When a great journalist turns her conscientious eye on herself
The family had shed much of their Judaism upon arrival, fearing they would find the same anti-Semitism they had fled in Europe. From Wiener they became the Winns, with the younger couple enrolled in a Lutheran school. Only when they return home with a Jewish insult are they told about their origins.
The author internalizes the class early on. Her father, a doctor then a psychiatrist, thinks they are middle class. Young Jana instinctively understands her place between the kids from the tenements and the girl from Park Avenue.
What is touching is Malcolm’s ability to recapture not only childlike innocence but also incomprehension. Loose memories are made coherent when insights strike in adulthood. A family friend wore black and never smiled. Only much later does Malcolm realize that this woman was the last remaining member of a family murdered in Auschwitz.
stills is staggering in its leap into adulthood. For example, there is nothing of Malcolm’s efforts to become a writer. Suddenly she has an affair with an editor the New Yorker, Gardner Botsford (whom she later marries) and is sued for defamation. These grown-up stories are wirier and more cunning than the sepia-toned childhood memories.
There are pitfalls of autobiography beyond boredom. Excessive nostalgia, sentimentality or nebulousness are just some of them. But cross them all out and you lose your soul. What sourdough stills Czech humor throughout, resembling Australian wit in its irreverence and intolerance of pomposity.
Take this mischievous admission: “When I ask someone a question — whether it’s in life or at work — I often don’t listen to the answer. I’m not really interested.” So was her insertion of an absurdly bad photograph into a collection of essays on “sophisticated” photography. Such jibes on the way out are a free-spirited repudiation of the solemnity of death, comedy’s ultimate goal.
Tragedy will always prevail in the end and stills remains unfinished and lacks the last chapter Malcolm wanted to write about her photography. In addition to letters and stills, she was also famous for collages and exhibited works with multiple textures, arranging photographs with snippets such as stamps and ticket stubs.
Though it’s unfinished stills is a fitting complement to these endeavors, its author inhabiting the negative space surrounded by characters, stories and photos. The result is anything but boring.
https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/when-a-great-journalist-turns-her-scrupulous-eye-on-herself-20230120-p5cea7.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture When a great journalist turns her conscientious eye on herself