In a 2019 review in The Times of Ms. Malcolm’s book “Nobody Looks at You” Wyatt Mason referred to the habit of some new journalists to get acquainted with their stories and remarked: “Does not take any particular problem with the work of her colleagues, I would nevertheless say that Malcolm, line to line “is a more revealing author whose presence in her pieces is not meant to promote myself as much as complicates the subject. And also line by line she is a better writer.”
Janet Malcolm was born Jana Klara Wienerova on July 8, 1934 into a wealthy Jewish family in Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia. Her mother, Hanna (Taussigova) Wiener, was a lawyer. Her father, Josef Wiener, was a psychiatrist and neurologist.
They originally lived with relatives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, while her father studied for his medical boards. In 1940, they moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where her father actually became the village physician for the large working-class population living in the Eastern 70s. Janet’s mother, then known as Joan, worked for the Voice of America.
In kindergarten in Brooklyn, Janet had felt lost and hampered by her inability to understand English. But she quickly picked up the new language in her early school years in Manhattan, though when her father’s mother moved in with them in 1941, they still spoke Czech at home to her advantage.
If it was easy to learn English to teach Janet, it did not teach that she was Jewish. One day, she repeated an anti-Semitic repeal that prompted her parents to inform her that she was Jewish. By then, she had already internalized anti-Semitism in the culture she wrote in a New Yorker essay, “Six Glimpses of the Past” (2018).
“Many years later, I came to recognize and appreciate my Judaism,” she wrote. “But in childhood and adolescence I hated and became angry and hid it.”