Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

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9780002555456: Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

This first part of Doris Lessing's autobiography covers her African childhood and youth, her involvement in communist politics, and her departure for England and a new life. It is a self-portrait of a woman who lived through "an extraordinary time, the end of the British Empire in Africa". Being lifted high up onto her father's horse, watching ostriches high-stepping over the empty distances of the Cape, travelling in ox carts to the new African farm with trunks full of Liberty material and English silver - so begins Doris Lessing's childhood. Born in 1919, into the aftermath of World War I, Doris Lessing was the daughter of middle-class English parents lured by the false promises of the Empire Exhibition to seek their fortune in African farming. For her parents, life in dry, dusty Africa never fulfilled its expectations, but for Doris Lessing, her early life in Southern Rhodesia, with its contradictions and complexities, proved to be fundamental to her evolution as a writer. Readers are taken through her childhood and early youth on the farm, first marriage, the rapturous births of her children, the abandonment of her family to gain independence and a political life, and her second marriage to Gottfried Lessing, an authoritarian, rigorous communist. The book ends as she loses hope of ever changing Africa, and prepares to leave for England with the manuscript of her first novel, "The Grass is Springing" - the key to a new life.

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Review:

‘Passionate and compelling, a book so packed with extraordinary images that it has obliterated almost everything else I read in 1994.’ Rose Tremain

‘In this immediate, vivid, beautifully paced memoir, Doris Lessing sets the individual against history, the personal against the general and shows, by the example of her life set down honestly, how biography and fiction mesh, how fiction transmutes the personal to the general, how the particular experience illuminates the universe. By putting her life on the page, she has created her greatest work of art.’ Hilary Mantel, LRB

‘The book pulsates with life. The intensity of the sensory world is brilliantly evoked … Not just the story of the first thirty years of one life, this is the biography also of an age.’ Jane Dunn, Observer

From the Back Cover:

This, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, begins with her childhood in Africa and ends on her arrival in London in 1949 with the typescript of her first novel, 'The Grass is Singing', in her suitcase. It charts the evolution first of her consciousness, then of her sexuality and finally of her political awareness with an almost overwhelming immediacy, and is as distinctive and challenging as anything she has ever written. It is already recognised as one of the great autobiographies of the twentieth century.

'In this immediate, vivid, beautifully paced memoir, Doris Lessing sets the individual against history, the personal against the general and shows, by the example of her life set down honestly, how biography and fiction mesh, how fiction transmutes the personal to the general, how the particular experience illuminates the universe. By putting her life on the page, she has created her greatest work of art.'
HILARY MANTEL, 'London Review of Books'

'The book pulsates with life. The intensity of the sensory world is brilliantly evoked. The bush, the freedom to explore, the wonder of her world, are beautifully described. Not just the story of the first thirty years of one life, this is the biography also of an age.'
JANE DUNN, 'Observer'

'No mere review can do justice to an autobiography which is not just about a particular childhood but about all childhoods, not just about white marginality, but about all forms of interior exile, rebellion, subversion and secret self-making. A voice of wise and fearless honesty cuts through this book, the best Doris Lessing has ever written.'
LYNDALL GORDON, 'Times Higher Education Supplement'

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