Liberation by Christopher Isherwood

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Reading the several thousand pages of Christopher Isherwood's complete journals is an instructive corrective to the prissiness of reading fiction.


'A slip of a wild boy: with quick silver eyes', as Virginia Woolf saw him in the 1930s, Christopher Isherwood journeyed and changed with his century, until, by the 1980s, he was celebrated as the finest prose writer in English and the Grand Old Man of Gay Liberation. In this final volume of his diaries, capstone of a million-word masterwork, he greets advancing age with poignant humour and an unquenchable appetite for the new; aches, illnesses, and diminishing powers are clues to a predicament still unfathomed. The mainstays of his mature contentment, his Hindu guru, Swami Prabhavananda and his long term companion, Don Bachardy, draw from him an unexpected high tide of joy and love. Around his private religious and domestic routines orbit gifted friends both anonymous and infamous. Bachardy's burgeoning career pulled Isherwood into the 1970s art scene in Los Angeles, New York and London, where we meet Rauschenberg, Ruscha, and Warhol (serving foetid meat for lunch) as well as Hockney (adored) and Kitaj. Collaborating with Bachardy on scripts for their prize-winning Frankenstein and their Broadway fiasco, "A Meeting by the River", extended ties in Hollywood and the theatre world. John Huston, Merchant and Ivory, John Travolta, John Voight, Elton John, David Bowie, Joan Didion, Armistead Maupin each take a turn through Isherwood's densely populated human comedy, sketched with both ruthlessness and benevolence against the background of the Vietnam War, the Energy Crisis, the Nixon, Carter and Reagan White Houses. In his first book of this period, Kathleen and Frank, Isherwood unearthed the family demons that haunted his fugitive youth. When contemporaries began to die, he responded in "Christopher and His Kind" and "My Guru and His Disciple" with startling fresh truths about shared experiences. These are the most concrete and the most mysterious of his diaries, candidly revealing the fear of death that crowded in past Isherwood's fame, and showing how his life-long immersion in the day-to-day lifted him, paradoxically, towards transcendence.

About Christopher Isherwood

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Christopher Isherwood, born in Cheshire, England, in 1904, wrote both novels and nonfiction. He was a lifelong friend of W.H. Auden and wrote several plays with him, including Dog Beneath the Skin and The Ascent of F6. He lived in Germany from 1928 until 1933 and his writings during this period described the political and social climate of pre-Hitler Germany. Isherwood immigrated to the United States in 1939 and became a U.S. citizen in 1946. He lived in California, working on film scripts and adapting plays for television. The musical Cabaret is based on several of Isherwood's stories and on his play, I Am a Camera. His other works include Mr. Norris Changes Trains, about life in Germany in the early 1930s; Down There on a Visit, an autobiographical novel; and Where Joy Resides, published after his death in 1986.
Published May 1, 2012 by Chatto & Windus. 928 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Gay & Lesbian.
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Reviewed by Edmund White on Jun 01 2012

Reading the several thousand pages of Christopher Isherwood's complete journals is an instructive corrective to the prissiness of reading fiction.

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