A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967 by Rachel Cohen - review by Carole Angier

Carole Angier

Brief Encounters

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

By

Jonathan Cape 363pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

IN 1926 THE first American exhibition by the avant-garde Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi was very nearly scuppered by a customs officer who, Rachel Cohen relates. 'opened the crates, looked in disbelief at the sculptures, and classified Brancusi's Bird in Space as a "kitchen utensil"'. 'You can't tell me that's a bird,' he said, slapping on a huge import tax. Brancusi sued the US Government and won. Modern art took another leap forward.

I feel a bit like that customs officer, peering into A Chance Meeting. Is it a kitchen utensil - a scholarly piece of biographical synthesis - or a bird, an artistic invention in full flight? Cohen gives us the answer in her introduction: it is both. It is 'imaginative nonfiction',

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