RaveAir MailVan den Broeck spent three years visiting 13 different \'sites of failure\' ... \'My goal was to rehabilitate those architects,\' writes Van den Broeck ... It is an ambitious undertaking that pays off in surprising ways ... Van den Broeck revisits these and other architectural sites of tragedy...in astonishingly vivid detail, employing a mixture of autobiography, historical novel, essay, and diary. Her writing is often painfully intimate, to the point that she begins to over-identify with these tragic destinies.
RaveAir MailHans Janssen, the former chief curator of The Hague’s Kunstmuseum, which has the largest collection of Mondrians in the world, paints a particularly vivid portrait of these hazardous peripeties in Piet Mondrian: A Life. But most of all, Janssen’s book, which is the first comprehensive biography of Mondrian to be published in English, is a fascinating study of an artist so obsessed with his life’s work that he would let nothing and no one get in its way ... Janssen makes no secret of the fact that he sometimes resorts to fiction—always derived from Mondrian’s own writings, letters, and articles—as a way of creating revealing dialogue.
RaveAir MailIn its calibrated capaciousness, Afterlives enfolds many of the themes which Gurnah has interrogated over the years. There is a bludgeoning colonial project that seduces certain Africans as much as it repels them; lives rent asunder by the chaos of war, exile, return from exile; and the trauma of it all passed down to a subsequent generation ... The spare, descriptive prose, which is reminiscent of Alex Haley’s Roots, recounts the parallel destinies of two young African men ... comes most vividly to life when Hamza’s German commanding officer makes him his personal servant ... But bit by bit Gurnah deftly reveals something much deeper going on, which is born out of the Oberleutnant’s own tragic wartime experience ... What Gurnah does brilliantly is use fiction to put flesh on the bones of African histories that would otherwise be all but forgotten. By bringing to life a character like Hamza, he reveals how humble respect for the most basic human needs is an essential part of resilience.
Olivier Guez, tr. Georgia de Chamberet
RaveAir Mail... lean, unsparing ... Narrative nonfiction, especially concerning someone as heinous as Mengele, is a perilous exercise at the best of times. But Guez, a French journalist and the author of several books, has already earned his reader’s trust by the thoroughness of his documentation and research, which included traveling to the various South American countries where Mengele concealed himself after World War II ... a seamless translation ... [an] example of how powerful fiction can be at bringing us as close as possible to the workings of a fiendish mind.
RaveAir Mail... riveting and disturbing ... Sancton has an eye for the grisly detail ... Sancton’s skill is to bring Empain’s kidnapping and its tragic aftermath, whereby he felt abandoned by his family and associates after he was finally released by his thwarted kidnappers, back into vivid focus by employing nonfiction novelistic techniques similar to the ones that Truman Capote patented in In Cold Blood. Like Capote, Sancton is interested in the emotional consequences of a crime and its psychological impact on the victim, the victim’s family, and the perpetrators ... Into his narrative, Sancton deftly interweaves stories about Empain’s grandfather, the first Baron Édouard (Louis Joseph) Empain, and his industrial exploits, which included building the Paris Métro. He also managed to interview Empain’s half-sister, Diane, with whom he was very close, and his daughter Patricia, who talks poignantly about how her father’s kidnapping and subsequent release wrenched their family apart ... The best parts of the book are the extensive interviews that Sancton did with Caillol, who is still alive and who looks back on events surrounding the kidnapping without fear or favor. Through these conversations with Caillol, Sancton is able to establish Empain’s extraordinary bravery throughout his ordeal.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe narrator of Jessica Au’s slim, spectral novel Cold Enough for Snow is a hungry observer, full of questions about her place in the world ... Au’s novel, written without any chapter breaks, deftly uses stream of consciousness to explore the legacy of inherited family traits and the difficulty of breaking away ... The way that Au injects matter-of-fact descriptions with existential angst reminds me of no writer so much as Albert Camus.
PositiveAir MailStevens vividly describes Keaton’s early life on America’s vaudeville circuit ... Stevens’s book is not so much a straightforward biography as a remarkable cultural history with Keaton as the \'bridge between the stage-based entertainment of the nineteenth century and the mass-produced technology of the twentieth\' ... Camera Man distinguishes itself from past biographies of Keaton by underlining the resilience of his career, which latterly encompassed a circus act in Paris, several cameos in big films such as Sunset Boulevard, a syndicated television show, and numerous TV commercials, as opposed to what is most often perceived as a sad, alcohol-fueled decline.
