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She Read to Us in The Late Afternoons

A Life in Novels

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About the Book

Beginning with a Best American award-winning narrative, Kathleen Hill’s memoir explores defining moments of a life illuminated by novels, read in Nigeria and France and at home in New York. As a child in a music class where a remarkable teacher watches over a classmate marked for tragedy, the author by chance reads Willa Cather’s novel, Lucy Gayheart, and is prepared against her will for death by drowning. And prepared for the teacher’s confessions to the class of a frustrated ambition to become a pianist, her regret for a life that will never be. Later, recently married and living in a newly independent Nigeria, a teacher now herself, the author gives Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to her students and is instructed by them in the violent legacy of colonialism. And loses her American innocence when she visits a nearby abandoned slave port and connects its rusting shackles with the students sitting before her. Reading A Portrait of a Lady, also in Nigeria, she ponders her own new marriage through the lens of Isabel Archer’s cautionary fate, remembers her own adolescent fear that reading might be a way of avoiding experience. A few years later, this time in a town in northern France, haunted by Madame Bovary, by Emma’s solitude and boredom, she puts aside Flaubert’s novel and discovers in Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest the poverty and suffering she had failed to see all around her. The memoir closes with a tender account of the author’s friendship with the writer, Diana Trilling, whose failing sight inspires a plan to read aloud Proust’s masterwork, an undertaking that takes six years to complete. Faced with Diana’s approaching death and the mysteries of her own life, the author wonders whether reading after all may not be experience at its most ardent, its most transforming.

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Critical Praise

“In this multi-faceted gem of a book, Kathleen Hill, a great reader, pays tribute to the masterworks of literature which have inspired her, and uses her prodigious memory and her lucid prose style to celebrate love and compassion as the most noble and enduring of human qualities.” —Colm Toibin, author of The Master and Brooklyn

“In these gorgeous pages, Kathleen Hill explores her own life, and the lives of family and friends, in the company of various novels. The result is a memoir filled with urgency as she struggles to read the world around her, to understand herself, and others, as deeply as Isabel Archer and Lucy Gayheart. This is a wonderful and profound book.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

“We’ve always believed that books were like a soundtrack to our lives and that our day to day lives stood in the foreground. But this stunning book tells a different and surprising tale: it is our lives that slip into the background, and books—those fabulous books that alter who we are when we know how to read them or when we’re lucky to have them read to us—can become the real face of our lives.” —Andre Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name

“Here is a book that takes up beauty, longing, genius, and spirit — here is solitary thought, not looking to be answered, even by the thinker: an original book that leaves the reader less alone.” —Jean Valentine, poet, author of Break the Glass

“What a delight this is! Hill captures precisely, beautifully, the tremor of a great book crossing our lives at just the right moment.“ —Andrea Barret, author of Archangel and The Voyage of the Narwhal

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9781883285722
  • ISBN 10: 1883285720
  • Imprint: Delphinium
  • On Sale: 10/24/2017
  • Pages: 225
  • List Price: 26.00 CAD
  • BISAC1: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / General

She Read to Us in The Late Afternoons by Kathleen Hill

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