Begley in 2003
October 6, 1933 (age 82)
Stryj, Polish Republic
|Spouse(s)||Sally Higginson (1956–1970; divorced)
Anka Muhlstein (1974–present)
Louis Begley (born October 6, 1933) is a Polish American novelist. He is best known for writing the semi-autobiographical Holocaust novel, Wartime Lies (1991), and the Schmidt trilogy: About Schmidt (1996), Schmidt Delivered (2000) and Schmidt Steps Back (2012).
Begley was born Ludwik Begleiter in Stryi at the time part of the Polish Republic and now in Ukraine, as the only child of a physician. Using forged identity papers that enabled them to pretend to be Polish Catholics, his mother and he survived the almost wholly successful German attempt to kill all Polish Jews.
He lived with his mother at first in Lwów, and then in Warsaw until the end of the August 1944 Warsaw uprising. By the time World War II ended, they were in Kraków, where they were reunited with Begley’s father.
During the school year 1945/46, Begley attended the Jan Sobieski gimnazjum in Kraków. It was his first experience of formal instruction since kindergarten during Soviet occupation of Stryj, which followed German invasion of western Poland in 1939.
The family left Poland in the fall of 1946 for Paris and, in late February 1947, left Paris for New York, arriving March 3, 1947. After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, Begley studied English Literature at Harvard College (AB '54, summa cum laude). Whilst at Harvard he worked on The Advocate, an undergraduate literary magazine. Service in the United States Army followed, the last eighteen months of it in Göppingen, Germany, with the 9th Division.
In 1956, Begley married Sally Higginson. They were divorced in May, 1970. In March 1974, Begley married his present wife, Anka Muhlstein, a historian and biographer born in Paris. Begley has three children: painter and sculptor Peter Begley, writer Adam Begley, and novelist and art historian Amey Larmore (who writes under her pen name Laura Moore) He also has two stepsons from Muhlstein’s previous marriage: Robert Dujarric, the director of the Institute for Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University Japan Campus in Tokyo, and Stephane Dujarric, the Director of the United Nations News and Media Division in New York City.
In 1956 Begley entered Harvard Law School. Upon his graduation in 1959 (LL.B. magna cum laude), he joined the New York firm now known as Debevoise & Plimpton as an associate. He became a partner January 1, 1968, while serving at the newly established Paris office. Upon his return to New York, Begley headed the firm’s international practice for many years. He retired from the firm on January 1, 2004.
Begley's first novel, Wartime Lies, was based on his childhood as a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazi death camps. It won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 1991 and the Prix Médicis étranger in 1992. There have been attempts to adapt it into a film by Stanley Kubrick and William Monahan, but this has not come to fruition to date.
Begley's 1996 novel About Schmidt was the basis for the eponymous 2002 film by Alexander Payne. Payne made many changes from the book, though Begley commented in an essay in The New York Times that "my most important themes were treated with great intelligence and sensitivity" and felt the movie was "a gem of original filmmaking."
All of Begley’s novels, except Memories of a Marriage (Nan A. Talese) have been published by Alfred A. Knopf, and republished by Ballantine Publishing Company. His novels have been translated into fifteen languages.
Venedig Unter Vier Augen, a book on Venetian themes by Anka Muhlstein and Louis Begley, was published in 2003 by Marebuch Verlag (Hamburg). It was also published in English in 2005 by Haus Publishing under the title Venice for Lovers, and reissued under the same title by Grove Press in the U.S..
The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head, Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay was published by Atlas & Co. in 2008.
Prizes and awards include: The Irish Times-Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize, National Book Award Finalist, National Book Critics’ Circle Finalist, PEN/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award, Prix Médicis Étranger, Jeanette-Schocken-Pries, Bremerhavener Bürgerpreis für Literatur, American Academy of Letters Award in Literature, and Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung Literaturpreis.
From 1993 to 1995, Begley was president of PEN American Center. He served on PEN's board of directors from 1992-2001.
He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
He is a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres Philosophical Society.
The University of Heidelberg conferred on him in 2008 the degree of D. Phil., honoris causa.
- Wartime Lies (1991)
- The Man Who Was Late (1993)
- As Max Saw It (1994)
- About Schmidt (1996), basis for the 2002 film of the same name
- Mistler's Exit (1998)
- Schmidt Delivered (2000)
- Shipwreck (2003)
- Matters of Honor (2007)
- Schmidt Steps Back (2012)
- Memories of a Marriage (2013)
- Peter Begley's website
- Laura Moore's website
- Claude Brodesser (2005-05-10). "WIP a 'Wartime' recruit: Warner catches WWII 'Lies'". Variety. Retrieved 2007-01-06.
- Begley, Louis (January 19, 2003). "My Novel, the Movie: My Baby Reborn; 'About Schmidt' Was Changed, But Not Its Core". The New York Times.
- Official site
- James Atlas (Summer 2002). "Louis Begley, The Art of Fiction No. 172". Paris Review.
- Hal Espen (May 30, 1994). "The lives of Louis Begley". New Yorker.