"New York Times Book Review
August 31, 2008
Defending Doris Lessing
To the Editor:
Your review of “Alfred and Emily” (Aug. 10) says that some people think of Doris Lessing as a “one-book wonder” or a “literary version of a crazy bag lady.” What about the Children of Violence series, the adventures of Martha Quest, which chronicled the awakening of one of our most powerful feminist and anticolonialist writers? Most of these five novels preceded “The Golden Notebook,” which seemed to me their logical outcome and crowning achievement. They were so vivid and moving that 40 or 50 years after reading them whole scenes still burn in my memory. And what about “The Summer Before the Dark” and “The Memoirs of a Survivor” and “Briefing for a Descent Into Hell”?
I realize that there is a generation gap here and that much of Lessing's later work does not stand up to her earlier books, but still it is infuriating to see the Book Review condescend to a great artist.
I would like to add to the letter above: even work that was, perhaps, not as strong, showed great insight into and commentary about our society. I do not believe that generational differences played any role. I have found something to enjoy and learn from in all her works...and I have read them all. She was one of the first writers to tell us about the suffering and dangers faced by Afghan women in her book The Wind Blows Away Their Words.