Lead book review

Simon Kuper

Nazi gamesmanship

The British diplomat Robert Vansittart had been warning against Nazism for years, so it was a surprise when he and his wife showed up in Berlin for a two-week ‘holiday’ during the 1936 Olympics. ‘Van’ was impressed by German organisation. ‘These tense, intense people are going to make us look like a C nation,’ he

More from Books

Angels with dirty faces

The year 1971 was a busy one for Mary Whitehouse, self-appointed ‘Clean-up TV’ campaigner. Not only did she help establish the Nationwide Festival of Light, making religious inspired protests against the so-called permissive society, she also wrote an autobiography, Who Does She Think She Is?, published by New English Library. Thus her thoughts regarding the

Fit for the gods

For many of us, coffee is the lift that eases the load of our working day. Yet the sharpened mental focus it offers is rarely directed towards its origins. Coffee’s birthplace is Ethiopia and its beans remain high on caffeine aficionados’ hit lists. They produce smooth brews that carry an extraordinary range of tastes —

Paris mismatch

There has been much debate recently about what exactly constitutes ‘literary’ fiction. If the term means beguiling, gorgeously crafted novels that are assured of their place alongside other writers, reacting to, and taking pleasure in discussing them; that are aware of the world’s events and their impact on humanity; that have delicately drawn characters; and

Soft dystopias

Science fiction, as any enthusiast will tell you, is not just about gazing into the future but also about illuminating the present. In a new collection of short stories by the veteran sf author M. John Harrison, lurid visions of aliens and spaceships play second fiddle to melancholic snapshots of plodding suburbia. Many of the

With Europe, but not of it

Dr Felix Klos is an extremely personable, highly intelligent American-Dutch historian who has undertaken much archival research, worked extremely hard and is an excellent writer. In trying to persuade us that Churchill favoured Britain joining a federal Europe, however, he comes up against several immovable obstacles. The most serious of these is that in the

Accentuate the positive | 15 February 2018

A good, solid life-threatening illness can be the making of a writer. This has certainly been the case for Genevieve Fox, a long-serving journalist, whose delightful and moving first book Milkshakes and Morphine was inspired by a diagnosis of head and neck cancer. The illness, though treatable, is just as grim as it sounds: she

Pleading with the emperor

Yetemegn was barely eight years old when her parents married her off to a man in his thirties. Before she could become a spouse, he first had to raise her. Her education involved beatings when she left the house, even if it was only to borrow shallots from a neighbour. At 14, she gave birth

Unlucky at cards, unlucky in love

A Moment in Time reminded me of the sort of British expatriate women I used to meet in the south of France more than 50 years ago. They were very proud of their nationality, rather broke and talked down to most people. Colonel so-and-so and Lord so-and-so were distant relations or acquaintances. It also reminded

Dreams of the green room

Surfing has come of age. Like rock and roll, it was once strictly for young people, edgy and alternative and physically way too demanding for anyone over the age of 27. But those young people grew up and they’re still at it. For millennials it’s hard to maintain a sense of cool when your parents

Fighting other people’s battles

What’s the point of a cover if not to judge a book by? One look at the image on the dustjacket of From Byron to Bin Laden, one of my favourite statues in Rome — Anita Garibaldi, pistol in one hand, babe in the other, galloping side-saddle to escape an ambush — and I said

Life in reverse

The publication of César Aira’s The Lime Tree in Chris Andrews’s assured translation is a reminder that much of the Argentinian writer’s massive literary output — now more than 70 books — remains inaccessible in English. In this novella, which teases readers with suggestions of the autobiographical, Aira has one eye on his country’s past

Stripped to the bone

Early on in Amy Tan’s 1989 bestseller, The Joy Luck Club, a Chinese concubine slices a chunk of flesh from her arm and drops it into the soup she has made for her dying mother. She spills another bowl of soup over her young daughter, seriously scalding the child’s neck. When that scarred little girl