Book Review: The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas

“This book is dangerous. You need to know that before you begin.”

The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas, by Daniel James, is an attempt by the journalist author to discover the truth behind the cult like persona of a reclusive artist known as Ezra Maas. Yet what is the truth when supposed facts are changed simply by putting them into words that rely on context and interpretation? When a man affects a persona how long will it be before they become their creation? Is the artist known as Maas a man or a myth?

Ezra Maas first came to prominence as a teenager in 1960s New York. His output was inspiring and eclectic. The tales from those times were of drugs, exploitation, and a growing number of followers attending ‘happenings’ that rode the zeitgeist.

Maas then moved cities, perhaps to Europe or elsewhere in America. He met with many of the big names of the time around the world. He is remembered without detail or clarity. He eschewed photo opportunities. For decades he was revered and remained an enigma – his life itself perhaps a PR exercise or an example of performance art.

When Daniel James is commissioned by an unknown source to write the artist’s biography he approaches the task with determination.

“He’s a writer who isn’t afraid to take risks. As a journalist Daniel James took on the newspaper industry from the inside. With his fiction he played the dangerous game of putting his own life on the page. And now, as a biographer, he is exploring the very possibility of truth and attempting to unravel one of the art world’s biggest mysteries.

A news reporter for over a decade James was best known for exploring the cult of fame and contemporary culture, questioning systems of truth and authority, and exposing the hyper-reality of modern news coverage. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction his writing questioned the representation of reality through language, and our perceptions of knowledge and power.”

Seven years prior to James starting out on his investigations, Ezra Maas disappeared. Access to his background and work are strictly controlled by the powerful and litigious Maas Foundation. People have been silenced, sometimes erased. James follows a trail through: letters, interviews with the artist’s acquaintances, leads uncovered by contacts, coded messages left by Maas himself.

The biography includes: opinion pieces, published articles, transcripts, emails. What we are reading here is not all that was intended. The pages are incomplete, brought together by the anonymous curator of what remains from the original manuscript. In copious footnotes he attempts to make sense of what is described as a literary labyrinth.

How does one uncover the truth when answers to questions proliferate and contradict? This is the story of Ezra Maas. It is also the story of Daniel James.

“You assume the world, the past, is fixed and immutable, but it’s not. What if the words I am writing here, which you are reading now, are already changing things?”

How much is any person a construct? How much are they altered by each and every experience and interaction? In seeking to uncover the truth behind the legend of Ezra Maas, James faces forces that alter his perceptions. In reading this book, the reader takes the same risk.

An astonishing, mind-bending creation that defies the limitations of cliched description. Drawing on many sources from the literary canon, it will challenge understanding of how a damn fine story may be told.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.

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5 comments on “Book Review: The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas

  1. Jennie Ensor says:

    I heard Daniel James read out loud recently – I think it was him anyway! – and was bowled over

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