Kafka was the rage : a Greenwich Village memoir

by Anatole Broyard

Paperback, 1997




New York : Vintage Books, 1997.


What Hemingway's A Moveable Feast did for Paris in the 1920s, this charming yet undeceivable memoir does for Greenwich Village in the late 1940s. In 1946, Anatole Broyard was a dapper, earnest, fledgling avant-gardist, intoxicated by books, sex, and the neighborhood that offered both in such abundance. Stylish written, mercurially witty, imbued with insights that are both affectionate and astringent, this memoir offers an indelible portrait of a lost bohemia.   We see Broyard setting up his used bookstore on Cornelia Street--indulging in a dream that was for him as romantic as "living off the land or sailing around the world" while exercizing his libido with a protegee of Anais Nin and taking courses at the New School, where he deliberates on "the new trends in art, sex, and psychosis." Along the way he encounters Delmore Schwartz, Caitlin and Dylan Thomas, William Gaddis, and other writers at the start of their careers. Written with insight and mercurial wit, Kafka Was the Rage elegantly captures a moment and place and pays homage to a lost bohemia as it was experienced by a young writer eager to find not only his voice but also his place in a very special part of the world.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member gibbon
Broyard was not a native of Greenwich Village, nor even of New York; and perhaps because of this he was able to write about his experiences there after WW II with more objectivity. His descriptions of his relationships with young women (after his first astounding capture and subjugation by a protege of Anais Nin) would be funny of they were not so sad. Before the birth-control pill, before abortion on demand, life for both sexes was totally different , and Broyard looking back saw how different it could have been.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This is a book that carries you away to another time and place written by a near perfect writer. It was a joy to read and imagine the feeling of excitement experienced by the denizens of Greenwich Village in 1946. This memoir is full of life, yet the undercurrent of mortality seems to be there as well.
It is full of unique moments whether chatting with Delmore Schwartz at the San Remo Bar or running into Auden on the street; there is always living a bohemian life with friends, and best of all reading, discussing, living with books. Anatole Broyard tells of opening a used book store when books were still truly appreciated (well at least more than now). And he indulged in psychoanalysis - his analyst was "the sort of man who read Schiller, Heine, and Kleist, who listened to Schubert and Mahler". Who wouldn't want to engage an analyst like that; perhaps he could only be equaled by the analyst in Daniel Menaker's novel, The Treatment. This is a delightful read whose only downside is length - it is too short and you will finish it wishing there was more.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
After World War II, Greenwich Village became the center of the bohemian revolution in America. Artistic twenty-somethings flocked to the New York neighborhood in droves. It drew them in the same way Paris had drawn their predecessors in the 1920s.

Broyard returned from serving in the war to find that the country had changed in his absence. He, like so many others, made his way to Greenwich, where he pursued his dream of opening a bookstore.

“Looking back at the late 1940s, it seems to me now that Americans were confronting their loneliness for the first time. Loneliness was like the morning after the war, like a great hangover. The war had broken the rhythm of American life, and when we tried to pick it up again, we couldn’t find it – it wasn’t there.”

The sense of loneliness the author speaks about is palpable in this book. He explores his odd relationship with a self-involved woman that seems to leave him feeling more alone when he’s with her than when he isn’t.

I liked a few passages from this memoir more than I liked it as a whole. It gave me a better picture of the history of Greenwich Village and I’m glad I read it before spending more time in the area, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a general read.

“To open a bookshop is one of the persistent romances, like living off the land or sailing around the world.”

“Books were our weather, our environment, our clothing. We didn’t simply read books; we became them. We took them into ourselves and made them into our histories. Books were to us what drugs were to young men in the sixties.”
… (more)
LibraryThing member pokylittlepuppy
A birthday present from my sister! Thanks sister.I wavered on whether or not I liked Broyard's outlook as a memoirist. There are some excellent thoughts and sentences like "When would I come to the end of her originality?" And I appreciate views like his from lovers of New York City, which is different to each person let alone to each decade. I pretty much couldn't picture anything at all about being here in 1946 and 1947, and now I can imagine at least a little. This description is exemplary: "The Village was charming, shabby, intimate, accessible, almost like a street fair." I learned about this book from a list of best books about New York, and that honor fits well enough. But his experiences aren't really so extraordinary, and his situation with Sheri is unappetizing at the very least, so as a memoir, it is somewhat in the middle.And he says a few things so stupid they called into question his entire legitimacy to me. Though giving almost no characterization of himself beyond a literary passion, that all he and his friends cared about is literature and they breathed literature and confused sex and literature and he ran a bookshop and he reviewed books and it was the time of the earth of literature, he can yet produce a posturing portrayal such as claiming women in the 1940's "were 'good' girls whose sexuality had been shaped by their mothers and by the novels of George Eliot and Virginia Woolf." Uh. Are you kidding around with me Anatole? I don't pretend to be a quarter of the expert you do, but I've read a couple of those novels myself, and I don't think they mean what you think they mean. AT ALL. 0%. But, his aphorisms are honest sometimes, like comparing the women's silence (cultural, literal) to "another form of virginity."And still, the contemporary parallels are too interesting to discredit. Like publishing an article called "Portrait of a Hipster". ! And the fact that he used the GI Bill to go to the New School, which I attended very very differently. (And yet.) In fact, I'm very surprised I wasn't assigned this book in a memoir class I took my first semester. But that's life.… (more)



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