Laurie Lee: The Well-loved Stranger

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9780140276886: Laurie Lee: The Well-loved Stranger

Despite his autobigraphical writings, despite his gregarious appearances on the London literary scene and in the village pub where he was always available to fans, Laurie Lee was a secretive man. Millions of readers feel they know him from the lyrical account of his Gloucestershire boyhood, immortalized in "Cider with Rosie". They also know that he walked out one midsummer morning in 1934 and wandered through Spain, playing the fiddle before being caught up in the Spanish Civil War. When he returned home, he spent almost the rest of his life writing about these youthful adventures. He was a poet, a playwright and a broadcaster, his books became classics, and he was devoted to two women: his wife and his daughter, "the firstborn". Publicly, he fostered the Laurie Lee legend. But behind his locked study door, in the letters and diaries he left, lay the revealing clues to his private pain and passion: the girls he left behind, the woman who took him to Spain, the woman he came back to...and the others who nurtured, protected and loved him all his crowded, fulfilled but often tormented life. Eventually, when nearly eighty, he published a vivid and moving account of his Spanish Civil War experiences which, after his death, were questioned by fellow veterans. A fierce debate ensued in the national press about Lee's role in the war. Here for the first time, from his private correspondence, are the facts about that time and other hitherto unknown elements in the Laurie Lee story - which are even more fascinating than the legends he fostered.

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Review:

The author of one of the great memoirs of the century, Cider With Rosie, was also one of the most secretive and elusive of men. "The most devious person it is possible to invent", said his brother Jack. And Lee himself admitted, "I am a person of concealment. No one has ever managed to get through." Whether Valerie Grove ever really gets through, in this magisterial, 500-page biography, is perhaps open to debate. But she brings Lee vividly to life, in all his charm and flirtatiousness, lyricism and laziness. From his early childhood in the beautiful Slad valley in the Cotswolds, to his time in the Spanish Civil War (where he may or may not have fought at the terrible battle of Teruel--depending whom you believe), to his latter days sitting in the Chelsea Arts Club, the Great Author, with a keen eye for a pretty girl in a short skirt, was no intellectual, no thinker. He appeared to have no convictions or opinions and lived entirely through his senses. Perhaps that is why he remains such an elusive character to comprehend. Nevertheless this is a fine and enjoyable biography, the first to be written since his death, with the full co-operation of his estate and access to his wonderful letters. -- Christopher Hart

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