Louis Begley (Born Ludwik Begleiter) is a Polish-born American novelist.
To avoid being sent to concentration camps, Begley and his mother obtained false papers and pretended to be Polish Catholics. Many of the difficulties and strife they experienced provide the basis for Wartime Lies. At the end of the war the family was reunited. They briefly relocated to Paris and in 1947 moved to New York. Begley graduated from Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School in 1950.
Begley graduated from Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School in 1950 and earned a scholarship to Harvard University. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1953 and in 1954 earned a summa cum laude degree in English literature.
In 1956 Begley entered Harvard Law School. Upon his graduation in 1959 (LL.B. magna cum laude), he joined the New York firm now known as Debevoise & Plimpton as an associate. He became a partner January 1, 1968, while serving at the newly established Paris office. Upon his return to New York, Begley headed for many years the firm’s international practice. He retired from the firm on January 1, 2004.
Begley's first novel, Wartime Lies, was based on his childhood as a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazi death camps. It won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award in 1991 and the Prix Médicis étranger in 1992. There have been attempts to adapt it into a film by Stanley Kubrick and William Monahan, but this has not come to fruition to date.
Begley's 1996 novel About Schmidt was basis for the eponymous 2002 film by Alexander Payne. Payne made many changes from the book, though Begley commented in an essay in The New York Times that "my most important themes were treated with great intelligence and sensitivity" and felt the movie was "a gem of original filmmaking."
All of Begley’s novels, except Memories of a Marriage (Nan A. Talese) have been published by Alfred A. Knopf, and republished by Ballantine Publishing Company. His novels have been translated into fifteen languages.
In 2001, a selection of Begley's essays and journalistic pieces was published by Suhrkamp Verlag (Frankfurt) under the title Das Gelobte Land.
Venedig Unter Vier Augen, a book on Venetian themes by Anka Muhlstein and Louis Begley, was published in 2003 by Marebuch Verlag (Hamburg). It was also published in English in 2005 by Haus Publishing under the title Venice for Lovers, and reissued under the same title by Grove Press in the U.S..
Zwischen Fakten und Fiktionen, the text of LB's lectures given as part of Poetik Dozentur at Heidelberg University in November 2006, was published by Suhrkamp in January 2008.
The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head, Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay was published by Atlas & Co. in 2008.
Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters was published by Yale University Press in 2009.
Begley was born in Stryj, to Edward, a Jewish physician, and his wife, Frances. Using forged identity papers that enabled them to pretend to be Polish Catholics, his mother and he survived the almost wholly successful German attempt to kill all Polish Jews.
Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (international association) American Center (president 1993-95, trustee 1995-2001)