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Two Lives, by Janet Malcolm

This brief, immaculately written work casts a penetrating light on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and the strange biographical conundrums that surround them. Malcolm chips away at the mystery of how "a pair of elderly Jewish lesbians survived the Nazis". She probes the 50-year silence of a scholar entrusted with Stein's "electrifying" notebooks. But Malcolm's central concern is with the relationship between the author of the profoundly odd The Making of Americans ("this strangest of strange books") and her spiky companion, half slave, half dominatrix. A 1,000-page biography would not tell you more about them.