Deborah Levy’s Powerful Autobiography

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“It’s exhausting to learn how to become a subject, it’s hard enough learning how to become a writer”, Deborah Levy initiates a philosophic and poetic reflection around life and writing from a woman’s point of view.

Deborah Levy was born in Johannesburg in South Africa and was first known for her writing in theatre plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is a novelist, a playwriter and a poet and has received awards and honors for most of her work. Her short-story collection, Black Vodka, was nominated for the International Frank O’Connor short-story award and was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her first in a three-part autobiography, Things I Don’t Want to Know is a non-fiction book about womanhood and being a writer, that traces the author’s history back to her childhood in apartheid Africa.

As a response to George Orwell’s 1946 essay Why I Write, Deborah Levy gives her thoughts and reflections about a writer’s life from the point of view of a female. With humor and sarcasm, she tells her own story by giving a powerful feminist testimony. The beginning of the book starts with an unlikely episode of her crying on escalators at a train station: “Going down them was fine but there was something about standing still and being carried upwards that did it”. As a response to this, the author decides to take a flight to Majorca where, one night, she begins to tell her story to a Chinese shopkeeper. The autobiography takes us back to 1964 by narrating the author’s childhood in Apartheid Africa and her first writing experiences as a young girl. Deborah shares her thinking on motherhood and the issue of speaking up as a woman. As she sums up: “… to become a writer, I had to learn to interrupt, to speak up, to speak a little louder, and then louder, and then to just speak in my own voice which is not loud at all”.

The book is filled with philosophical questions that work as a guiding line and that show how much the author is full of self-interrogation. “What do we do with knowledge that we cannot bear to live with? What do we do with the things we do not want to know?”, Deborah Levy builds bridges throughout the story between the present and the past with sharpness and sensitivity. She invites us to an introspection on our own lives and opens our minds to ask ourselves the same questions that she did.

Things I Don’t Want to Know is a well written book, easy to read,  that captivates our attention by offering  an intimate and unexpected story.

When closing the book, you will only have one thought in mind: to read part two!

Deborah Levy continues her autobiography in The Cost of Living and Real Estate that go further on questioning her writing life, womanhood, and gender politics.

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