Them by Francine Du Plessix Gray
A Memoir of Parents

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Tatiana du Plessix, the wife of a French diplomat, was a beautiful, sophisticated "white Russian" who had been the muse of the famous Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Alexander Liberman, the ambitious son of a prominent Russian Jew, was a gifted magazine editor and aspiring artist. As part of the progressive artistic Russian émigré community living in Paris in the 1930s, the two were destined to meet. They began a passionate affair, and the year after Paris was occupied in World War II they fled to New York with Tatiana's young daughter, Francine.

There they determinedly rose to the top of high society, holding court to a Who's Who list of the midcentury's intellectuals and entertainers. Flamboyant and outrageous, bold and brilliant, they were irresistible to friends like Marlene Dietrich, Salvador Dalí, and the publishing tycoon Condé Nast. But to those who knew them well they were also highly neurotic, narcissistic, and glacially self-promoting, prone to cut out of their lives, with surgical precision, close friends who were no longer of use to them.

Tatiana became an icon of New York fashion, and the hats she designed for Saks Fifth Avenue were de rigueur for stylish women everywhere. Alexander Liberman, who devotedly raised Francine as his own child from the time she was nine, eventually came to preside over the entire Condé Nast empire. The glamorous life they shared was both creative and destructive and was marked by an exceptional bond forged out of their highly charged love and raging self-centeredness. Their obsessive adulation of success and elegance was elevated to a kind of worship, and the high drama that characterized their lives followed them to their deaths. Tatiana, increasingly consumed with nostalgia for a long-lost Russia, spent her last years addicted to painkillers. Shortly after her death, Alexander, then age eighty, shocked all who knew him by marrying her nurse.

Them: A Portrait of Parents is a beautifully written homage to the extraordinary lives of two fascinating, irrepressible people who were larger than life emblems of a bygone age. Written with honesty and grace by the person who knew them best, this generational saga is a survivor's story. Tatiana and Alexander survived the Russian Revolution, the fall of France, and New York's factory of fame. Their daughter, Francine, survived them.


About Francine Du Plessix Gray

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FRANCINE DU PLESSIX GRAY has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker and is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Simone Weil, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, Rage and Fire, Lovers and Tyrants, and Soviet Women. She is most recently the author of the memoir Them: A Memoir of Parents. She lives in Connecticut.
Published May 5, 2005 by Penguin Books. 544 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Ever the opportunist, Tatiana made a better match with aristocratic French diplomat Bertrand du Plessix, though they were estranged after Tatiana ruined his career prospects with social faux pas in Warsaw.

Feb 15 2005 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

The New York Times

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Since the beginning of the 20th century, the line between art and life has been blurred more times than anyone can count, but that's not stopping a French artist named Sophie Calle from adding some more erasures to this famously fuzzed demarcation.

Mar 29 1991 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

The New York Times

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THE characters in ''Flights of Love,'' Bernhard Schlink's first collection of stories, are not the kind of men you expect to be defined by love, much less transported by it.

Sep 30 2001 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

The New York Times

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Having finally come to terms with the dismal truth that Alex and Tatiana were too fixated on each other to focus on her own well-being, Gray now finds herself confronted with the prospect that their single-minded attachment may have derived not from a legendary romance, as Alex always contended, ...

May 29 2005 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

The Guardian

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Asked why, he replied: 'They write better in prison.' This apocryphal tale came to mind last week as the news broke of the Arts Council and Northern Rock Foundation's launching of a grant of £60,000 to three northern writers.

Dec 16 2001 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

Publishers Weekly

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Alex, Tatiana and Francine fled to New York in 1941 and started a new life—Tatiana designing hats for Bendel's before a career with Saks, Alex scaling the fashion journalism ladder at Condé Nast.

Mar 07 2005 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

Bookmarks Magazine

Rachel Graves New York Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars "Them: A Memoir of Parents … is a riveting, passionate and deeply confused book.

Jan 03 2008 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

The New York Review of Books

... The Hidden Life of Deer: Lessons from the Natural World by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas Harper, 239 pp., $24.99. The last common ancestor of ...

Apr 29 2010 | Read Full Review of Them: A Memoir of Parents

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