PositiveAir MailSinuous ... Danchev...makes a compelling case for Magritte as a much more political painter than he is often given credit for ... This book leaves no doubt that the image Magritte maintained of himself as a regular citizen living a quiet life in a nondescript Brussels neighborhood was indeed performance art of the highest order.
John Le Carré
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)... quieter and more implacable for its deliberate weighing up of things ... There is no denying that occasionally Silverview feels like le Carré is re-mixing some of his greatest hits but there is much fun to be had from his placing them in a contemporary setting.
RaveFinancial Times (UK)You can see the nascent screenwriter beginning to crystallise ... a delicious compilation of his greatest hits as a journalist, selected from 1925 to 1930, shows just what a precocious talent he was ... Several of the best pieces here contain the germs of Wilder’s future films ... What shines through most in this collection is the way that Wilder yearns for the US ... Every chance he gets in Berlin to study the American male he takes. No detail escapes him.
PositiveAir MailKate Summerscale’s book plunges readers into this febrile atmosphere of uncertainty that deepened as a new world war clouded the horizon ... Summerscale has a communicative fascination for moments of societal flux ... An obvious corollary to Fielding’s own sense of persecution would be Fodor’s Jewishness at a time when anti-Semitism in Britain was rife. Summerscale sets the scene of Oswald Mosley’s infamous Blackshirts but does not dig very deeply into Fodor’s own sidelining by his employers at the International Institute for Psychical Research, or the relationship he had with his blueblooded colleagues. It is a surprising oversight from such a consummate researcher as Summerscale, and it diminishes the resonance of an otherwise admirable book.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewScott deftly exposes how life-limiting even the most well-intentioned lies can be, especially for women in a society that remains as patriarchal as Japan’s ... For the outsider, What’s Left of Me Is Yours is an extraordinary window onto a culture ... The novel’s documentary feel is further enhanced by the way Scott punctuates her narrative with \'official\' documents—an autopsy report, an incident report, a crime-scene report and witness statements. This clinical effect is offset by the sensual sweep of Rina’s budding romance with Kaitaro, the \'wakaresaseya\' who falls in love in spite of himself ... Each chapter of this enrapturing novel is elegantly brief and charged with barely contained emotion. Yet Scott’s subject remains vast: the idea that the law itself does not protect the innocent, and \'that what matters most is knowledge—of ourselves and others.\'
Emmanuel Carrere Trans. by John Lambert
PositiveThe Financial TimesCarrère’s transparency about his approach is what sets him apart...In his native France it is precisely because his non-fiction exudes an erudite intimacy and lack of obfuscation that he is hailed as a writer who can be compared with Montaigne ... The most striking thing about the 20 essays here is that they all emanate more or less from the same desire of wanting to know what it feels like to be someone else. There are delicious profiles of Emmanuel Macron and Catherine Deneuve that have a ventriloquistic quality, in that what Carrère’s subjects say is often far less interesting than what he divines about their omissions.
PositiveThe Financial TimesAs a title, The Vexations befits a novel about the uncompromising genius of a man who by the end of his life appears to have alienated everyone he cared about. However, if this makes it sound like Satie is Horrocks’ unique focus that would be misleading. The Vexations contains a richly arranged cast of characters, all of whom rub up against each other in the streets, cabarets and cafés of Montmartre, Paris, on the cusp of the 20th century. Most vivid among these are Satie’s younger sister Louise and brother Conrad ... Louise’s victory is her sanity ... It is matched by Horrocks’ gliding prose, which scatters grace notes on every page ... Horrocks’ version of Satie, despite or perhaps because of his many failings, emerges as a strangely heroic figure.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... spiky ... It’s the sort of thing that makes Koch such an intriguing writer; his provocations are designed to reveal nothing so much as our own feelings of entitlement ... seamlessly rendered into English ... a worrying glimpse of cultural incompatibility that the 65-year-old author confronts us with. But it’s also one that he shies away from by tagging on an unearned ending that feels awfully hollow, mainly because Sylvia and the couple’s teenage daughter, Diana, never emerge as fully fledged characters ... Koch spends so much time teasing the reader with little clues about Sylvia’s origins that he forgets to address a crucial matter: What did she see in her husband in the first place? Did she actually fall in love with him when he visited her homeland as a young man? Or did she use him as a chance to escape the life she was living? These are vital questions Koch chooses not to answer. By not allowing us to be party to Sylvia’s side of the story, he shows that his interest in the so-called \'other\' is strictly limited to his literary gamesmanship.
