Caroline Moorehead

Good companions

‘Choose your companions’, says an early Arab proverb, ‘thereafter your road.’ In the 1970s, Hugh Leach’s companion on his travels to Northern Yemen was Freya Stark, and she has become his companion again, in this affectionate hommage of photographs and short, scholarly texts. ‘Choose your companions’, says an early Arab proverb, ‘thereafter your road.’ In

Days of wine and shrapnel

Virginia Cowles was a 27-year-old American journalist working for the Hearst newspapers when she went to Spain for the first time. It was March 1937; the battle of Guadalajara had just brought a victory to the Republicans and besieged Madrid was an exciting place to be. Up till then, Cowles had reported mainly on events

Stemming the human tide

Long before the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944 and began their advance across France, preparations were underway for what to do about the civilians who had been displaced by the German occupiers. What everyone feared was a repeat of the chaos that followed the first world war, when refugees and returning prisoners of

Light thoughts in a dark time

Ruth Maier’s Diary, edited by Jan Erik Vold, translated by Jamie Bulloch ‘Why shouldn’t we suffer when there is so much suffering?’ wrote Ruth Maier to her friend the Norwegian poet Gunvor Hofmo in a letter smuggled from the ship deporting her from Oslo to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1942. Ruth was then 21,

Poule de luxe

‘Pauline was as beautiful as it was possible to be’, the Austrian statesman Metternich once observed. ‘Pauline was as beautiful as it was possible to be’, the Austrian statesman Metternich once observed. ‘She was in love with herself alone, and her sole occupation was pleasure’. Metternich was not quite fair. Pauline, as sculpted in Canova’s

Time out in Tuscany

In the spring of 2006, Rachel Cusk and her husband decided to take their two small daughters out of school and spend three months, a season, exploring Italy. She felt too settled, too comfortable, and if her friends wondered at what seemed like a curse of restlessness, what frightened her more was the opposite, ‘knowing

The yellow star of courage

Journal, by Hélène Berr, translated from the French by David Bellos ‘What must be rescued,’ wrote Hélène Berr in her diary on 27 October 1943, ‘is the soul and the memory it contains.’ The need to see and understand and later to remember is the theme that runs through Berr’s remarkable diary of Jewish persecution

A war of words

Resistance: Memoirs of Occupied France, by Agnès Humbert Paradoxically, wrote Jean Paul Sartre, never had French intellectuals been so free as they were under the German occupation, for having lost all normal rights to speak out, each was forced to question every thought and ask himself: ‘Rather than death…?’ In practice, most of the writers

Of zyzzyva and syzygy

Letterati: An Unauthorised Look at Scrabble and the People Who Play it, by Paul McCarthy Make no mistake: Scrabble is a brutal game. Given a chance to foil an opponent, the dearest friend will turn sly and dogmatic. No surprise then to discover that in North America Scrabble is a cut-throat business, in which computer-generated

A futile solution

In 1939, the six-year-old Eva Figes escaped Nazi Berlin for London. Her family were secular Jews and her father, who had been arrested after Kristallnacht, had spent some months in Dachau. Left behind were grandparents and two maids, Edith and Schwester Eva, both Jewish: by 1939, it was forbidden for Jews to employ Aryans. Schwester

Less mighty than the sword

Caroline Moorehead on Daoud Hari’s memoir of Darfur When Daoud Hari was a boy, the villages of northern Darfur were peaceful places. He had a camel called Kelgi, to which he was much attached, and a vast clan of Zaghawa traditional tribal herdsmen as cousins. Sent away to school in El Fasher, he developed a taste

Putting the jackboot in

He who holds Rome, Churchill told Roosevelt and Stalin in November 1943, ‘holds the title deeds to Italy’. Two months earlier, immediately after the armistice and the surrender of the Italian forces, the main Allied invasion force had landed at Salerno, just south of Naples, and were now fighting their way north. It was, as

Lost and found

When Starbucks in the United States decided to promote Ishmael Beah’s memoir of life as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone it seemed to many a surprising choice. A Long Way Gone, with its descriptions of atrocities and terror, is a far cry from the daily travails of footballers’ wives and celebratory chefs. But stories

A Frenchman for all seasons

From soon after his death in 1838, Prince de Talleyrand, First Minister, Foreign Minister, President de Conseil and Grand Chambellan under a succession of French governments, became the subject of innumerable biographies. They have continued to pour out, year after year, though few of them have been as enjoyable as Duff Cooper’s Talleyrand in 1932,

Papa on the warpath

In 1961, when he was 62, Ernest Hemingway shot himself. Almost half a century later, this bombastic, vainglorious, paranoid man, whose writing captured the minds not only of his own generation but of all subsequent ones, still exercises a powerful attraction for biographers. Though no one has yet written a better account of Hemingway’s unhappy

Manners elevated to a high art

No society has ever thought about itself more intensely, or spent more time considering how best to present itself, than the ancien régime in France for the 150 years or so which led up to the revolution. As Benedetta Craveri demonstrates in her excellent and extremely readable The Art of Conversation, this ideal of living

The art of sucking eggs

A grandmother, wrote Queen Victoria in a letter to her daughter, the Princess Royal, in June 1859, ‘must ever be loved and venerated, particularly one’s mother’s mother I always think’. Few are the modern grandmothers fortunate enough to attact much veneration, but, as Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall makes clear in her guide for the best grannies, it’s

Campaigning on the campus

Do campus novels reflect the reality of university life? When I was a Fellow of Peterhouse, back in the Eighties, I was asked with tedious regularity whether the experience resembled Porterhouse Blue, Tom Sharpe’s grotesquely overblown satire. But even as I (truthfully) denied it, a few vignettes would slide past my mind’s eye — such

The questions dated, the answers fresh

Curious Pursuits is a collection of the ‘occasional writing’ of Margaret Atwood — essays, reviews, talks and introductions to books. Such rehashes often remind one of Juvenal’s adage that ‘twice-cooked cabbage is death’: it was, indeed, only as a fan of Margaret Atwood’s that I wanted to review this book at all, since it would

The boy done good

The saga of Naim Attallah and his writing career continues. For readers who have just joined, Attallah’s short morality tale about his simple and happy childhood with his good and loving grandmother and great-aunt, The Old Ladies of Nazareth, appeared last year. It came swiftly on the heels of Jennie Erdal’s entertainting memoir, Ghosting. In