Raised with wealth and privilege on New York’s Upper East Side, Ms. Solomon rejected college and a straightforward career when she struck out for post-World War II Europe at 19. After traveling to Paris by boat, she befriended a young Norman Mailer, fell in love with a Spanish freedom fighter and helped liberate two resistance members from a gulag near Madrid, and then returned to the United States to become a journalist and novelist.
Her 1960 literary debut, “The Beat of Life,” was a first-person, present-tense account of a timid young woman’s unexpected pregnancy, and it drew praise from critics and authors such as James Baldwin. “It’s an extraordinary piece of work,” he said. “She’s an amazingly gifted writer and it’s a very moving and exact study of — what shall I call it? — the death of love, the hideously whistling space where all our values used to be.”
Ms. Solomon went on to raise two daughters, in large part as a single mother, while writing for publications including the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper’s magazine, Vogue and the Spanish journal Cambio 16, in addition to serving as a longtime cultural correspondent for the Madrid newspaper El Pais.
“There is an enticing quirkiness about her writing; she has strong but not mean-spirited opinions that often surprise with their offbeat approach, good humor and good sense,” wrote New York Times journalist Herbert Mitgang, reviewing her essay collection “Horse-Trading and Ecstasy” (1989).
Ms. Solomon interviewed writers such as Mailer and Lewis Mumford; covered the 1987 trial of Klaus Barbie, a Gestapo chief who was hunted down in Bolivia for crimes against humanity; and suggested that “The Great Gatsby” was partly inspired by the wealthy community of Westport, Conn. — where she spent her summers growing up — and not simply Long Island.
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She also penned a scathing review of “The Garden of Eden,” a posthumous Ernest Hemingway novel published in 1986 by Scribner’s, which she described as “a literary crime.”
“He meant ‘Eden’ to have been his final summation on art and literature, on the nature of love and the body, on the possibilities of human life,” Ms. Solomon wrote in the New Republic. She added: “With all its disfigurements and omissions, its heightening of the trivial and its diminishment of the significant, its vulgarization of Hemingway’s struggle to grapple with the great theme in his tragic final years, this volume is a travesty.”
Ms. Solomon was perhaps best known for her 1972 memoir, “Arriving Where We Started,” which received the Pablo Antonio de Olavide prize in Barcelona. Judges praised it as “the best, most literary account of the intellectual resistance to Franco,” according to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, which acquired Ms. Solomon’s archives.
The memoir recounted her swashbuckling early years in postwar Europe — a tumultuous period in her life that marked an unlikely break from her upbringing in Manhattan, where she was born Barbara Kurke Probst on Dec. 3, 1928.
Her father, a cousin of Austrian novelist Joseph Roth, was a Vienna-born lawyer who served as chairman of the Self Winding Clock Co.; her mother was a painter and collage artist who later created the cover image for “Short Flights” (1983), Ms. Solomon’s second memoir.
After graduating from the Dalton preparatory school not far from her home, a 17-year-old Ms. Solomon applied for passage to Europe on a converted troop ship. Her parents found out only after being contacted by the State Department and persuaded her to move to Paris “in a more normal fashion,” she later wrote in Tablet magazine.
If her trip to France was driven partly by teenage rebellion, it was also “a way of really coming to grips with her own Jewish identity, as well as her identity as a privileged young woman living in New York City,” her daughter Carla said by phone.
Ms. Solomon’s timing was fortuitous: While traveling by boat with her mother, she met Mailer’s younger sister, Barbara. She was introduced to the novelist himself at port in Cherbourg, and soon found herself immersed in Paris’s thriving intellectual scene — as well as the anti-Franco resistance. “A few days after my mother left,” she recalled in her memoir, “Norman approached his sister Barbara and me, and in a somewhat offhand, slightly conspiratorial tone asked the two of us how we would like to uh, sort of, spring a few people from a Franco jail in Spain.”
The plan was hatched by Paco Benet, 21, whose father had been shot during the Spanish Civil War. He accompanied the two young women to Cuelgamuros, where many of the country’s political prisoners had been forced to build an enormous monument to casualties of the war, as well as a mausoleum where Franco would be buried.
Parking near a monastery where prisoners were allowed to attend Sunday services, Ms. Solomon and Barbara posed as tourists, kept a car running and waited while Benet procured a pair of student prisoners, who dove into the back seat to find two bottles of Scotch. They later crossed over the Pyrenees to find refuge in France.
Ms. Solomon maintained a relationship with Benet for several years and helped him found Peninsula, an underground literary magazine that was smuggled into Spain, before returning to the United States in the early 1950s, again seeking a change of pace.
She married Harold W. Solomon, a law professor, in 1952, and he died in 1967. In addition to their daughters, both of Manhattan, survivors include four grandchildren and one great-grandson.
In her essays, Ms. Solomon recounted love affairs with authors such as Clancy Sigal and Spanish novelist Juan Goytisolo. Regarding European men, she wrote, her attitude was always the same: “Serve them three perfect meals a day; keep the steam heat shut off, bottled water in the refrigerator, and the blinds drawn tight across the windows at night. After that, I expect them to clue into my needs. Well, there is one more thing. Never ask too many questions.”
Ms. Solomon graduated in 1960 from Columbia University’s School of General Studies and credited workshops led by editor Martha Foley with spurring her development as a novelist. She later wrote “Smart Hearts in the City” (1992), about a middle-aged widow, and founded the Reading Room, a literary journal that published work by Kenneth Koch and Stanley Crouch, as well as by aspiring writers she taught at the City College of New York and Sarah Lawrence College.
For years, her daughters recalled, she was often found writing near the window of her Upper West Side apartment, typing on a portable Olivetti while listening to an eclectic soundtrack that might include “Guantanamera,” a patriotic Cuban song, or Benny Goodman’s rendition of “Hello, Dolly!”
In 2008, Ms. Solomon became the first North American to receive the Francisco Cerecedo Prize, a top journalism honor in Spain. But she scoffed at those who sought to lionize her or elevate her resistance efforts in Spain. “The butcher, baker and candlestick maker who’re thrown in jail don’t enter history — they’re not writers,” she told a Columbia University interviewer. “But writers can become known. History’s not fair.”