Vasily Grossman, Trans. by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler
RaveFinancial Times (UK)...a stunning translation ... It is a less philosophical, more visceral novel than Life and Fate, with Grossman intent on expressing the underlying solidarity of a \'people’s war\' where \'great deeds can be accomplished by simple, ordinary people\'. The novel’s sweep is immense, by turns microscopic and panoramic ... it would be wrong to think that Stalingrad is a gloomy novel. It teems with love, devotion and wonderful flashes of humour. Sometimes all three arrive at once ... There are dozens of such moments, but the most indelible passages arrive during the battle itself. The blow-by-blow accounts of young men willing to die to gain enough time for reinforcements to arrive from the east bank of the Volga are positively Homeric.
Sergei Lebedev Trans. by Antonina W. Bouis
RaveThe Financial Times... beautifully translated from Russian into English by Antonina W Bouis. Lebedev’s latest is his most ambitious, tackling a huge swath of Russian history — from the beginning of the 19th century up to the present day — while never letting its pacy, compelling narrative flag ... The extraordinary pathos in Lebedev’s novel is not about how such acquirements were lost but how an entire family can fall prey to helplessness if shunned. The most moving passages are those where Kirill considers the Siege of Leningrad, which left great aunt Tonya stranded ... brave and unflinching in its depiction of racial persecution.
Charles J. Shields
PositiveFinancial Times...[an] exemplary biography ... The man [John Williams] himself emerges as a complex character whose experience as a flight radio operator in Myanmar during the second world war left him \'sometimes plagued by bad dreams or periods of cold sweats from the effects of malaria\' ... Each time he had a new novel out Shields says he would take up a prominent position in the English department office and sit there smoking and drinking coffee all day, expecting that some of his colleagues would congratulate him. It never happened. Given Stoner’s posthumous success one can’t help thinking that he was shabbily treated.
PositiveThe Financial TimesSand dismisses [Michel] Houellebecq...\'as the tragicomic end of a long cycle of moral commitment of Parisian intellectuals in public affairs.\' He then takes us through the various stages of this cycle, showing considerable flair for original thinking and no little wit, even if the tone is often suitably wistful ... His solution is not sexy but sensible and has a distinctly British tang: it is time for French intellectuals to \'act as the modest and efficient servants of the public, bowing to the principles of an empirical and pragmatic policy.\'
RaveThe Financial TimesTrevor’s final gift to us is a sublime collection ... These stories, like the rest of Trevor’s fiction, are peopled by all manner of professionals: a piano teacher, a picture-restorer, a publisher’s reader, a bank teller, a print-setter and so on. Often they are women. Trevor always enjoyed creating female characters simply because he wasn’t one. It is not always an easy trick to pull off for a male writer but Trevor succeeds because his women are not passive vessels but actively wrestling to take control of their lives. One minor criticism is that they are often uncommonly chaste ... Most of Trevor’s stories use third-person narrators and their inner voices summon pathos. Yet there is no hint of authorial condescension and the characters themselves are more likely to be stoic than sentimental ... In Trevor’s worlds disappointment and loss are sent to test his characters but not destroy them ... In a lesser writer’s hands revelation would be at the heart of such a story. But Trevor, who professed to never knowing how a story was going to end before finishing it, does something far more affecting by keeping the secret in play and insisting on the necessary messiness of life.
J. M. Coetzee
RaveThe Financial TimesCoetzee focuses less on youthful panache than in what a seasoned writer with accumulated (often painful) experience can bring to an oeuvre … Coetzee’s essays on writers as diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Daniel Defoe, Heinrich von Kleist, Gustave Flaubert, the Australian Patrick White and Leo Tolstoy also pay tribute to the skills that maturity can bring … The most intriguing essay is one on Philip Roth, a rare occasion where Coetzee tackles one of his contemporaries. Coetzee looks at the Nemeses quartet, describing the novels as ‘minor’ works, redolent of a writer whose powers are on the wane.
