NYRB Classics: Jess Bergman, David Rieff, & Ethan Taubes discuss "Divorcing," by Susan Taubes

October 29, 2020, 7:30 PM

Jess Bergman, David Rieff, and Ethan Taubes join us to discuss Divorcing, by Susan Taubes. This program is part of an ongoing series with NYRB, and will take place on Zoom. Register here: 

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Dream and reality overlap in Divorcing, a book in which divorcing is not just a matter of marital collapse but names a rift that runs right through the inner and outer worlds of Sophie Blind, its brilliant but desperate protagonist. Can the rift be mended? Perhaps in the form of a novel, one that goes back from present-day New York to Sophie’s childhood in pre–World War II Budapest, that revisits the divorce between her Freudian father and her fickle mother, and finds a place for a host of further tensions and contradictions of her life now. The question that haunts Divorcing, however, is whether any novel can be fleet and bitter and true and light enough to gather up all the darkness of a given life.

Susan Taubes’s startlingly original novel was published in 1969 but largely ignored; after the author’s tragic early death, it was forgotten. Its republication presents a chance to rediscover a dazzlingly intense and inventive writer whose work in many ways anticipates the fragmentary, glancing, lyrical novels that Renata Adler and Elizabeth Hardwick would write in the 1970s.

Susan Taubes (1928–1969) was born to a Jewish family in Hungary. The daughter of a psychoanalyst, Taubes emigrated to the United States in 1939 and studied religion at Harvard. She married the philosopher and scholar Jacob Taubes and taught religion at Columbia University from 1960 to 1969. She committed suicide in 1969, soon after the publication of Divorcing.

Jess Bergman is an editor at The Baffler and contributing writer at Jewish Currents. Her essays and criticism have also appeared in Lapham’s QuarterlyThe New Republic, and The Cut, among other outlets.

David Rieff is the author of ten books, including The Exile: Cuba in the Heart of MiamiSlaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the WestA Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in CrisisSwimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir; and, most recently, In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and its Ironies. He lives in New York City.

Ethan Taubes worked for the Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Asylum and Refugee Corps of the U.S. Government for over 20 years. Before that, he worked for various advocacy organizations representing asylum seekers in the U.S. He also served as the program director for The International League for Human Rights, where he coordinated projects on freedom of religion, the rights of the child, and refugee issues. He currently works part time as a consultant representing asylum seekers. In a previous incarnation he attended the Yale School of Drama and enjoyed a 12-year career in the theater.