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Review: ‘Everybody Was So Young’ by Amanda Vaill

Review: ‘Everybody Was So Young’ by Amanda Vaill post image

Title: Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sarah Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story
Author: Amanda Vaill
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 1999
Publisher: Broadway
Rating: ★★★★★

Review: After I wrote a couple of posts for Book Riot with nonfiction selections inspired by The Great Gatsby, one of my blog readers suggested I read Everybody Was So Young. (This is the lovely and surprising book interaction I mentioned in a post for Book Blogger Appreciation Week). I was so excited about the recommendation that I immediately went home and ordered the book online. When it arrived, I started it the same day. I’m so glad to tell you that it was excellent and a surprising book I would never have found otherwise.

Artist Gerald Murphy and his wife, Sara, were icons of expatriate life in the 1920s. They mentored or befriended artists like Picasso and Dorothy Parker and even served as the inspiration for Nicole and Dick Diver in F.Scott Fitzgerald’s book Tender is the Night. But their lives weren’t without difficulty — it took them until relatively late in life (for the 1920s) to find each other and their family was plagued by illness, but throughout they constantly strove to invent a life for themselves that was both enchanting and different from the lives they were expected to lead.

Everybody Was So Young is an excellent biography. Amanda Vaill digs deeply into Gerald and Sarah’s lives, but doesn’t rely on simple answers or traditional interpretations of their actions. Certainly, there’s no way to tell if Vaill’s conclusions about Gerald and Sarah — his struggle with his sexuality or her alleged affairs, for example — are correct, but they felt true to me. Vaill also incorporates literary and artistic criticism into her book, analyzing what some of the art that both Gerald and Sarah left behind can tell us.

But even more than the biographical aspect, I loved reading a book that offered a portrait of the sort of boozy, artsy, enchanted life these two people led and the artists’ community they cultivated. You can get some of that in fiction from this time, but this book felt somehow more convincing and engaging to me. Everybody Was So Young was an absorbing read from beginning to end.

Parts of this post originally appeared on Book Riot – Riot Round-Up: the Best Books We Read in September

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amanda Vaill October 16, 2012, 7:37 am

    Thanks so much for the lovely review, which I found out about through the magic of Google Alerts. I’m thrilled that this book is still finding readers who are as drawn to its subjects as I was. The spirit of the Murphys lives!

    And by the way, if anyone is interested in seeing Gerald Murphy’s paintings or looking at photographs of (and reading about) the people, places, and objects in the Murphys’ lives, this catalog of a museum show is beautiful and illuminating (confession: I wrote a short essay for it…): http://tinyurl.com/d95ssyy

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:18 pm

      Thank you for your comment (and for the link)!

  • Buried In Print October 16, 2012, 8:01 am

    I love this, both the description of the book itself and the way that you discovered it, through another reader’s passion for it. Shared bookishness: it’s the best. And how appropriate too, given that it seems the book’s subjects were all about connecting with other creative folks too. I’ve added it to my TBR list, although I suspect it’s the kind of book that will only add countless more books to my list, in the way that good books lead to other good books…

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:20 pm

      That’s a great point — it does seem like an appropriate sort of connecting book to have found this way. I hadn’t thought of that! I added quite a few books to my list too.

  • Meg October 16, 2012, 8:05 am

    I’ve been all up in the Lost Generation lately — just finished The Paris Wife, with F. Scott and Zelda as a few of its stars, and I’m eager for more. I love discovering older books that might have fallen through the literary cracks, and this sounds delightful!

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:21 pm

      I’ve been into that era too, ever since The Great Gatsby. I have a novel about Hemingway, I can’t remember the title now, that I’m hoping to read soon.

  • bermudaonion(Kathy) October 16, 2012, 9:33 am

    The expats of that period certainly did live it up – it all sounds so romantic to me but I’m sure it was full of tension and drama. This sounds like an excellent book.

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:23 pm

      It’s hard not to be a little jealous of a life that lets you take little sojourns to Paris any time, but it was also pretty dramatic 🙂

  • Trisha October 16, 2012, 11:05 am

    I’ve always been fascinated by what you call the “boozy, artsy, enchanted life”, so this sounds like an interesting read to me.

  • Nikki Steele October 16, 2012, 1:56 pm

    It’s interesting to see a book about the other side of the artists’ life–those people that support and aid the process in ways that normally aren’t mentioned. Sounds like a great read.

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:25 pm

      I know the Fitzgeralds struggled with money, but I had never heard of the Murphys as patrons before. That was really interesting.

  • christine October 18, 2012, 3:39 am

    can’t wait to read this. recently read The Paris Wife and re-read A Moveable Feast. so it seems I am in a lost generation frame of mind lately!

  • Jeanne October 18, 2012, 7:46 am

    I love the title of this one. It sounds like these are people who tried to defy age for as long as they could.

  • Aarti October 21, 2012, 4:29 pm

    Ooh, I love the way you learned about this book! I remember so well that an anonymous commenter on my blog told me to read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, which I LOVED and I wanted so badly to know who that commenter was to say thanks. I said it in my review and I THINK it reached the person (as they left another comment), but I never was able to really talk about the book with him/her. Sigh.

    • Kim October 21, 2012, 5:27 pm

      That’s a lovely story. It’s always fun to get book advice from new people that you didn’t expect.