another generation, though it’s of the present. Alan Kaufman’s story is riveting: raw in its passion and lacerating in its testimony." —Oscar Villalon, former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, board member of the National Book Critics Circle

"Make no mistake, a star is born. A unique original voice with extraordinary grace and power..." —Harold Norse, author of Memoirs of a Bastard Angel

"A grand epic of a memoir..." —Ruth Prawer Jhanvala, winner of the Booker Prize and twice winner of the Academy Award for Best Screenplay

"Kaufman's unique voice...is a latter-day extension of the pulp literati, the Hubert Selbys and Jean Genets, improbably leavened with plenty of youthful naivete and whimsy...combines the core elements of Kerouac's wide-eyed discovery of an alternative America, (Henry) Miller's resolve to throw open the doors of private lives, however unflattering, and (Art) Spiegelman's comic-book approach to the modern era's most horrific event." —James Sullivan, front page review in the San Francisco Chronicle

"Great...writing like this comes along once every fifty years..." —Barney Rosset, founder of Grove Press

What Authors are Saying about Alan Kaufman:
"He's not neat, he's not careful... but here's more passion than you see in twenty other books combined..." —Dave Eggers

"...unusual, profound, simple, brutal, idiosyncratic." —David Mamet, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"Fascinating... an abundance of suspense, curiosity, wonder and awe. I want to congratulate and thank Alan Kaufman for enriching my life." —Hubert Selby, Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn

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Read an Excerpt

Book Eleven

Why an angel? Because I believe that, in time, that is what we become in sobriety, if we last long enough, to the end. Not the winged kind, no. Not some haloed cupid or sword swinger but a kind of flawed angel, without wings, that belongs to no religion but rather to a species of human heartbreak unlike any other known.

Alcoholics and addicts are unlike any other people I’ve ever met. I am unlike most people. A blazing mutant of some kind. A wondrous freak. In my mind lurks an urge that will be with me to the end, to put a bottle to my lips and drink myself to death. A judge and jury that I wake up to each morning has pronounced a verdict of guilt on me for no crime that I have committed, just for being alive, and has sentenced me to death, not by guillotine or rope but by a single drink.

It is the strangest thing, this sentence of death, this disease I have which tests me to the max and each day holds my existence accountable to the very universe, a god no religion can know as we drunks know it.
A god of drunks who goes with us into our prisons and gutters, bedrooms and businesses, flophouses and alleys, hospitals and mansions, and patiently waits with hand on our shivering shoulders as we groan through yet one more night of near death, waits to see if maybe this time we’ve had pain enough, loss enough, enough hangover, illness, fear, to ask for help.
And yet many cannot ask, and die right before the god of drunks, who I think must weep helplessly when this occurs.

So many lose heart and fall. I have seen so many of my brothers and sisters in recovery fall. I have seen so many beautiful people die. The poet found in his room OD’d with a needle in his arm. He was my best friend. The twenty-year-old drummer who killed himself over a romance gone wrong. Nice kid. The young artist who drank and was found murdered in her Tenderloin hotel room. She was so talented. The buddy who drank and wound up facedown in a river in Pennsylvania, drowned. The ones, so many, who jumped off the bridge or the roof or put a gun barrel to their heads and squeezed the trigger, or in private ate painkillers until found on the floor brain-dead, or perished young of a destroyed liver. That young nurse, a mother of three, who had everything, beautiful children, loving husband, looks to die for, a house with two cars in the garage, who also had this little problem that she couldn’t stay sober or stop smoking crack, no matter how many meetings she attended or advice she tried to follow, and one day returned home to that garage, ran a hose, turned on the ignition, and gassed herself to death.

When you have seen as much of that as I have in my sobriety, in the last twenty years, how can I not regard my own reflection with amazement that I am still here. Why me? How did I get so lucky? Really, I don’t know. I want to think that I’ve done something right, but in truth, I know better. I do believe in a Higher Power and I do work the 12 steps and go to meetings and work with drunks of every kind and description, yet it doesn’t seem like enough, it never does. I never feel that I can repay what has been given to me. The love that has been shown. The patience and straight-shooting counsel that has saved my butt time and again. I have met in recovery men and women who are the greatest human beings I have ever known but don’t want their names advertised. Anonymous, quiet angels, invaded by death, propelled by light, who move among us with quiet grace and private suffering and seek each day to help those around them without fanfare or reward.

Meet the Author

ALAN KAUFMAN's novel Matches was published by Little, Brown and Company in the Fall of 2005. David Mamet has called Matches "an extraordinary war novel," and Dave Eggers has written that "there is more passion here then you see in twenty other books combined." Kaufman's critically-acclaimed memoir, Jew Boy (Fromm/Farrar, Straus and Giroux), has appeared in three editions, hardcover and paperback, in the United States and Great Britain. He is the award-winning editor of several anthologies, the most recent of which, The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, was recently reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review. There are two more volumes in Kaufman's Outlaw anthology series: The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry and The Outlaw Bible of American Essays. He has taught in the graduate and undergraduate schools of the Academy of Art University and in writing workshops in San Francisco. His work has appeared in Salon, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Partisan Review and The San Francisco Examiner. Kaufman has been widely anthologized, most recently in Nothing Makes You Free: Writings From Descendents of Holocaust Survivors (WW Norton). Kaufman is a member of PEN American Center. Kaufman's papers and manuscripts are on deposit in the Special Collections Library of the University of Delaware and he is profiled in the Europa Biographical Reference Series.

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Drunken Angel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is excellent! Alan Kaufman is a great writer and such an inspiration! I was so engrossed in his tale the whole time. Definitely recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book was amazing. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical of picking up another recovery related biography, but I was thoroughly surprised. Kaufman has a gift and it shines through in this book. Its an amazing story.