lundi 16 décembre 2013

Back Where I Came From, A J Liebling (1938)

"People back where I came from are receptive to artistic influences from outside, and among the visiting priestesses of the arts I remember was a dancer named Princess White Wing. Shortly before her arrival the City License Department had prescribed opaque clothing over the critical portions of all dancers' anatomies.
"What's the use of opaque clothing?" demanded the Princess. "You can see right through it."
The Princess, who was a graduate of a college in Sherman, Tex., had abandoned the brick-and-stucco teepees of the Cherokee nation to carve out a career as a feather dancer. She employed as many as two feathers at a single performance, and she had been all set to open at a new night club when along came this theatrical reform business..."
Thus begins the first story in the section entitled "The World of Art" from A J Liebling's book called "Back Where I Came From", originally published in 1938.
Liebling had a long and successful career writing columns and stories, primarily for the New Yorker. This collection of stories and profiles was written early in his career but his style, tone and subject matter had already been set. He introduced his readers to both ordinary and unusual people, mundane and specialized professions, likeable and sometimes unsavoury characters. If you want to meet in print, at least, jockeys, hairdressers, pickpockets and the police who chased after them, feather dancers, grifters and punters who lived in NYC in the 1930s, this lovely book will satisfy.
Liebling was a master of understatement and hyperbole; he had an acute ear for dialogue, the vernacular, and could convincingly leverage the rhythm and syntax of spoken English of numerous ethnic groups. If you like Leo Rosten's books, (another New Yorker from the same generation) particularly "The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N", you will enjoy the friendly way that Liebling handles ethnic dialogue.
The stories and prose are measured and when read out loud, they flow well, constituting an oral history of a fascinating time that is long gone.

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