New york

Home to mother: Long Island, by Colm Toibín, reviewed

Colm Toibin’s new novel starts with a bang – or rather, the results of one. It is only on the second page that an Irishman arrives at Eilis Fiorello’s house and threatens to leave his wife’s love child on her doorstep, it being also the doorstep of the father, Tony. ‘If anyone thinks I am keeping an Italian plumber’s brat in my house and have my own children believe that it came into the world as decently as they did, they can have another think.’ As a sequel to Brooklyn, it makes sense that Long Island is quick out of the blocks. Which is exactly what Eilis and Tony are

How to bottle Britishness

The US crackdown on trade finance for Russia from international banks – designed to impede imports needed for the continuing assault on Ukraine – is biting hard, reports the FT, quoting an investor who thinks ‘the logical endpoint of this is turning Russia into Iran’. Quite right too: sanctions like these are a vital non-military way to hobble Vladimir Putin’s campaign. But war and finance intersect in many different ways. Consider also the fate of 400 western-owned commercial aircraft that were leased to Russian airlines before the invasion in February 2022. Now stuck in Russia or its satellites, unmaintained to western standards and unfit to fly back into our airspace,

‘Now I have been made whole’: Lucy Sante’s experience of transition

Lucy Sante concludes her thoughtful and occasionally poetic memoir with the words: ‘Now I have been made whole.’ Before transitioning at the age of 66 she had lived her life as a deeply divided man. This is an affecting book that could help move the trans debate forward from its currently undignified state of abuse and polarity. Sante interweaves the story of the first 18 months of her transition with that of the first three decades of her biography. Her parents emigrated to New Jersey from Belgium, initially when she was four (there were subsequent toings and froings). She writes a lot about her identity as a working-class Walloon, an

The quiet brilliance of street photographer Saul Leiter

This is the second exhibition of mid-century New York street photography at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. The first, in 2022, surveyed the work of Vivian Maier, who at her death left behind a vast quantity of prints and negatives: evidence of a hidden life unsuspected even by those in whose household she lived and worked for four decades. There are continuities between Maier and the subject of the current show, Saul Leiter. They were contemporaries, loners who lived into their eighties (Leiter died four years after Maier, in 2013), prolific but uninterested in recognition, their reputations largely posthumous. Leiter was born in 1923 in Pittsburgh, like Andy Warhol

The problem with trying to resuscitate dying languages

Books about endangered languages tend to be laments, full of shocking statistics and portraits of impossibly frail, ancient last speakers in faraway places. Ross Perlin’s exuberant, radical book blasts that away, exploring, instead, New York, now ‘the most linguistically diverse city in the history of the world’, home to more than 700 languages (of approximately 7,000 on the planet), and a ‘last improbable refuge’ for many speakers of ‘embattled and endangered’ tongues. ‘Far from being confined to remote islands, towering mountains or impenetrable jungles, they are now right next door.’ So one block of flats in Brooklyn is a ‘vertical village’, home to 100 of the world’s 700 speakers of

A multicultural microcosm: Brooklyn Crime Novel, by Jonathan Lethem, reviewed

Would readers approaching this novel (although novel might not be precisely the right word) without any indication as to the authorship recognise it as the work of Jonathan Lethem? It doesn’t have kangaroo gangsters packing heat, or sentient miniature black holes, or marine drills converted into nuclear-powered limos. It is not set on an alien planet, or in a parallel universe, or inside a simulated game. There are a few hints. It is set in Brooklyn and has a vaguely geeky feel to it; but tonally it seems very different to Motherless Brooklyn or The Fortress of Solitude. Instead of vernal exuberance there is autumnal wistfulness, but certainly not sentimentality.

New York has cancelled Mozart

Gstaad This is the best news since the Bush-Blair duo saved us from the nuclear holocaust Saddam was about to unleash upon us. Half a Unwanted electric cars pile up everywhere but the government has gone as deaf as Beethoven million, perhaps even one million dead Iraqis later, we were nevertheless saved with minutes to spare, so we should always believe official sources. Especially when Uncle Sam is involved. This time the good news is not nuclear but musical. The Mostly Mozart Festival has been cancelled by New York’s Lincoln Center after 60-odd years because of rising disdain for ‘elitism and exclusivity’. Instead we have the Criminal Queerness Festival, a

The problem with the Bibby Stockholm barge

For British taxpayers perturbed by their £6 million daily bill for housing asylum seekers in hotels, New York City mayor Eric Adams has the solution: handbills. Exasperated by a sudden influx he characterises as a ‘disaster’, Adams plans to dispense police-tape yellow flyers both at the city’s 188 sites for housing migrants and at America’s overrun, purely notional southern border. The leaflets warn in English and Spanish: ‘Since April 2022, over 90,000 migrants have come to New York City. There is no guarantee we will be able to provide shelter and services to new arrivals. Housing in NYC is very expensive. The cost of food, transportation, and other necessities is

Terrorists you might know or love: Brotherless Night, by V.V. Ganeshananthan, reviewed

Brotherless Night is the second novel by V.V. Ganeshananthan, an American writer of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, whose debut, Love Marriage, was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2008. Here, as in her previous book, a female narrator unpicks the lives of a Sri Lankan family torn apart by civil war. Sashi’s reason for studying medicine, and her oft-repeated mantra, is: ‘First do no harm’ The prologue, set in New York in 2009, explodes with its opening sentence: ‘I recently sent a letter to a terrorist I used to know.’ But the bulk of the novel, set in 1980s Sri Lanka, is a mesmerising portrait of time and

