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In a 2019 Times review of Ms. Malcolm’s book Nobody’s Looking at You, Wyatt Mason cited the habit of some new journalists to fit into their stories, noting: I still want to say that Malcolm, line for Line, is a more enlightening writer whose presence in her plays is not intended to advertise herself but to complicate the subject. Plus, line by line, she’s 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 (Tausssigova) Wiener was a lawyer. Her father, Josef Wiener, was a psychiatrist and neurologist.
In July 1939, when Janet was nearly five and her sister Marie a toddler, her parents raised enough money to bribe Nazi officials for an exit visa. (According to family tradition, their money went to an SS officer to buy a racehorse.) The family traveled by train to Hamburg, then to New York on one of the last civilian ships to leave Europe for America before the outbreak of World War II . On arrival they changed their last name to Winn; Jana Klara became Janet Clara.
They initially stayed with relatives in Flatbush, Brooklyn while their father studied for his medical associations. In 1940 they moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where their father actually became a village doctor for the large Czech working class who lived in the east of the 1970s. Janet’s mother, now known as Joan, worked for the Voice of America.
In Brooklyn kindergarten, Janet had felt lost and disabled because she could not understand English. But she learned the new language quickly in her early years at school in Manhattan, although her father’s mother still spoke Czech to her advantage when her father’s mother moved in with them in 1941.
If it was easy for Janet to learn English, it wasn’t that she was Jewish. One day she repeated an anti-Semitic slander, whereupon her parents told her that she was Jewish. At this point in time she had already internalized anti-Semitism in culture, she wrote in a New York essay “Six Glimpses of the Past” (2018).
“Many years later, I recognized and valued my Judaism,” she wrote. “But during my childhood and youth I hated and hated it and hid it.”