The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Penguin. Mar. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781594204609. $30. LIT
For years, friends met resistance when they encouraged Stein (1874–1946) to write about the vibrant community of artists, writers, dancers, musicians she hosted, salon-style, in her Paris home in the early 20th century. That Stein’s close friendships with Matisse, Picasso, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and numerous others coincided with her life with her longtime companion Alice B. Toklas proved especially opportune when she did take pen to paper. Stein’s experimental “autobiography” of Toklas, first published in 1933, has since become a classic, providing insight into the work, personalities, and domestic arrangements of their friends and acquaintances. Here, Kalman’s signature artwork, color-drenched and featuring heavy black line, is as individual as Stein’s writing. The artist illuminates delightful and quirky phrases (“I like a view, but I like to sit with my back to it”; “who, I asked Fernande are all these little men”), and most of the illustrations are portraits (Stein herself wrote a number of portraits of friends), while a few reference iconic photos of Stein or Toklas. In a moving endnote, Kalman expresses reluctance to leave the two, acknowledging Toklas’s role in the partnership, asking, “Who holds the pen? Who has the ideas?”
VERDICT Toss out your old editions, this is the one you’ll want to own.
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