Friday , May 17 2024
Anaïs Nin’s diaries have become the standard for personal diaries only a few writers could match.

Book Review: ‘Mirages’ by Anaïs Nin

Famed diarist of the 1940s, Anaïs Nin, lived to the age of 74, despite her hard-living, drinking, and her surprising obsession with sex.

Leaving Paris for America at the start of World War II, Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin recounts the writer’s life, as a transplant, through her diary entries. Be aware these diaries include unexpurgated passages that were cut from the original diaries by her publisher (largely from Vol. 3 and 4).

Throughout these important diaries, Nin refers to her interior life as “the uncensored dream, the free unconscious.” The diary entries in Mirages covering 1939 through 1947, record daily adventures that fit with her moral code and that of many people, male and female, then and today. Yet, today’s morals seem extremely bold for a a woman living in the early 1940s. Her diaries are graphic in their personal confessions, her thoughts on intimate matters, such as analysis of orgasm, and convey the range of tension and emotions concerning various lovers and partners in her life.

Beginning with Nin’s impressions leaving Paris, carrying the diary volumes in a blue cloth bag as she made her journey to New York, we see her ambition in revising and finalizing volume after volume of these diaries, in anticipating of publication.

Those who enjoyed sharing Nin’s life with her were put to the test by her many neuroses, as witnessed by this statement: “Send for the doctor. I need a medicine man who will demand the return of my soul into my body.”

As she made a fresh start in New York with kindred souls, she reflected on the many who were transplanted in the US from Europe. Nin senses “something died in all those who were transplants, who are surviving but not thriving.”  She frequently pulls herself out of misery through her writing. The reader benefits from her thoughtful, unique perspective on America in the 1940s, as she reinvented herself as a first-class feminist, entrepreneur and a woman with an incredibly erotic daily life, told through sensual and graphic details. These are passages you would not have read in the earlier, sanitized editions of Nin’s diaries.

Mirages is challenging reading, following the complexities of multiple and bi-sexual partners in relationships between the hours of her writing, editing, and publishing diaries. Her days ranged from sexual ecstasy to nervous anxiety. As she writes to herself:

“Every word you wrote was always the golden key which opened the doors of your prison. … Write. It is your ornament, your grace, your seduction, your chant for courting.”

The writing in these diaries is indeed dream-like as she records the new reality of her life in America. Her dreams and diary entries become a series of mirages she conjures to avoid reality. Yet, in the intensity of her writing, she states she is not writing for profit:

… “not to make a name, not to be exposed in libraries, or celebrated after death, but to create life, immediate life around me. I cannot go into new lives without my books” [diaries]. “They are my boat and sail, my passport and map, my compass and telescope.”

Yet through all the years, all the relationships, Nin could never break herself from the need for her intimate sexual partners. Anaïs Nin’s diaries have become the standard for personal diaries only a few writers could match. The curious reader, seeking graphic details of Nin’s encounters with intimacy won’t be disappointed.

About Helen Gallagher

Check Also

Theater Review (Off-Broadway NYC): ‘Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell’ by David Stallings

Playwright David Stallings's potentially gimmicky concept, directed by Antonio Minino with equal parts gravitas and wit, flowers into a richly imagined garden of passions, philosophy, and humor.


  1. Nin was a great favorite of Henry Miller.

  2. To understand Anaïs, one might consider reading the entire collection of diaries. The symbolism in her life carries through each stage and is commonly referred to in future writings. In a word, her writings and experiences are profound.