Back Then by Anne Bernays
Two Lives in 1950s New York

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Synopsis

Infused with intelligence and charm, Back Then is an elegant reflection on transformative years in the lives of two young people and New York City. Marked by their youthful passion, this double memoir marries the authors' distinct literary styles with a riveting narrative that captures the density and texture of private, social, and working life in the 1950s.

Novelist Anne Bernays, born in 1930, and biographer Justin Kaplan, born in 1925, both natives of New York, came of age in the 1950s, when the pent-up energies of the Depression years and World War II were at flood tide. Back Then, written in two separate voices, is the candid, anecdotal account of two children of privilege, one from New York's East Side, the other from the West Side, pursuing careers in publishing and eventually leaving to write their own books. They both sought self-knowledge and realization through years of psychoanalysis. They brushed shoulders with celebrities like William Faulkner, Somerset Maugham, Marlene Dietrich, and Anatole Broyard.

Before Bernays and Kaplan met and married, each had enjoyed the sexual and social freedom that, along with the dark shadow of McCarthyism and the Cold War, was among the distinguishing marks of the 1950s. In many other respects, the story they tell could almost as well be about an earlier era.

This vibrant, balanced memoir offers an indelible portrait of postwar New York -- exhilarating, hospitable, and affordable. A striking collaboration by two prominent figures in American letters, Back Then surprises and delights as Bernays and Kaplan recall their youthful pursuits, the merging of their lives, and the city's underlying influence on them.

 

About Anne Bernays

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Anne Bernays, a novelist and writing teacher, is the author of eight novels, including Professor Romeo and Growing Up Rich, as well as two works of nonfiction, including The Language of Names written with Justin Kaplan and What If? written with Pamela Painter. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous major publications, among them The Nation, the New York Times, Town & Country, and Sports Illustrated. She lives in Cambridge and Truro, Massachusetts with her husband, Justin Kaplan. They have three daughters and six grandchildren. Justin Kaplan is also the author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He is general editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is married to the novelist Anne Bernays. They have three daughters and six grandchildren, and live in Cambridge and Truro, Massachusetts.
 
Published May 28, 2002 by William Morrow. 320 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Back Then

Publishers Weekly

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They alternate chapters, and both writers have entirely distinct voices and styles of writing: Bernays's chapters are narrative driven, personal and filled with anecdote, while Kaplan maintains a certain distance from the subject at hand (that is, himself), offering character sketches of his coll...

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Entertainment Weekly

A double memoir, Back Then recounts the husband-and-wife authors' parallel postwar upbringings and eventual intersection on the publishing track, giving a nostalgic glimpse of the city before it became the millennium capital of the world.

Jun 14 2002 | Read Full Review of Back Then: Two Lives in 1950s...

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