New York hotels with a literary twist

‘You really ought to read more books – you know, those things that look like blocks but come apart on one side.’ Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald was aiming for a motivational tone – literature was his livelihood, after all. He was also a seminal figure in the writers’ movement that began in 1920s New York and, over the following decades, took root in hotels across the city. Hot on the heels of Spectator Life‘s guide to London’s literary hotels, here are five New York hotels with their own tales to tell. The Algonquin Hotel The Algonquin’s association with the infamous Round Table of the 1920s has provided it with more

Barbara Ker-Seymer – Bright Young Person in the shadows

English Modernism was graced by five daring and gifted women who were in many respects well in advance of their native male counterparts: Virginia Woolf and Anna Kavan in prose, Edith Sitwell in poetry, Elisabeth Lutyens in music and Barbara Hepworth in sculpture. Barbara Ker-Seymer is not remotely in this class. She took some attractive photo-portraits before the war in her studio above Asprey’s and that was it. After leaving St Paul’s Girls’ School, Barbara was soon drinking, drugging and dancing round town Not that Barbara cared. Though trained at the Chelsea School of Art, she had a deprecating attitude to her activity which was characteristic of English amateurism and

Caught between conflicting desires – for liberty and belonging

A friend recently moved back to the UK after living in China for ten years. Being English, he was always going to be an outsider in China, but what surprises him now is how foreign he feels in England too. He asked me whether this feeling ever ended. I told him that I suspect people like us will never fully belong anywhere again. The novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo articulates this sense of alienation exquisitely, knowing exactly what it’s like: ‘Part of me is always in exile.’ She left China in her late twenties when she was already a published author. In Radical, she tries to come to terms with

Who is the real Anna Delvey?

Everything is going according to Anna Delvey’s plan. If you’ve read anything about her, you probably think her plan was all about money; to extract millions of dollars from unwitting marks before knocking them to the sidewalk in her hurry to zoom around in private jets with other brainless socialites. There was plenty of that, of course. If you’ve seen the extravagant Delvey portrayed by Julia Garner in Netflix’s Inventing Anna, you know about the fake heiress who infiltrated New York’s rich set, flitting between boutique hotels with a bizarre ‘German’ accent and Chanel sunglasses bigger than her skull. That Anna demands VIP treatment and calls herself an icon and a

The hyper-competitive world of New York parenting

I stumbled upon it in one of the darkest corners of the internet: a Facebook parenting group. The mother’s intentions were pure, I tried to tell myself. But I couldn’t help feeling exasperated – and even a bit saddened – by her post: ‘I’m desperately looking for a Rubik’s cube tutor for my son,’ read the message. ‘He’s four.’ It was June 2020. The world was in the horrendous early throes of Covid-19. Governments were struggling to contain the virus. Researchers were working around the clock to churn out a vaccine. Millions had already lost their jobs and their health. Millions more would lose their lives in due course. And

The lessons of New York’s carnage

New York I am seriously thinking of visiting a shrink (just kidding) as I now have definite proof that I am crazy. Instead of remaining in England and going to Badminton for the Duke of Beaufort’s 70th birthday bash, and catching a glimpse of the love of my life, Iona McLaren, I find myself in a rotten place where a small headline in the New York Post announces: ‘16 shot during bloody day in NYC.’ All I can say is that the Bagel’s salad days are over. The streets are awash with homeless druggies who are violent and perform their functions right out in the open, even on Park Avenue.

A character assassination of Rudy Giuliani

Lord help me I love a hatchet job, and you’ll have to too if you want to make it through Giuliani before donating it to Oxfam. This is not just any old biography – it’s a 480-page character assassination. Born in 1944 to an ex-con who broke kneecaps for a living and a mother who was about as ambitious as Margaret Beaufort, Rudy Giuliani excelled at school, qualified as a lawyer and started making his mark as a prosecutor. Across 12 days in 1986, he won convictions against the heads of four New York crime families (the fifth was murdered before he came to trial), a politician from the Bronx

What’s new in New York City

‘It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story,’ said Agatha Christie. More than 60 years later, the Queen of Crime’s words still hold true. The Big Apple is a constantly changing beast: an enigma that, just as you think you’ve cracked it, coils itself into a new form for you to get your head around once more. That is what makes it the ideal return city break. Each time you travel there’s a new restaurant, hotel or show to try. And with many launches delayed by Covid-19, this year has brought an even greater glut of openings –

Welcome to post-truth America

A couple more weeks in the Bagel and then on to dear old London. I’ve had a very good time partying with young friends here, but the place reeks, literally as well as metaphorically. The rate of violence is creeping up, with gangs shooting at each other even on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, right where the poor little Greek boy grew up. Where a commemorative plaque marking young Taki’s residence should have been put up long ago for services to American women, there was a corpse. The next day, it was forgotten, as an 11-year-old was gunned down in the Bronx. What used to be extreme radicalism is now

The day Elizabeth Taylor kidnapped my daughter

New York Back in the good old days the Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was the hotel for Yankee swells, rich politicians such as JFK, and, of course, upper-class Eurotrash. Both my children were born at a hospital nearby, and both newborns spent their first month of life at the hotel. Alexandra and I would leave our nearby brownstone, which was more upside down, and move to the Carlyle, which was more sideways, thanks to my dad’s generosity. We were given the presidential suite with round-the-clock service and doctor availability galore. While waiting for her brother to be born, my five-year-old Lolly had the run of the hotel

New York has become the city that never eats

Is there anything more extraordinary than dining in New York City? Whether you’re sitting down for the Michelin star experience of a lifetime at Le Bernardin or squeezing in at the counter of Vanessa’s Dumpling House on the Lower East Side ($1 a pop), the New York restaurant combines atmosphere with quality food in a way that few other cities around the world can match. Every cuisine is on offer, 24 hours a day: and if you’re willing to do a little research beforehand, you can all but guarantee yourself a meal worth every penny. Under normal circumstances, cuisine competition between London and New York isn’t really a contest at