Freed, Lynn (Ruth) 1945-
FREED, Lynn (Ruth) 1945-
PERSONAL: Born July 18, 1945, in Durban, South Africa; immigrated to the United States in 1967, naturalized citizen, 1977; daughter of Harold Derrick (an actor) and Anne (a theatre director; maiden name, Moshal) Freed; children: Jessica Peta. Education: University of the Witwatersrand, B.A., 1966; Columbia University, M.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1972.
CAREER: Writer, 1975—; currently University of California, Davis, professor of English.
MEMBER: PEN America, Authors Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Yaddo fellowships, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1994; WIT Fellow, Columbia University, 1969, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association award for fiction, and "Notable Books of the Year" listee, New York Times, both 1986, for Home Ground; MacDowell fellowships, 1986, 1987; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1987; Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at Bellagio, 1989; Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1990; Fellowship grants from the Camargo Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; "Notable Books of the Year" listee, New York Times, 1993, for The Bungalow; Inaugural Katherine Anne Porter Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for House of Women.
Heart Change, New American Library (New York, NY), 1982.
Home Ground, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1986.
The Bungalow, Poseidon Press (New York, NY), 1993.
The Mirror: A Novel, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 1997.
Friends of the Family, Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 2000, originally published as Heart Change, New American Library (New York, NY), 1982.
House of Women, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to anthologies, including Shaking Eve's Tree: Short Stories of Jewish Women, edited by Sharon Niederman, Jewish Publication Society, 1990; The Confidence Women: 26 Women Writers at Work, edited by Eve Shelnutt, Longstreet Press (Atlanta, GA), 1991;Best Short Stories of 1992, edited by Robert Stone, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992; Thoughts of Home: Reflections on Families, Houses, and Homelands, Hearst Books, 1995; and Bookworms: Great Writers and Readers Celebrate Reading, edited by Laura Furman and Elinore Standard, Carroll & Graf, 1996. Also contributor of stories, articles, and reviews for children and adults to periodicals, including Harper's, House and Garden, House Beautiful, Mirabella, New Yorker, New York Times, Southwest Review, Travel and Leisure, Washington Post Book World, and Zyzzyva.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A collection of short stories.
SIDELIGHTS: Lynn Freed is an expatriate South African whose novels about her home country cast a mordant eye on the liberal, petit bourgeois whites among whom she grew up. Freed's novel Home Ground created a stir in South Africa. Readers of the work attempted to pry bits of autobiography from the fiction, and her subsequent works have been similarly treated. "Time, memory, identity, continuity, and exile: Freed is caught up in a white South African version of expatriation in which one never finally leaves home, or, if so, then home never finally leaves one," wrote Stephen Clingman in the Boston Sunday Globe. "The refreshing aspect of her [work], however, is how these deeper themes are enmeshed with a positively wicked sense of humor. . . . She makes you laugh, and she tells the dirty domestic secrets white South Africans want to forget."
In Home Ground, Freed introduced Ruth Frank, a young Jewish girl coming of age in South Africa during the 1950s and 1960s. The country's social and political situation is filtered through Ruth's experiences as well as those of her family of eccentric stage actors. Washington Post Book World commentator Jonathan Yardley called Home Ground "a rarity," a novel about childhood and adolescence "that never lapses into self-pity, that rings true in every emotion and incident, that regards adults sympathetically if unsparingly, that deals with serious thematic material, and that is quite deliciously funny." Yardley concluded: "Home Ground is all this and more: it is also the flip side of rites-of-passage literary tradition, for its narrator is not a boy but a girl." Some critics, such as New York Times Book Review contributor Janette Turner Hospital, suggested that Home Ground is not a political novel but rather a metaphor for South Africa. Noted Hospital: "The Franks are South Africa in miniature. They are a theatrical family: second-rate, self-obsessed, histrionic, always requiring an audience. . . . More than twenty years later the reader feels a shiver of recognition: South African politics as soap opera; P. W. Botha's Government as second-rate stage director, casting itself in the grand melodramas, convinced of its own tragic and misunderstood role."
