Autobiography is a tricky business. The boundary between modesty and conceit becomes fuzzy and there is no such thing as a middle path. But Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t need a middle path. He brazenly cuddles his pride, parades his achievements and flaunts his money. In Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, Arnold, with his co-author Peter Petre, turns his memories into stories, his victories into events.
In this carefully scripted book, Arnold ensures his muscle show does not take prime pages since he already has authored five books on that. Not surprising when we learn that bodybuilding was something Arnold thought as his prospective livelihood even from his early days at Thal, Austria. Born in a year of famine, Arnold’s earliest physical fitness competitor is his elder brother Meinhard Schwarzenegger. At 15, he befriends a bunch of wannabe bodybuilders and chose bodybuilding as a mode to get into America.
Before he moves to Munich to work at a gym, he has a brief stint in the Austrian army where Arnold, the tank driver, nearly runs over army soldiers when he takes his tank on a race. His military account adds a placid levity, which is considerably spaced out in the book. His futile first attempt at Mr.Universe, his use of steroids for a competition (he later rallied against use of drugs in bodybuilding), and his successive world champion titles are recorded with so many numbers that one loses track of his achievements. Through Joe Weider, he enters his dream destination — America, and is forever winning Mr.World, Mr.Universe and Mr.Olympia titles before choosing Hollywood as his next stop.
In true Hollywood style, Arnold initially loses insignificant film roles only to clinch the mighty Terminators and Commandos. The making of Terminator and Conan the Barbarian produce delightful nuggets. “Jim (James Cameron) would be shooting… He was so knowledgeable that the stunt guys felt like they could really talk shop with him.” Sharing almost equal page space with his Hollywood projects are his shrewd money-making skills through realty and a dozen other businesses.
Among a grab-bag of things Arnold takes pride in, his expertise in networking with people who could pull strings at the right places is his dearest. He reminds the reader of his people skills several times over, especially when he finds a way to get an American citizenship without losing his Austrian passport (“I don’t cut things from my life, I add.”). But his pompous voice grows the loudest when he deals with politics a few pages later.
What starts as a mild complaint about his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, matures into full-blown accusations spread over two chapters. But his pitch to clean up energy-deprived California and his campaign despite initial bad publicity evokes a gentle reverence for the moderate Republican’s dogged attempt at politics. “They’re going to say that I have no experience and that I’m a womanizer and that I’m a terrible guy…but I want to clean up Sacramento.” He wins the election as the governor, serves two terms and gets back to where he strikes gold — Hollywood.
Memoirs, by nature, are scrupulously descriptive. Total Recall not only validates its genre but goes a tad indulgent when it talks about Christmas decorations and floral patterns at Arnold’s house. Arnold feeds a couple of chapters with memories of meeting his ex-wife Maria — her campaign for Ted Kennedy’s election, her strategy to get Arnold on stage for his seventh Mr.Olympia crown, her non-argumentative persuasion in getting things done (“I could go on for hours about what draws me to Maria but still never fully explain the magic.”).
In the book’s final chapter, Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about marketing as his gifted flair (“No matter what you do in life, selling is a part of it”). It does prove true with the smart timing of the book’s release when his divorce-causing scandal is so fresh in the minds of the readers. But scandal isn’t what Arnold likes to call it. The subject is treated scarcely, if at all.
‘The Secret,’ one of the briefest chapters in the book, has a two-page confession he made to his wife (when she confronted him about the child he secretly fathered with the housekeeper at a marriage counsellor’s office) and a brusque reasoning (“…secrecy is just part of me.”).
People like Joe Weider and Reg Park dominate the initial pages of the book and Maria, the final slice. Celebrities like Bill Clinton, James Cameron, Warren Buffett and the Kennedys get a walk-on part each somewhere in between.
Throughout the 600 pages, Arnold Schwarzenegger is sometimes self-critical, many times haughty. But clearly, the penniless-immigrant-turned-billionaire-politician, in combination with Peter Petre, is a smashing story teller.
This article has been corrected for an editing error.