Excerpt from Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Memoirs of a Muse

A Novel

by Lara Vapnyar

Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar X
Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 224 pages
    Apr 2007, 224 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"I am going to tie you up, Ba. If you want to have a haircut, I’ll have to tie you up." She didn’t resist while I circled around her with the shawl, weaving it between the chair back’s rails and under her breasts, then tied it in a big knot between her shoulder blades. She sat as still as she could, nodding eagerly, following my hands with restless, glistening eyes.

"Better? Isn’t it?" I asked my prisoner and took the scissors off the nightstand.

The first snap was a signal for her to continue the story.

"Fedor Mikhailovich would take all the money and gamble it away, and then he would come back for more—but there wasn’t any—and pawn all of the good things only to gamble the money away. He gambled away her ring, her earrings, her shawl, and once even her shoes and her dress, so she couldn’t even go shopping."

"What was the point in going shopping if he’d already gambled away all the money?"

"Well, maybe she hoped to ask a nice salesman for credit, or just wanted to window-shop. . . . And when he came back, instead of apologizing he yelled at her for not fixing his supper on time!"

"Did she yell back at him?"

"Never! She apologized for not fixing supper. You see, she was a very good wife."

"All right, now shut your eyes."

I let her long bangs fall down on her forehead and snapped the scissors there, careful not to scratch the skin. It was easier to look at her when her eyes were closed. She looked relaxed, smoother, more alive, almost normal, until one sly, glistening eye opened under my snapping hand.

"Geniuses are a crazy lot. They’re crazy like hell! You never know how to please them. You think that you do. You keep track of the things that please them. But they are fickle, they change their likings on a whim. You serve them tea with sugar and cream—their favorite, and you had just gone out specially to buy that cream—and they yell that they wanted coffee with lemon. You want to throw that tea into their red, ugly mugs and then break the cup against their head, but you don’t do it. You apologize. And then when they come home drunk and in soiled pants—yes, they do that, they soil their pants—you don’t throw them out! You take them in, you undress them, you scrape the shit off them, and put them to bed. And after that you go to your communal bathroom to wash their pants. And it’s not an easy thing, I tell you, to wash shitty pants in a communal bathroom, with all the neighbors watching and yelling at you because of the stench! But you do it for them all the same."

"Do it for whom, Ba? Who soils their pants?"

Both eyes open at me like nimble animals lurking between the locks of hair, waiting to burn me with their sparks.

"That’s them, who do it! Them! Geniuses!"

So, okay, the geniuses are bad, I thought as I cut the rest of my grandmother’s hair. She closed her eyes, hung her head down, and sat silently without moving—very convenient for chopping the hair on her crown. She must have been out of breath after her tirade.

So, Dostoevsky, a writer with different eyes, was a bad man. Geniuses are bad, and you have to wash their shit off, and that is probably it. That is what it takes to be a muse. There is not much else to it.

No, I wasn’t a wise child. I didn’t think about that until years later. Many years later.

When I cut my grandmother’s hair, I was too preoccupied with making the layers even. Something had gone wrong in the middle of the process. It could be that my ten-year-old overconfidence let me down at some point. By the end of the session, my grandmother’s hairdo consisted of rows of hair of various lengths encircling her head in various directions. I tried to even the hair’s length but wound up cutting too close to the skin. When my grandmother raised her head and opened her eyes, there was nothing but yellow-white down fluttering on her bare scalp. With her neck thinned by the illness, and her beaky nose, she looked like a baby chick. A sick baby chick. An old and sick baby chick, if that was possible. An old and sick baby chick tied to a chair with a shawl. A large, hard lump rose in my throat, hurting me, making me want to hide, to escape. As if sensing my distress, my grandmother moved her neck from side to side and shook her head.

Excerpted from Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar Copyright © 2006 by Lara Vapnyar. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Sorry, we do not currently have an active wordplay!

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.