Despite his persistent mumble, his habit of gulping whole paragraphs, the elegant prose style of Christopher Hitchens graces this very uneven memoir. So does his erudition. For a "pamphleteer" so dubbed in prep school turns out both a formidable rhetorician and a principled pragmatist. Given the flack which he faced most heavily when he rose to the defense of the Iraq war(s) on moral grounds, Hitchens presents his own rational argument, as many more herein, with gravitas leavened by wit.
This memoir follows the conventional pattern of formative years, for roughly half its span. By the end of the 1970s, when Hitchens relocates semi-permanently, for he is always a nomad, in first Manhattan and then Washington D.C., it spins off into miniature essays. Salman Rushdie and Edward Said comprise the two most noted of his friends, but as with his best friend Martin Amis and their common (Hitchens corrects us on the illogic of a Dickensian "mutual") friend Ian McEwan, his character studies are skillful. He seems to have read all and met all, and like some Zelig-figure, he is there in the crucial year of '68, at the perfect age of 19, to watch the emergence of his beloved (?) Left
While I will deduct points earned for his delivery, when volumes rise and fall, gaps open, and sentences sink into his collar rather than the microphone, the hours spent vicariously in his company proved rewarding. He tells anecdotes galore. The word games with his learned colleagues, the turn of a curdled adjectival trajectory, the sudden aside (a favorite: the only Federal agency he'd be tempted to run is ATF [Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms). He loves his adopted country, and his post-9/11 analysis reminds readers fifteen-plus years since of the mendacious blame cast on its victims from all nations.
As an immigrant himself, Hitchens ideally places himself between England and America as a critic. I'd have liked more on some at first seemingly tangential figures he limns, especially Paul Wolfowitz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. More on the evils of Henry Kissinger and the "noxious" Bill Clinton would have added value. However, I assume he's covered both in his abundant journalism. Coming before naturally and sadly his powerful coda Mortality, and after his giant "greatest hits volume, what, three collecting a vast store of polemic, critique, and recollection, Arguably, this shows the "late" late Hitchens as at the age of sixty, he looked back at his participation in so much of recent importance.
Instead of marriages or children (both of which barely register, as the domestic side remains discreet), the fascinating journey he takes to visit the homelands of the suddenly revealed Jewish (assimilated so well that it vanished into his upbringing) maternal side moves the listener. Coupled with the dramatic story of his mother, which I leave you to discover, this exploration of his occluded identity resonates. Especially for such a vehement scold of the "Torah-toting land thieves." (I quote from a perhaps paraphrasing recall of my own. In spite of Hitch-22's many flaws, this remains recommended