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A few claim that all novels are essentially biography.

Is Madame Bovary a biography? Is memoir biography? The distinction seems to lie in that illusive noun that novelists, memoirists, historians, biographers and evidently politicians attempt to define: Truth. But the story has to be true. As true as we can make it. Virginia Woolf put much stock in truth.

Her novel Orlando, subtitled A Biography , is shelved alphabetically by author. Or it could be shelved with the writer-on-writing self-help books because Woolf happens to include some of the best advice and back-handed, satirical, spot-on critiques of biography out there.

Edmond Morris, on the other hand may have been confused about the truth of fiction and the truth of fact. The only biographer ever commissioned to write the life of a still-living president, Morris published Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, in Nothing was mentioned of Mr. Meanwhile, BIO has officially asked the Pulitzer committee, having awarded its biography prize and both honorable mentions to memoirs, to re-evaluate its categories making autobiography and memoir a single and separate category from biography. And, full disclosure, I did it too. I fictionalized parts of The Great Hound Match of , which is another reason I was reluctant to call it a biography.

My research on The Match took me through archives that included autobiographical writings by both of my subjects. I felt that I knew them well enough to narrate their stories from their own points of view. And, more important to me at the time, I still felt I was writing a work of creative narrative nonfiction. Biographers are compelled to contemplate the extent of empathy, the hazards of sympathy, the limits of objectivity, the borders of subjectivity. W hich brings me to another essential question about the art craft of biography: who writes biographies and why?

Some biographies are clearly written for nosey voyeurs. Some biographies are allegorical guidebooks for those in search of a moral compass. But Millard chose a story within the story, and she went there: she hired a crew, experienced the experience in order to fire her imagination enough to take on her larger-than-life subject. What nerve, to write a new biography of Thoreau!

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If looking at Conrad as a biographical subject opens up a history of globalization from the inside out, approaching him as an object of history has let me shape a biography from the outside in, distinguishing the choices he made from the ones that circumstance made for him. These are blockbuster biographies of famous people and their accomplishments. To read the prefaces of these books is to understand when and how the authors got the nerve to tackle such vast subjects.

I began to realize that the richest biographies concentrate on story, just like long-form narrative nonfiction, just like fiction. My challenge, and that of others writing about less well-know writers, or personalities, or mentors, or whomsoever we choose, is to grab our readers by the shirt collar and slap them into recognition that this is a story worth hearing.

I am more inclined to call myself a biographer these days because I see the faces of biography, and biographers, changing. We are mystics looking at a life as allegory, for hidden meanings and morals, without passing judgment.

We are architects and builders, taking the measure of a life against external forces, making concrete out of cement. We are miners, chipping away at historical questions, exposing imaginative faith. Vivian Gornick made the distinction in her now-classic book for aspiring memoirists The Situation and the Story. The situation is the context of circumstance…the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: The insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say. Maybe what David Nasaw noticed about historians is that some may concentrate on situation to the exclusion of story.


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T he problem becomes, how to find the story. I wonder, yet again, why am I doing this? Jon embarks in pursuit of answers of his own, only to come to the realization that the suffering heaped upon these children dates back far further than he, Emma, or Hays Chemical could have ever imagined.

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It was, in fact, foretold in the oldest book of all. After a few minutes, Emma re-entered the room. She was wearing a blue negligee of the thinnest silk Jon had ever seen. Jon looked at her perfectly formed breasts through the silk. The negligee stopped short, leaving her long graceful legs uncovered. It was all that Jon could manage to set his beer down without dropping the bottle.

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He stared and tried to remember that she was a woman with a mission, not a table dancer. However, 2 of them chose to "go forth and multiply" - with disastrous consequences. One branch went into Asia and Africa, and the other branch went to Europe. The European pagan religion eventually proved to be superior in terms of technology, including warfare.

Consequently, they embarked on an orgy of violence which lasted for several centuries. Ethnic cleansing, genocide, slavery, oppression, racism, colonialism and imperialism was perfected, and used in abundance. This orgy came to an end in the 20th century when insatiable greed caused major infighting resulting in WW-1 and WW-2 - around million people were killed. The other major pagan religion has emerged from a few centuries of colonialism and is struggling to find its identity and self-confidence - that, of course, will happen over time.

In the meantime, to complicate matters further, Pagan Religion No. They started helping themselves generously to land belonging to Pagan Religion No. The irony is that in the same area that the 3 pagan religions were born, the "last colonial war" is now taking place. History has come full circle - all because of this 1 chap God, Yahweh and Allah - same gent with various names.

Debates about religious texts are a total waste of time except for those with a vested interest in maintaining the divissivness that relgion brings with it. Good point - it is not that the fantasy is different - it is not - it is the same fantasy. It is all about land and resources. The holy books are merely used to provide the "fiction for war" - i. In the current context, a great example of this "fantasy" is expansionist Zionism.

This ideology uses God and "his books" like a cosmic read estate agent - they state that the title to the land that they are occupying was given to them by a real estate agent called Yahweh two dozen centuries ago!!!!! Arguing against facts is relatively easy. How can you argue against deceit at a cosmic level of deception and erroneous statements based on fantasy????

You are right - that was the "official story". The real story is that apparently Abraham started loving his 1st son i. Sarah started getting jealous, and Abraham was subjected to much henpecking by her.

It became so extreme that he decided to kill his 1st son - till the goat appeared Gordon examines all the familiar features of the story but pays particular attention to the human feelings of jealousy and distrust that affected the trio She offers perceptive insights into an ancient story whose consequences continue to reverberate. Most interesting is Gordon's focus on the exiled, shamed, and shadowed Hagar, whom Gordon elevates to a mystic and prophet Complex and multilayered The story speaks to the 21st century General readers with even a casual interest in religion and its impact on history, as well as on current events, will appreciate the lens through which the author peers.

Hard to Be a God

Gordon implores her readers to ask one of those "what-if" questions that reframe all of our conventional wisdom: "What if Abraham had chased after his mistress and firstborn son, begged Sarah to forgive his betrayal, and urged Hagar to forgive Sarah's jealousy, so that they might raise their sons together? Would we be any better at living in peace?

The Bible, it has been said, is the least-read best-seller of all times. But there is a whole literature devoted to reconsidering the ancient text, a literature that is full of shocks and surprises, wholly unexpected cross-wirings of religious traditions, and illuminating flashes of insight and wisdom. On that shelf you will find Gordon's book, a superb example of how to approach the Bible. Gordon gives new power to a woman often left in the shadows. Gordon provides some glimpses of the power of Hagar's story for modern religions.

It is a tale of sexual jealousy - "The saga of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is the tale of origin for all three monotheistic faiths. Abraham must choose between two wives who have borne him two sons. One wife and son will share in his wealth and status, while the other two are exiled into the desert. Long a cornerstone of Western anxiety, the story chronicles a very famous and troubled family, and sheds light on the ongoing conflict between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds. How did this ancient story become one of the least understood and most frequently misinterpreted of our cultural myths?

Gordon explores this legendary love triangle to give us a startling perspective on three biblical characters who--with their jealousies, passions, and doubts--actually behave like human beings.

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Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. That is their reward because they disbelieved Our revelations. And though thou call them to the guidance, in that case they can never be led aright. Levene notes that intrinsically the behavior of democracies and dictatorships with respect to ethnic cleansing is quite similar:. The Jews were deprived of German citizenship by the Nuremberg laws of - they became "non-citizens". Native Americans gained US citizenship only in - till then they were "non-citizens".