A NEW YORK TIMES CRITICS' TOP BOOK OF THE YEAR • One of our most brilliant biographers takes on one of our greatest living playwrights, drawing on a wealth of new materials and on many conversations with him.
“An extraordinary record of a vital and evolving artistic life, replete with textured illuminations of the plays and their performances, and shaped by the arc of Stoppard’s exhilarating engagement with the world around him, and of his eventual awakening to his own past.” —Harper's
Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure. Known for his dizzying narrative inventiveness and intense attention to language, he deftly deploys art, science, history, politics, and philosophy in works that span a remarkable spectrum of literary genres: theater, radio, film, TV, journalism, and fiction. His most acclaimed creations—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Real Thing, Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Shakespeare in Love—remain as fresh and moving as when they entranced their first audiences.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard escaped the Nazis with his mother and spent his early years in Singapore and India before arriving in England at age eight. Skipping university, he embarked on a brilliant career, becoming close friends over the years with an astonishing array of writers, actors, directors, musicians, and political figures, from Peter O'Toole, Harold Pinter, and Stephen Spielberg to Mick Jagger and Václav Havel. Having long described himself as a "bounced Czech," Stoppard only learned late in life of his mother's Jewish family and of the relatives he lost to the Holocaust.
Lee's absorbing biography seamlessly weaves Stoppard's life and work together into a vivid, insightful, and always riveting portrait of a remarkable man.
Lee (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life) tackles the life and works of a playwright who started "without a cause, except the cause of good language and good art" in this exhaustive biography of Tom Stoppard. To account for the prolific artist who "suddenly became famous in the late 1960s," Lee makes use of diaries, drafts, and letters, as well as interviews. Stoppard was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937; two years later, his family moved to Singapore, then to India, and, finally, England. Lee sheds light on Stoppard's relationship to his "Czech-ness" (in the late 1960s he was indifferent, but in the late 2000s he "spoke with tender feelings about his origins") and his Jewishness (he was unaware his mother was Jewish until 1993). His political activity is also covered, in particular his relationship with V clav Havel, a writer who became Czechoslovakia's president and whose works Stoppard translated. Lee's treatment of Stoppard's plays (including 1966's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and 1974's Travesties) break down the playwright's process, detailing a play's conception and production: Travesties, for example, was written in his "most intense period of fatherhood" and took nine months. Lee's account is a deeply detailed and valuable contribution to literary history.