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Leonard Cohen Volume Two

It's equally compelling. Impossible to put down. Yet harder to read than Volume One. That's because, through the 1970s and into the '80s, our hero's narcissism becomes more egregious, harder to overlook. Yes, the anxiously awaited Volume two is here: Leonard Cohen / Untold Stories: From This Broken Hill, the stupendous oral biography by Michael Posner. Toughest example of what I mean: Gabriela Valenzuela. Never heard of her? I hadn't either. Color her elided. Fact remains: she was one of the most important of the countless women in the life of Leonard Cohen. Originally from Costa Rica, Valenzuela helped him translate, understand, and build music out of the lyrics of his all-time favorite poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. In 1980, when she met Cohen, she was 20 years old. He was 46. In 1982, after a torrential, white-hot correspondence, the two became lovers. In 1986, when having been abandoned while pregnant, Valenzuela was driven to abort his child, she was 26. Between those events, to hear her tell it, the two shared some extraordinary days and nights . . . mostly nights. Put it this way: Cohen does not emerge looking his best. In fairness, I can't imagine any brilliant contemporary songwriter whose life could stand such intensive scrutiny without taking some damage. With regard to Cohen's relations with women, this portrait is warts-and-all. But we also see many, many examples of his kindness and generosity. For some readers, a second area of concern might be his sporadic admiration for right-wing politicians -- though here, as elsewhere, Posner relays conflicting testimonies, leaving the reader to decide when, where, and whether Cohen is working one of his cons. A special bonus in this volume (full disclosure) is that Posner twice references my own magic moment with Cohen, albeit briefly. Full treatment, click here. For the rest, Posner gives us a superb epilogue in which he whets our appetites for Volume Three. Say what you will, I, for one, can hardly wait.
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.