When Home Ground first appeared in South Africa, newspaper headlines hinted that it might be banned. This did not occur, but in an interview with Harriet Stix in the Los Angeles Times, Freed recalled how disconcerted some people were after reading the book. People were "just horrified. . . . I was considered a traitor, and this by people who are highly critical of the government," she said. Even so, Home Ground became a critical and commercial success. As Hospital wrote, "Freed's guileless child-narrator takes us inside the neurosis of South Africa. We experience it in a way that is qualitatively different from watching the most graphic of news clips. . . . Freed may not have quite the literary reach of Nadine Gordimer, but her vantage point of privileged outcast gives, I think, a more disturbing inner view of that awful, intricate symbiosis between black and white."
Ruth Frank returns as an adult narrator in Freed's novel The Bungalow, first published in 1993. In The Bungalow, Ruth returns to South Africa to visit her ailing father and to escape a troubled marriage. She finds solace with a former lover, a liberal white landowner, and stays on in his seaside bungalow after he is murdered. Once again Ruth is confronted by the odd mixture of liberalism and intolerance that informs her social peers in South Africa, and it is their foibles and fears she exposes in her narrative. St. Louis Dispatch reviewer Robert DiAntonio wrote that The Bungalow "is both a revealing portrait of contemporary South African society and a poignant account of one woman's search for independence and fulfillment. . . . While The Bungalow deals with social attitudes, its strength lies in Freed's extraordinary ear for dialogue and her ability to universalize her characters' plights." As Glenda Adams noted in the New York Times Book Review, however, Freed clearly offers warnings to the middle-class South African whites she writes about, both liberal and conservative. "We see in Lynn Freed's fiction what we might fail to recognize from passing news stories about political change," concluded Adams. "The drinks by the pool and the refurbishing have continued. The troubles are still awaited. The cataclysm is yet to come."
The author broke with the contemporary settings and situations of her previous novels in The Mirror: A Novel. Alice Joyce wrote in Booklist, "Set in the period between the world wars, Freed's latest novel exhibits the splendidly controlled prose of a master at once maintaining a remarkable level of tension in combination with surprising displays of humor."
The novel consists of the fictional memoirs of Agnes La Grange. Agnes, (she gave herself the name La Grange), is a lower-class seventeen-year-old English woman who emigrates to Durban, South Africa, to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy Jewish couple. The "old Jew," as she calls her still-strong, old employer, presents her with a full-length mirror. Completely unsurprised by his sexual advances, she watches their reflections in the mirror as they make love on a regular basis in her little maid's room and eventually conceive a child. After the birth of the child, she takes a cash settlement from the old man and buys the Railway Hotel. From then on she's on her way. She acquires more property, a husband, several lovers, a subsequent divorce, and the trappings of refinement.
Critics have praised Freed's successful realization of Agnes's character, writing that Freed has taken the reader to the larger-than-life territory of Flaubert's Emma Bovary and Defoe's Moll Flanders. Agnes keeps her money in a purse around her neck and never dignifies her various lovers by name, referring to them as "the old Jew," "the newspaperman," "the tycoon," "the hunter," "the banker." She takes what she wants, saying, "I'd never been able to stand a good girl, all the dark things buried away."
"The question at the heart of Agnes's story," noted Andy Solomon in the San Francisco Chronicle, "is whether fulfillment can even be possible when the choice is between independence and love." Nor is she much touched by the joys of motherhood. "The whole thing felt like a form of service. . . I wondered how women the world over, natives included, went in for this sort of thing time after time." Only when Allega's musical talents bring her to the attention of the child's father and she moves in with them does she have any real feelings for the girl. The Guardian reviewer commented, "The qualities with which Freed endows her heroine are fundamentally masculine, and through this comes a subtle but inescapable feminist message which makes The Mirror more than a colonial family saga. Moreover, Freed gives Agnes a voice and an indomitable attitude which captivates and mesmerizes the reader."
