The writer Brewster Chamberlin died at the age of 81 on Nov. 12, 2020 in Key West, where he lost his battle with cancer, his wife said.
Not widely read because his publishers never advertised sufficiently, Chamberlin was known and appreciated by a small circle of cultured cognoscenti who enjoyed his modernist narrative style and witty commentary on the foibles of his characters. Many of his friends and relatives amused themselves attempting to identify themselves in his fictional characters. His career can be said to have begun in his 14th year when he wrote several pages of a story in the manner of the last chapter of Mickey Spillane’s “I, the Jury” for a classmate named Cynthia who also practiced the writer’s trade; the school authorities discovered their work and chastised both, though Cynthia suffered more because she was a girl.
Chamberlin’s first published work was a poem commemorating the 1956 Hungarian anti-communist rebellion crushed by Soviet tanks printed in the Gloucester Times in 1959.
His first marriage to Angela Schüssler Chamberlin, begun in 1961 in Heidelberg, Germany, ended in a 1978 divorce in Washington, D.C.
Unable to break into the tenured groves of academe, despite a solid and well-received doctoral dissertation, Chamberlin spent several decades of his life working as a historian, archivist, university teacher, lecturer, poet, essayist and writer of longer and shorter fictions while living in Manhattan, Germany, France, Italy, Washington, D.C. and Greece. In 2001 he retired from an executive position at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to move with his wife Lynn-Marie Smith to the Conch Republic (Key West, Florida) to concentrate on a series of novels revolving around the city of Berlin in the 20th century, one of which takes place in Manhattan and in the Conch Republic.
In his final years, in addition to his academic work, Chamberlin published several books of note including “Paris Now and Then: Memoirs, Opinions and a Companion to the City of Light for the Literate Traveler” (2002, revised edition 2004), “Mediterranean Sketches: Fictions, Memories and Metafictions (2005),” “Love’s Poison: Poems (2005),” “Situation Reports on the Emotional Equipoise: Collected Poems 1959-2006 (2007),” “A Chronology of the Life and Times of Lawrence Durrell” (2007, revised edition 2019), the thriller “Radovic’s Dilemma (2008),” “The Time in Tavel: An Informal Memoir of a Sojourn in Provence” (2010, revised edition 2017), “Shorts of All Sorts: Selected Prose and Poems” (2013), “A Paris Chapbook” (2013), “Travels in Greece and France and the Durrell School of Corfu” (2013), “The Hemingway Log: A Chronology of His Life and Times” (2015, corrections and additions 2020), “Almost to the End, The Shorter Poems: New and Old” (2015), and “Scripts of All Sorts For Stage, Radio and Screen” (2020).
The writer considers “The Berlin Quartet” to be his greatest work, consisting of “Schade’s Passage” (2017), “Schadow’s Meditations” (2017), “Peregrine’s Island” (2018) and “Ursula’s Triumph” (unfinished).
Chamberlin also served on the Durrell School of Corfu board of advisors and faculty and on the board of the Key West Art & Historical Society, where he was also a research associate.
He is survived by his second wife of 40 years, Lynn-Marie Smith of Key West and Avignon, and their cat Nicolina. According to his wishes, Lynn-Marie will scatter his ashes in the waters of the Sorgue River at the Fontaine de la Vaucluse after a well-watered grilled fish lunch at Philip’s Restaurant along the river in memory of the many such lunches over the decades of their marriage. She will also see that a stone with his name and dates will be erected in the Tavel cemetery 17 kilometers northwest of Avignon in the South of France, the village in which they spent a seminal year in the early 1980s.