Joel Agee, the son of James Agee, was raised for twelve years in East Germany, where his stepfather, the novelist Bodo Uhse, was a member of the privileged communist intelligentsia. This is the story of how young Joel failed to become a good communist, becoming instead a fine writer. "A wonderfully evocative memoir. . . . Agee evoked for me the atmosphere of postwar Berlin more vividly than the actual experience of it and I was there." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "New York Times" "One of those rare personal memoirs that brings to life a whole country and an epoch." Christopher Isherwood "Twelve Years consists of a series of finely honed anecdotes written in a precise, supple prose rich with sensual detail." David Ghitelman, "Newsday" "By turns poetic and picturesque, Agee energetically catalogues his expatriate passage to manhood with a pinpoint eye and a healthy American distaste for pretension. . . . Huckleberry Finn would have . . . welcomed [him] as a soulmate on the raft." J. D. Reed, "Time" "A triumph. . . . Unfettered by petty analysis or quick explanations, a story that is timeless and ageless and vital." Robert Michael Green, "Baltimore Sun" "
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(215mm x 140mm x 21mm)
University of Chicago Press
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
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US Kirkus Review »
At the end of World War II, eight-year-old Joel Agee (son of writer James by an early marriage) went from Mexico - with his mother Alma; his stepfather Bodo Uhse, a German Communist novelist; and his brother Stefan - to live in the new East Germany. In this lucid but curiously listless memoir, he recounts what it was like - and what it was like, basically, was boring. Adolescence seems to have come to Joel with a nasty prematurity. Reading Bodo's high-shelf erotica, experiencing the iron chastity of East European nude beaches, writing bad poetry, feeling inept with his classmates, Joel quickly found himself on Alienation Island. In no time, school turned into a problem, an arena of stunning under-achievement; hooky-playing and hood-y friends led to disciplining - almost to expulsion from the Free German Youth, as dire an excommunication as existed. Around him at home he had no particular security either. Bodo seemed emasculated by the new order, and turned from an artist into a dull cultural functionary, nervously eyeing the proper line to toe; Alma was unhappy (Bodo philandered); Stefan had developed asthma. The humorlessness of East German life is what comes across most strongly; or, enervatingly. Nor does it help the book's pace that Joel's reaction was a different kind of humorlessness - a malcontented (and, very pertinently, virginal) "man-without-qualities" stance. The adult Agee - though acute on the nubby feel of actual memories (and the look of postures, as importantly real to a youngster as any actual happening) - just sort of moseys the reader along, keeping intensity at bay so long that it slides and fades into the background altogether. You keep waiting for this particularized bit of autobiography to soar - and it never does. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Joel Agee
Joel Agee has translated numerous German authors into English.