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Them: A Memoir of Parents

Edited by Ann Godoff

When they met, Tatiana du Plessix and Alexander Liberman were Russian émigrés living in Paris. Tatiana, the wife of a French diplomat, was a beautiful, sophisticated white Russian who had been the famous Russian poet Mayakovsky’s muse. Alexander, the ambitious son of a Russian Jew, was an aspiring artist. The two began a passionate affair, and when Paris was occupied in World War II they fled, together with Tatiana’s young daughter Francine, to New York. When they heard of the death of Tatiana’s husband, who had joined Charles de Gaulle in England to continue fighting the Nazis, she married Alexander. Together they steadily and determinedly rose to the top of New York high society, holding court to a who’s who list of intellectuals and entertainers of the time and befriending people who could help them advance socially and professionally, like Marlene Dietrich and Conde Nast. Flamboyant, outrageous, bold and brilliant, they were irresistible. To those who knew them well, they were also wildly neurotic and narcissistic, capable of cutting people who had been their dear friends but were no longer of use to them out of their lives with surgical precision.

Tatiana du Plessix, was a fashion icon and society queen in New York from the 1950s until her death in 1991. The hats she designed for Saks Fifth Avenue under the label Tatiana of Saks were de rigueur for fashionable women everywhere. Alexander worked his way up and eventually presided over the Conde Nast empire during its heyday, becoming one of the most influential men in the publishing world. Their glamorous life together was both creative and destructive, and was marked by their exceptional bond with each other, forged by their highly charged eroticism, neurotic love, and raging self-centeredness. Ultimately, Tatiana spent the last years of her life consumed by her addiction to alcohol and painkillers, and lost in nostalgia for a Russia that will never be again. After her death, Alexander shocked all who knew him by, at the age of 80, marrying his wife’s Filipino nurse and cutting his stepdaughter Francine out of his life.

Them: A Memoir of Parents is a beautifully written homage to the extraordinary lives of two fascinating, irrepressible people who were larger than life emblems of a now bygone age. A survivor’s story, Tatiana and Alexander survived Russia, Paris, and New York by using for their own advancement all those who came near them. Their daughter Francine, the author, went on to become a well known and much respected writer and intellectual. Happily married, with a close family of her own, she survived them.


Other books by Francine du Plessix Gray


“A spellbinding, warts-and-all double portrait… a sterling example of the personal memoir exalted to cultural history.” Los Angeles Times

“Astonishing…[Gray] uses all her writerly gifts…to give the reader an intense and remarkably powerful portrait.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Exquisite…Gray has written that rare memoir never sunk by indulgence.” The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[A] complex and rewarding family memoir. Gray is such a fine writer, her family story reads like a novel of early 20th-century bohemianism gone corporate. Rich with history of early to mid-20th-century design and publishing, this memoir stands as an instructive model of how to write a difficult story honestly. Gray’s parents were not nice people, but she loved them, and readers, by the end, understand why.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Du Plessix Gray, a writer of scintillating style and resonant substance, has written about the Marquis de Sade and Simone Weil, and now reveals the source of her fascination with enigmatic and powerful figures in this daring portrait of her famous and infamously difficult parents. An enthralling storyteller and incisive interpreter of the human psyche, du Plessix Gray struggles with her anger and love, ultimately perceiving the suffering underlying her larger-than-life parents’ often appalling behavior. And so glamorous, talented, driven, and ruthless were Tatiana and Alexander, so grand and cosmopolitan their lives, so dark their secrets, du Plessix Gray’s penetrating and unforgettable memoir of a peerless family reads like a great epic novel.” —Booklist (starred)

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