Biographies are a difficult subject. We always have three sides – the author’s side, the subject’s side and the truth. It’s journalism, it’s drama, it’s biased and sometimes it’s the real deal – you just don’t know what you are getting.
This particular biography is a centennial re-printing of a 1993 book written by Neeli Cherkovski to coincide with Bukowski’s 100th birthday. The book is printed by Black Sparrow Press (Bukowski’s first publishing press) and features a brand-new cover with a fantastic portrait of the great man.
It is very enjoyable; it is much more of an intimate portrayal of the man rather than the usual reporting of hard drinking poetry writing Hank that we are always treated to by writers that have never met him. This book came closer to understanding Bukowski as a person more than any other biography I have read on him. Of course we could read his poems, pull them apart and digest his books to get to the real nitty gritty biographical details but this is Charles Bukowski – the myth maker extraordinaire. What is real and what is fiction?
The book is detailed and recounts some of the most important parts of his life that made him who he became from the days of going to the hospital for his skin condition, the torment he received from his abusive father and the years of working at the post office all pull together to tell a tale of how Charles Bukowski took pain, rejection and fear and created some of the best work this world has seen. It is an incredible life and it is incredible how far he came and the relentless nature in which he pursued his dream to become a publisher writer.
The voice of the book feels authentic as Cherkovski was a friend of Bukowski’s from the 1960’s when they hung out together, drank beer, talked about literature and co-edited the Los Angeles zine Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns. He helps to dispel a few myths, throws a few anecdotes in there (which there are plenty) and would be a good starter for someone who is just getting into his work and wants to know about the person behind the typewriter.
It is a great read, very funny and enlightening but take from this book what you will, I certainly took from it an even greater love for the Hank and I learned a few others things I didn’t know along the way. He awakens a sense of “devil may care” attitude in fellow writers and his quote “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us” has never felt so poignant.