My Father is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud

Overview

Bernard Malamud—the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such acclaimed works as The Fixer, The Natural, and The Assistant, peer to Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, and an enduring literary influence—was a very private man. In this candid, loving, and beautifully written memoir, Malamud’s daughter explores her renowned father's life and literary legacy, drawing from her own memories as well as from her father’s letters and journals. An indispensable companion to Bernard Malamud's fiction, My Father Is a Book offers ...

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Overview

Bernard Malamud—the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such acclaimed works as The Fixer, The Natural, and The Assistant, peer to Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, and an enduring literary influence—was a very private man. In this candid, loving, and beautifully written memoir, Malamud’s daughter explores her renowned father's life and literary legacy, drawing from her own memories as well as from her father’s letters and journals. An indispensable companion to Bernard Malamud's fiction, My Father Is a Book offers unique insight into the relationship between an author's life and art.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
No biography of Malamud, one of the great Jewish-American writers, has appeared since his death in 1986, at age 72, so his daughter's beautiful memoir offers the first intimate look at his life. And it is intimate, drawing on correspondence and early journals that describe Malamud's struggle to define himself as a writer and express the anguish that afflicted him all his life: insecurity about his talent, sadness and shame over his childhood as the son of an unsuccessful and unimaginative immigrant grocer and a mother who went mad. Smith (Private Matters) is herself an accomplished writer, bringing a keen and nuanced intelligence to explain her father's efforts to transcend these feelings and transmute them into fiction; she offers a fascinating look, for example, at how Malamud's discovery of Freud helped him grasp that "grand moral struggles belong to the common man as much as to the hero." Refreshingly, Smith is more interested in understanding than judging her father, even when relating his affair, in the early '60s, with one of his Bennington College students; she reserves her rage for the "louche" environment-ruled by "patriarchal harem entitlement"-in which such affairs were a matter of course. Smith offers a profound portrait of a loving father, a writer whose struggles with his own frailties fueled enduring works of literature. (Mar. 15) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Writer Smith (Private Matters) has waited 20 years to tell the tale of her father's life and the ways in which it intertwined with her own. This delay has given her some perspective and emotional distance from her lofty subject, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Bernard Malamud. Calling on her father's letters and journals, his works of fiction, and her own memories, she recounts the seminal events in Malamud's life-his own father's defeatist attitude, his college teaching positions, the prevalence of mental illness in his family, and his unstinting, almost obsessive dedication to his writing. And she provides a fascinating and thorough account of the events that shaped and found their way into his fiction. Occasionally, her psychological explanations and metaphors are a bit contrived, but for the most part they help elucidate the themes present throughout Malamud's work. Not only does Smith give us an insider's view of her father's life, but she also shares what it was like growing up the child of a driven and famous father. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/05.]-Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Candid yet sensitive, this memoir by clinical social worker Smith (A Potent Spell, 2003, etc.) exquisitely captures "the particular psychic pleasure and confusion" of being the daughter of novelist/short-story writer Bernard Malamud. Amusing, hardworking and decent, Malamud (1914-86) was also burdened by early poverty and an unhappy childhood. His father, an unsuccessful Brooklyn grocer, was the model for long-suffering Morris Bober in The Assistant; mental illness plagued both his mother and brother. While summoning all his ability and strength for writing, Malamud expected similar devotion to his needs from wife Ann and their two children. Smith rejoiced in her father's presence as a girl, but as an adolescent and adult, she "found his need for me oppressive, felt angry at his oversize, insistent presence." Complicating matters was Malamud's midlife affair with one of his Bennington College students, which sparked retaliatory flings by Ann and Janna (the latter, fittingly, with a married high-school teacher roughly her father's age). The novelist's daughter also silently seethed over the peculiar ways incidents in her life served as fodder for his late-career novel, Dubin's Lives. Nevertheless, the portrait here reveals mutual affection and commitment that, while strained, never broke. Smith's recollections of her father's contemporaries-Lillian Hellman, Howard Nemerov, Philip Roth, C.P. Snow and Shirley Jackson-are consistently trenchant. Even more memorable are passages from Malamud's own journals and letters, which sometimes unfold in a wry and chatty voice but more often are ruminative. (On his parents' influence, he writes, "I think I translated their endurance into mydiscipline.") Above all, Smith enhances our understanding of how the larger themes of Malamud's fiction mirror his concern with imperfect people balancing moral responsibility against the desire to transcend pitiless circumstance. The author amply demonstrates that she has inherited her father's unblinking moral scrutiny and sympathy for the yearning heart.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618872633
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/22/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

JANNA MALAMUD SMITH is author of two New York Times Notable books, A Potent Spell and Private Matters, which was a Barnes and Noble "Discover Great New Writers" pick. She has written for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Threepenny Review, among other publications. A practicing psychotherapist, she lives with her husband and two children in Massachusetts.

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