House of Women explores the depth and intensity of mother-daughter relationship, coming of age, and the awful power of isolation. Written in the style of Greek tragedies, the narrative draws from the myth of the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who is abducted and taken to the underworld by Hades.
Freed's version begins with Thea, who is brought up in a grand estate in 1960s South Africa with her mother, Nalia, a one-time opera diva and Holocaust survivor who escaped with her family's money to South Africa. As in a fairy tale, no man, not even Thea's wealthy father, whom Nalia has come to hate, is allowed into the house. The gates are chained at night and their native servant Maude sees that Thea never goes out alone. Her father shows up for a visit, bringing with him an older man he calls the Syrian but who really seems to be a relative. Soon it is apparent that her father has somehow promised him Thea as a bride.
Seventeen-year-old Thea is so eager to see the world beyond the walls that when the Syrian literally cuts the chains of the castle, she submits to abduction and boards his boat for his island home. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "Like a Jean Rhys antiheroine, Theadora strikes out fiercely against the world, but is helpless in the face of male desire. And like Rhys, Freed imagines a world in which major events are only ambiguously described, but domestic details are sensuously immediate."
Three years later, after the birth of twin girls, Thea convinces her husband to allow her to return to visit her mother. She learns Nalia is dying, and a discovered journal provides her with answers to many of her mother's secrets.
Lisa Shea, writing in O, The Oprah Magazine, called House of Women "a quietly suspenseful tale of a marriage that is both an escape from a powerfully sexual mother and manipulative father and an unpredictable journey to the heart of her authentic desires."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1997, Alice Joyce, review of The Mirror: A Novel, p. 57; January 1, 2002, Eileen Hardy, review of House of Women, p. 808.
Book World, October 12, 1997, review of The Mirror, p. 4.
Boston Sunday Globe, January 3, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, September 12, 1997, Margot Mifflin, review of The Mirror, p. 133.
Forward, January 29, 1993.
Guardian (London, England), February 12, 2000, Isobel Montgomery, review of The Mirror, p. 11.
Illustrated London News, June, 1986.
Library Journal, August, 1997, Ann H. Fisher, review of The Mirror, p. 126; April 1, 1998, Katie Arwood, Connie Fillinger, Jon Mihleich, review of The Mirror, p. 152; April 1, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of Home Ground, p. 134; March 1, 2001, Michael Rogers, review of Friends of the Family, p. 135; January, 2002, Cheryl L. Conway, review of House of Women, p. 151.
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1983, Don Strachan, review of Heart Change, p. 7; December 14, 1986; February 24, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of House of Women, p. R-11.
New York Times Book Review, August 17, 1986, Ari Goldman, interview with Lynn Freed, p. 7; August 17, 1986, Janette Turner Hospital, review of Home Ground, p. 7; March 21, 1993, Brooke Allen, review of The Bungalow, p. 17; September 21, 1997, Brooke Allen, review of The Mirror, p. 13; February 24, 2002, Kathryn Harrison, review of House of Women, p. 10; March 3, 2002, review of House of Women, p. 18; June 2, 2002, review of House of Women, p. 23.
O, The Oprah Magazine, February 2002, Lisa Shea, review of House of Women, p. 115.
Publishers Weekly, November 19, 2001, review of House of Women, p. 47; June 23, 1997, review of The Mirror, p. 68.
St. Louis Dispatch, January 3, 1993.
San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 1997, Andy Solomon, review of The Mirror, p. 3.
Times Literary Supplement, May 9, 1986; June 12, 2002, Lucy Dallas, review of House of Women, p. 25.
Village Voice, October 28, 1986.
Washington Post Book World, August 24, 1986; January 20, 2002, review of House of Women, p. T06.
Writer, June 2002, Sarah Anne Johnson, interview with Lynn Freed, p. 29.
Lynn Freed Home Page,http://www.lynnfreed.com/ (May 2, 2002).