Picks and Pans Review: Solo

updated 07/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Wright Morris

The author had just graduated from college in California, hopped a train to Chicago, worked at the World's Fair, and saved enough to get to Europe. His charming memoir of that time is subtitled "An American Dreamer in Europe: 1933-1934," and it describes one magic year in the life of a budding writer. What could seem—at first blush—just another account of a young American's coming of age in Europe is, in fact, a jewel of a book, Morris, who would later write books such as Love Among the Cannibals, went to Vienna because someone on the boat said it would be cheaper than Paris. From there he was invited to visit a castle where a French expatriate ruled with his opera-singer wife and a curious retinue of servants and villagers. Morris spends the whole winter in what is essentially a Middle Ages life. Later he is joined by a friend in Italy, where he is arrested for taking photographs of a passing train on which Mussolini was traveling. In Paris he runs out of money, but not before he has some vivid experiences: "Tea was poured at the club by Madame Champfleur, a handsome, formidable woman, who preferred to sit back in the room's shadows, as if the light from the windows might fade her." In writing about another book, Morris describes his own: "In the complex craft of writing I sensed that the art of it combined what was new with what was old. What was new would prove to be in the writer, and the writing." This is a book to luxuriate in: The artist as an old man recalls his younger self with tenderness, humor and an understandable fondness that the reader shares. (Harper & Row, $14.95)

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