Summary and book reviews of All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman

All Tomorrow's Parties

A Memoir

by Rob Spillman

All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman X
All Tomorrow's Parties by Rob Spillman
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2017, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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About this Book

Book Summary

In his intimate, entertaining, and heartfelt memoir, Spillman narrates a colorful, music-filled coming-of-age portrait of an artist's life that is also a cultural exploration of a shifting Berlin.

Rob Spillman, the award-winning, charismatic cofounding editor of the legendary Tin House magazine, has devoted his life to the rebellious pursuit of artistic authenticity. Born in Germany to two driven musicians, his childhood was spent among the West Berlin cognoscenti, in a city two hundred miles behind the Iron Curtain. There, the Berlin Wall stood as a stark reminder of the split between East and West, between suppressed dreams and freedom of expression.

After an unsettled youth moving between divorced parents in disparate cities, Spillman would eventually find his way into the literary world of New York City, only to abandon it to return to Berlin just months after the Wall came down. Twenty-five and newly married, Spillman and his wife, the writer Elissa Schappell, moved to the anarchic streets of East Berlin in search of the bohemian lifestyle of their idols. But Spillman soon discovered he was chasing the one thing that had always eluded him: a place, or person, to call home.

1

"Art should be life. It's an imitation of life. It should have some humanity in it."

—John Lydon
Soundtrack: Sex Pistols, "Holidays in the Sun," 1977

"THIS MUST BE THE PLACE." I point to the street signs above us, then back down at the flyer.

"If you say so," Elissa says.

"Where else should we possibly be?" I ask, and raise my glass. Four months before reunification, we are drinking a previously impossible-to-obtain West German wine at a makeshift sidewalk café stumbling distance from our illegal coldwater flat. Although the Wall has "fallen" the previous October, West German authorities don't yet have authority to cross into the East. When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) police's wages vanished, so did they. The only authority left here is the elite riot police and the remnants of the GDR's army. They keep order by bashing the skinheads and anarchists in running street battles every night. We haven't seen many other Westerners on this side of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Spillman captures the rawness of youthful artistic ambition eloquently and self-consciously, the "amplified emotions you only feel in your twenties, when you are wildly changeable." His seeking of authenticity and creative fulfillment, from latching on to early influences like Hunter Thompson to his disappointment in the debauched literary culture of 1980s New York, make for a melancholy but ultimately redemptive journey.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Ultimately, his is a quest of roots and writerly authenticity - and his evocation of East Berlin's last days is exquisite and revealing.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. [A] lively debut... Musically and culturally astute, this well-structured book is a delightful coming-of-age story couched within a travel narrative that deftly evokes one of the major historical moments of the 20th century. A richly detailed and always engaging memoir on artistic discovery.

Booklist
Starred Review. Lifelong exposure to passionate artists may have fueled [Spillman’s] creativity, but an existential dread that he won’t find passion in his own life gnaws at him. . . . This is the story of formative years spent struggling to fully embrace life at the crossroads of history, art, home, and family.

Author Blurb Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers
Rob Spillman's story of rarefied opera culture as a child, and East German nightlife an adult, is limpid and lively in its telling, and it covers fascinating ground.

Author Blurb Michael Hainey, author of After Visiting Friends
Set in large part against the backdrop of Berlin in the raucous months after the wall was torn down and people struggled with re-unification, Spillman unspools a story that will resonate with everyone who's ever searched for home.

Author Blurb Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night In Suck City
How anyone becomes who they are meant to be is an enduring mystery, yet Rob Spillman takes us along on the wild ride that led him to become the utterly compelling and generous presence he is today...This memoir rivets me to the page.

Author Blurb David Shields, author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
Rob Spillman's memoir is built out of an extraordinary and extraordinarily powerful and significant paradox: Spillman wants only art; at every juncture he chooses only life; the book succeeds precisely because we love Spillman for what he decries in himself. An achingly beautiful and brilliantly structured book.

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Beyond the Book

German Reunification

In his memoir All Tomorrow's Parties, Rob Spillman, the son of American expat musicians, includes a flashback to his childhood in Germany. He paints a bleak portrait of East Berlin in the 1970s, with its worthless currency, "sour-faced" military guards, secret police, and drab institutional architecture. It is not surprising that by the late '80s, citizens were spoiling for revolution and a domino effect of political events and popular uprising resulted in just that. In the more contemporary sections of the book, Spillman and his wife spend time in East Berlin as reunification is underway.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, widespread economic crisis worsened dissatisfaction among the East German populace. In 1989, Hungary ...

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