Alfred A. Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385350259, 257pp.
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
“It was probably because I was so often taken away from Cambridge when I was young that I loved it as much as I did . . .”
So begins this novel-from-life by the best-selling author of Girl, Interrupted, an exploration of memory and nostalgia set in the 1950s among the academics and artists of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, the precocious narrator of Cambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the locations to which her father’s career takes the family. She comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition.
Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the delights, fears, and longings of childhood.
“A tale of childhood that is also very much about place . . . Susanna’s observations of [the] entertaining ensemble cast are often funny, equally often sad, always astute . . . An exquisite little book full of descriptions and anecdotes that shimmer like fireflies on a dark July night.” —Patricia Hagen, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“With Cambridge’s careful attention to scene-setting, Kaysen writes interiors that belong on the set of a Wes Anderson movie . . . Typically novels demonstrate how a character grows, changes, and adapts to new adventures. Cambridge pushes against this notion. With change comes loss. Childhood happens only once. It might be great or it might be awful or it might be ordinary, but once we reach adulthood, it’s gone.” —Rebecca Kelley, The Rumpus
“Lively, charming . . . Throughout, Kaysen captures well the sense of what it’s like to feel the world as a child.” —John Williams, The New York Times
“Cambridge is not so much about the city to the north of Boston as it is about belonging to it . . . Susanna’s fascination with the people around her is sweet, and her notes on the injustices and conventions of girlhood—math homework and hair-braiding—are relatable and keenly observed. The writing here is natural and absorbing . . . There seems to be a lot simmering under the surface of this book . . . A fascinating study of the ways in which communities define themselves.” –Molly Labell, Bust
“In Cambridge, an astute young girl observes the adults and events in her life, trying to make sense of how she might fit in—or whether she wants to . . . Susanna’s name is almost never mentioned in the story, a well-crafted technique that powerfully adds to the sense of who she is—or isn’t. Susanna’s voice is Cambridge’s major strength. A touching narrative of coming of age and everyday life.” –Carol Brill, New York Journal of Books
“Eloquent, nostalgic . . . precise and thoughtful.” —Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
“With Cambridge, Kaysen is writing about a personal theme, her hometown, where she has lived for most of her life . . . The novel is a portrait—almost a still life—of the city in the 1950s, revolving around a dreamy girl and her intellectual, worldly parents. Kaysen grew up among the academics and artists of Cambridge, too, the eccentric characters who socialized with her mother and her economist father, Carl Kaysen, a highly respected professor first at Harvard, then at MIT. But even though Cambridge is heavily autobiographical (the young heroine’s name is Susanna), it is fiction, a decision Kaysen made to help her in the writing process [and] enabled her to invent.” —Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe
“Elegant, remarkable. The experience of reading Cambridge, the story of a girl growing up in the 1950s, feels like settling back into a warm chair after an absence . . . Novels-from-life like Cambridge often contain their own brand of wisdom. They are books whose use of the techniques of fiction seems to have an almost political purpose: namely, to make mundane realities worth inscribing in print. And there is something very noble about insisting that there is art in those experiences we would not necessarily call novelistic. And in then being totally honest about the way in which we tend to shape and revise the stories we tell ourselves . . . There is indeed something uniquely worth recording not just about one’s childhood, but about the way in which we spend our lives revising it into such outlines.” —Michelle Dean, Slate
“The original Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen, comes full circle with Cambridge, the fondly nostalgic story of a professor’s daughter with an acute case of apartness—a born writer—and her induction into a world of art, travel, and, with the help of a charismatic orchestra conductor named Vishwa, love.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“This latest novel from Kaysen follows a character named Susanna from the second to the sixth grade, taking her through four countries, a Swedish nanny, and a Brahman piano teacher who never makes her play. Susanna is a curious girl whose travels often leave her awestruck. She leads an unconventional life and is not happy about it. Awkward and lonely, she has only one friend her age . . . What she does love is the English language, and Susanna’s facility with language allows Kaysen to create tension and humor.” —Pamela Mann, Library Journal
“Touching . . . Loosely based on the author’s own childhood, this travelogue is narrated by a nine-year-old who must spend two years living in England, Italy, and Greece despite her fervent wish to be home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I really enjoyed the book, which reads a bit like a journal. I loved the narrator’s bittersweet realization that ‘home’ isn’t a physical locale, but rather a place that exists only in memories.” —Sarai Narvaez, Real Simple
“This raw, biting autobiographical novel from the author of Girl, Interrupted frequently lights up to the point of incandescence with subtle descriptions and astute, witty anecdotes [as] Susanna, a young girl with complicated parental relations, recalls her formative years, traveling from English shores to Grecian temples. A literary tour-de-force displaying Kaysen’s unique talent for creating an engaging ensemble cast that comes uniquely alive under adolescent eyes . . . Affectingly real.” —Publishers Weekly