RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)When is a life worth telling? Edmund de Waal’s haunting account of a Parisian collector and the fate of his Jewish family during the German occupation of France combines ghastly drama with domestic detail, in a jewel-like amalgam of history and personal reflection that absorbs from start to finish.Ten years on from The Hare with Amber Eyes, de Waal turns his careful, exacting gaze on the life and times of the Count de Camondo, a scion of a Constantinople banking family known as the \'Rothschilds of the East\' ... With elements of art history, social history, personal experience and quest, a book of this sort could so easily go wrong. In the absence of conventional plot, the challenge is to create a forward momentum, something that Bruce Chatwin, say, was notably skilled at doing. (Chatwin’s novel about a Meissen porcelain collector, Utz, is, I think, a clear influence.) However, de Waal is a writer of grace and restlessly enquiring intelligence, and Letters to Camondo succeeds admirably.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)In fast-paced, John le Carré-like pages (spies, Nazi-hunters, dark Vatican forces), Sands charts his own changing relationship with the deluded Horst von Wächter ... With enough twists and turns to keep the reader grimly absorbed, Ratline is an electrifying true crime for the contagion lockdown.
RaveThe Evening Standard (UK)Thank goodness for Richard Greene, whose splendid one-volume biography offers a succinct counterbalance to Sherry’s inedible trifle and conjures the man Evelyn Waugh nicknamed \'Grisjambon Vert\' (French for \'grey ham green\') in all his perplexing variety. Where Sherry is tactless and indecorous, Richard Greene (no relation) is respectful and considered. Crisply written ... Excellent use is made of the thousands of letters from Graham Greene to his family, friends, publishers, agents and close associates that have come to light since Sherry published his first volume in 1989. Cogently argued and happily free of jargon, The Unquiet Englishman offers a long-needed antidote to \'dirty linen\' biographers who have sought to expose a darker shade of Greene and, in consequence, lost sight of the books. At last Graham Greene has the biographer he deserves.
RaveEvening Standard (UK)Saunders, a former petroleum engineer, likes to disassemble and analyse, yet this is not a dry, technical guide on how to write ... he...communicates in plain prose much of what his students have taught him, as well as his own personal musings on life, art and death. Suffused with a wry humour, the essays are aimed at anyone interested in how fiction works ... His book is what every lover of pre-Revolution Russian literature needs close by: not an academic interpretation, but a reader’s companion. I was pleasurably absorbed from start to finish.
PositiveEvening Standard (UK)Gretton’s is manifestly not a conventional history ... Some may weary of Gretton’s reflections on his Suffolk childhood, his Cambridge University years and love of swimming ... It is not always clear how these excursions serve the book’s exploration of \'white collar\' killers and their enormities, though one should applaud the experiment ... The book is powerfully influenced by the Italian Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi’s reflections on human cruelty, and by Claude Lanzmann’s nine-and-a-half-hour film Shoah. It makes significant demands on the reader’s time, patience and, one might add, wrists (the hardback is heavier than a housebrick). It is worth persevering, though, as the writing has the power at times to mesmerise.
RaveThe Observer (UK)... superb ... not a dry academic work...with rare narrative verve, Hazareesingh conjures his subject’s extraordinary life ... In concisely written pages, Hazareesingh rescues Louverture from the ideological and political aggrandisements that so often misrepresented him in the past ... Hazareesingh is careful to return Louverture to the primary sources.
Fernanda Melchor, Trans. by Sophie Hughes
PositiveNew Statesman (UK)For all its unpleasantness, Hurricane Season has the power at times to mesmerise ... Structurally adventurous...Melchor does not make things easy for the reader ... Hurricane Season is a book that makes significant demands on the reader’s willingness to submit to a dyspeptic vision of Mexico today ... With its paraphernalia of scythe-wielding carnival skeletons, grinning skulls and other cactus-prickly delights, the book might have issued from the charnel house of Baudelaire’s imagination ... The book’s incidental digressions on the nature of machismo and misogyny, religious prejudice and police corruption are only rarely tedious. Hurricane Season is, among other things, an apology for a mystery novel without a solution ... Sophie Hughes deserves a medal for her translation, which expertly captures the novel’s lugubrious comedy and propulsive, high-octane scatology ... If Hurricane Season has a fault, it lies in the unrelentingly dark and testy quality of its vision, which allows for little or no hope.
John Le Carre
RaveThe Times Literary SupplementJohn le Carré’s twenty-fifth novel, Agent Running in the Field, reflects on the threadbareness of post-imperial Britain and the \'mirage\' of the country’s importance on the world stage ... When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Le Carré was apparently left without a clear subject: the USSR had evaporated, and with it the Cold War antagonisms that informed his spy fiction. Nevertheless he kept a hawk-eye on the new Russian oligarchs and their connections with private arms contractors and international fraudsters of one stripe or another. A bravura performance, Agent Running in the Field continues his exploration of corruption in the City of London and the money being pumped into it from Putin’s Moscow. At the age of eighty-eight, the author has lost little of his gift for creating Big Brother atmospherics and pages of taut dialogue.
RaveThe Telegraph (UK)In this scrupulously researched history, Snyder chronicles atrocities committed by both Hitler and Stalin in central Poland, western Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States ... Snyder does not argue for a supposed moral equivalence between Hitler’s extermination of the Jews and the earlier Stalinist extermination of the kulaks. On the contrary, the industrial exploitation of corpses and their ashes was a uniquely Hitlerian atrocity – a unique instance of human infamy ... As a history of political mass murder, Bloodlands serves to illuminate the political sickness that reduced 14 million people to the status of non-persons.