PositiveThe Financial TimesAs this collection shows, he was a working writer with many passions ...tender articles and essays on his love of mountain-climbing, skiing, food and travel mixed in with more critical exposés of West Point, where he was a cadet, and his years as a Hollywood screenwriter ... What makes these essays so pleasurable is their steady focus on the subjects, whom Salter writes about thoughtfully and without drawing attention to himself ... Salter is as fascinated by the lives of women as those of men...his writing is occasionally hamstrung by a tendency to generalise his own objectification.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalFrance’s long history of antiterrorist legislation is given a timely appraisal in Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits, a riveting history of the Bonnot Gang, the brutal band of murdering anarchists who rattled the City of Light in the early 20th century ... These were the prototypes of modern terrorism, Mr. Merriman contended, having no specific targets but striking out blindly, causing as much damage as possible among people enjoying themselves in public. It is a rich vein of largely untapped history that Mr. Merriman continues to mine for contemporary resonance here ... Mr. Merriman gives these and other proceedings a vivid recounting. His eye for detail is particularly acute.
Hans Fallada, trans. by Allan Blunden
RaveThe Financial TimesIn Nightmare, Fallada is particularly adept at depicting the careworn lives of ordinary Germans with all their contradictory prejudices and occasional glimmers of kindness. Indeed, the novel plugs a vital a gap in its portrayal of a period — April 1945 to July 1946 — that is largely absent in postwar German literature ... Ultimately Nightmare in Berlin actually reveals that Doll is not quite as alone as he imagines. He too has his champions among German publishers who are prepared to wait as long as it takes before he recovers his nerve and writes again. Fallada’s own achievement of completing Alone in Berlin and Nightmare in Berlin just months before he died of heart failure in 1947 aged 53 cannot be underestimated. Here was a writer whose courage was to stay behind and turn his suffering and the suffering of others into extra-ordinary literature.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Sancton covered the episode’s many twists and turns closely for Vanity Fair magazine, and the book that has emerged from his reporting on the case is surely the definitive account ... While Mr. Sancton deserves credit for the depth of his investigation—he interviewed some 60 people, including lawyers, politicians, celebrities, and servants—the Bettencourt affair is treacherous territory, even for a veteran journalist. Mr. Sancton’s account is a bit too taken with idle gossip. Mr. Sancton also seems at times to have fallen under the charming spell of Mr. Banier ... Mr. Sancton’s account also suffers from the silence of Ms. Meyer and Ms. Bettencourt, both of whom turned down his requests for interviews ... [a] riveting, if somewhat tawdry, telling.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Begley has combed through an array of literature, letters, guest books, invitations, drawings and other miscellany to tease out a nuanced portrait of one of the world’s first celebrity artist-entrepreneurs. Above all, though, it is Mr. Begley’s careful study of Nadar’s portraits of famous writers, artists, actors and composers (many of them reproduced here) that recommends The Great Nadar as a window on an era of extraordinary artistic endeavor.
Mathias Enard, Trans. by Charlotte Mandell
PositiveThe Financial Times\"[Enard] occasionally overstuffs Compass with the kind of Orientalist arcana that might be better suited to a scholarly essay. However, when he concentrates on storytelling, as he does in the novel’s second half, there are passages of pure delight with rare insight into the human condition.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewImpeccably researched and pithily written, Bellos’s book provides an important corrective to these kinds of distortions ... It’s a shame there are not more personal anecdotes ... Bellos’s book also doubles as a fascinating partial biography of Hugo’s life. Here we have a writer who had the courage of his convictions.
Lesley M. M. Blume
PositiveThe Financial TimesIn Everybody Behaves Badly, American writer Lesley Blume’s impeccably researched and resonant account of the true story behind The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway emerges as a masterful opportunist with a determination to succeed bordering on sociopathic ... Almost inevitably, when tackling such a literary heavyweight, there is a lot of familiar stuff in Blume’s book...Where Everybody Behaves Badly breaks ground is by stressing how important The Sun Also Rises was in bringing modernist literature to a commercial audience and, especially, the part Fitzgerald played in helping to encourage Hemingway and shape his manuscript.