MixedThe Evening StandardIn places, this Oliver Sacks-like book had me drifting into unconsciousness. The brain accounts for just two per cent of our body weight yet it burns up a fifth of the calories we eat. Such baffling complexity! ... Parks, who is best-known for his Toujours Provence-like memoirs of life in Italy, succeeds admirably in bringing difficult ideas down a level ... Parks writes well enough to appeal to the layman and the mind boffin alike. Out of My Head is pleasurably nutty, self-regarding and at times quite hilarious. At the end of it all, however, we are left with no clearer idea of how consciousness might work. No matter — it’s in the nature of grey matter to baffle.
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)Salman Rushdie’s 14th novel, Quichotte, offers a familiar mish-mish of postmodernist self-reflexive preening and strenuously outlandish literary invention. The surprise is that it’s rather good ... The novel, longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, crackles with wickedly effective pastiche and pages of broad satire. Both Left and Right are ribbed by Rushdie for their harping on identity politics ... This is very much a Don Quixote for our times, made up of a dizzying multiplicity of half-finished fictions ... The novel flaunts its own cleverness, as one might expect from the author of The Satanic Verses, but it’s a wild, enjoyable ride.
RaveThe Evening Standard... a sexy, camp delight. Beneath the hard- boiled dialogue and the gangster high jinks is a familiar indictment of consumerist Japan and a romantic yearning for the past ... As mass-market fiction, Life for Sale works a treat; Hanno, dreaming of the \'sweet bath of death\', is clearly a veiled self-portrait of Mishima ... replete with Tarantino-like scenes of smuggling and murder, as well as philosophical musings on Japanese attitudes to the sword, the warrior and honour.
Edoardo Albinati, Trans. by Antony Shugaar
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)The book makes significant demands on the reader’s time, patience and, one might add, wrists (the hardback is heavier than a housebrick). It is worth persevering, though, as the writing has the power at times to mesmerize; in pages of sinuously allusive prose ... A restlessly inquisitive presence on the page, Albinati fathoms the twisted logic of his schoolboy contemporaries with the aid of theories culled rather haphazardly from Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Melanie Klein and, especially, the Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia ... Along the way, the author indulges in a giddying range of cultural interests, from regional Italian accents to the films of Sam Peckinpah and the fabular fiction of Italo Calvino ... Ingenious use is made throughout of police reports, courtroom video testimonies and wiretaps relating to the 1976–7 Circeo trials ... Though hard going in parts, The Catholic School is an important work that opens a window onto a piece of notorious horror in mid-1970s Italy.
Svetlana Alexievich, Trans. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
PositiveThe Evening Standard (UK)... an important historical document, that builds a detailed picture of juvenile life in the wartime bloodlands of Russia and the mass destruction of childhood innocence.
Vasily Grossman, Trans. by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
PositiveEvening StandardOne needs time and patience to read Stalingrad, but it is worth it. Moving majestically from Berlin to Moscow to the boundless Kazakh steppe, the novel attempts to replicate for the USSR what War and Peace had done for 19th-century Russian society and Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812. A multitude of lives and fates are played out against a vast panoramic history ... Grossman accords a proper humanity to his subsidiary cast of steelworkers, factory chemists and Red Army soldiers, who battle against the odds from their ice-bound dugouts and foxholes ... Stalingrad has now been restored to the version that Grossman himself might have wanted.
Roberto Saviano, Trans. by Antony Shugaar
MixedFinancial Times\"Throughout, Saviano displays a profound knowledge of organised crime in Naples today ... At one point [Saviano] alludes to the Neapolitan director Francesco Rosi’s 1963 film Hands over the City, which chronicles the rise of the Camorra from loan-sharking to the construction business, and eventually to involvement in drugs. The film radiates a dark, gritty beauty that is absent from The Piranhas.
Although absorbing at times, the novel lacks convincing characterisation and, it must be said, lends itself poorly to translation.\
Carlos Rovelli, Trans. by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell
RaveThe GuardianIs time real or simply a useful measurement of change? Rovelli’s book opens with a discussion of Newton’s idea of absolute \'true time\', ticking relentlessly across the universe. This is how most of us still imagine time, though Einstein showed that there is no single \'now\' but rather a multitude of \'nows\'. Rovelli goes on to consider Aristotle’s belief that what we call \'time\' is simply the measurement of change: if nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton chose to disagree. If the universe was to be frozen, time would tick on regardless...Impishly, Einstein asserted that both Aristotle and Newton were right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to a before and after; and Newton’s absolute time does indeed exist – but as a special case in Einstein’s \'spacetime\' theory of gravity, which treated space and time as one and the same. The riddle of time may ultimately be beyond our \'blurred\', Earth-bound comprehension, says Rovelli. All the same, in lucid pages, he manages to bring difficult ideas down a level. Not since the late Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time has there been so genial an integration of physics and philosophy.
Per Petterson, Trans. by Anne Born
RaveThe GuardianTrond, a 67-year-old man, has retired to a remote corner of eastern Norway, where the barren landscape comforts him after the death of his wife. The countryside idyll is destroyed, however, by the unexpected arrival of a man who knows something Trond would rather forget … Out Stealing Horses is tinged with an autumnal sense of loss and the self-examination of an old man looking back on his life. Beckett's Malone Dies is a clear influence, but Petterson is triumphantly his own man. This book is a minor masterpiece of death and delusion in a Nordic land.
Vladimir Nabokov, Olga Voronina, Brian Boyd
RaveThe GuardianSuperbly edited by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd, these letters reveal Nabokov as a considerable wit, with a gift for terse put-downs and fascination with what remained outside his class and culture.