John De-Falbe

Chaos and the old order

If Gregor von Rezzori is known to English language readers, it is likely to be through his tense, disturbing novel Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (partly written in English), and/or his ravishing memoir Snows of Yesteryear. Rezzori was born in 1914 in Czernowitz in Bukovina, when it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the first world

One-man triumph

The Companion to British History (Third Edition), by Charles Arnold Baker Readers familiar with the first edition of The Companion to British History (Loncross, 1997) will already know that its value as a reference work proceeds from an inclusive attitude towards its subject. Besides providing the rudiments — monarchs, battles etc — the CBH was

Memories in a world of forgetting

It is several years since Anna Funder published Stasiland, her acclaimed book about East Germany. Her new book is a novel concerning a group of German political activists surrounding the writer Ernst Toller, who is now almost forgotten but once was well known and was president of the short-lived Bavarian Republic in 1919 for about

Captain courageous

The sum of hard biographical facts about Captain Cook never increases, nor is it expected to. It is the same with Shakespeare. J. C. Beaglehole’s Life of Captain James Cook (1974), which Frank McLynn quotes often, contains most of what is known about Cook’s family life and origins. As the son of a Yorkshire farm

Desk-bound traveller

With a new novel each year, Robert Edric cannot have much time for courting London’s literary establishment, but does he stay at home in East Yorkshire? The London Satyr is set in 1890s London and to me, a Londoner, it seems not merely researched but felt, as if its author has tramped the streets and

The start of the affair

In this season of Franzen frenzy, spare a thought for André Aciman, an American writer whose name, I think, is so far unmentioned in the daft pursuit of the Great American Novel. In this season of Franzen frenzy, spare a thought for André Aciman, an American writer whose name, I think, is so far unmentioned

Small but perfectly formed

Some years ago, Edmund de Waal inherited a remarkable collection of 264 netsuke from his great-uncle Iggie, whom he had got to know 20 years previously while studying pottery and Japanese in Tokyo. Each week the young de Waal visited his urbane, elderly relative and his friend, Jiro. He heard ancient family stories and was

Far from idyllic

We’re Levantines … hold your head up high and say, ‘Yes, I am. What of it? Byzantine and Ottoman…’ We’re Levantines … hold your head up high and say, ‘Yes, I am. What of it? Byzantine and Ottoman…’ These are the words of Lev- ent effendi, a dignified out-of-work teacher, a ‘Turk’ who turns out

The lure of the gypsies

William Blacker ‘set off to explore the newly “liberated” countries of Central Europe immediately after Christmas 1989’. From Berlin he went to Prague, where he wondered, ‘Should I continue eastwards, even as far as Romania? In the end it was old architecture which persuaded me. I had heard of the famous painted monasteries of northern

A patriarch and his family

The title story of this exceptional collection is the only one directly concerned with the presiding figure of K. K. Harouni, a wealthy Pakistani patriarch. In each of the others, a drama quietly unfolds among his extended family and dependents. In ‘Nawabdin Electrician’, Harouni’s Mr Fixit is attacked by a robber while driving his new

Hope and Glory

Home, by Marilynne Robinson Marilynne Robinson’s magnificent previous novel, Gilead, was structured as a letter by the elderly, ailing Reverend John Ames to his young son. A persistent theme was the fear that Jack Boughton, the black sheep son of his dearest friend, would exercise a malign influence on his wife and boy after his

Night thoughts in an unhappy home

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster August Brill is a widower whose leg has been smashed by a car. He lies awake at night in the house he shares with his daughter, Miriam, and his granddaughter, Katya, in Vermont. Katya’s boyfriend, Titus, has been murdered, and Miriam ‘has slept alone for the past five

Good length delivery

This short novel was first published in a tiny edition at the end of last year. Since then it has won the McKitterick Prize (for the best first novel by an author over forty), and now it is reissued with a glossy picture on the cover and a quote by Mick Jagger saying that he

Flouting the rules

This intriguing novella tells the story of a drop of oil from its earlier form as the heart of a prehistoric horse to its combustion in the engine of a Ford, where it intersects with the lives of two humans. On one of these, ‘the soot particles of the ex-heart of the horse’ operate as

Love among the journalists

At the centre of James Meek’s new novel — a fine successor to The People’s Act of Love — there is a brilliant scene in which Adam Kellas, a war correspondent, is watching two Taliban lorries driving along a ridge. In the no-man’s-land between is an ancient Soviet tank occupied by Astrid, an American correspondent

A one off

Late in My Tango with Barbara Strozzi, Phil Ockerman, the main narrator, goes to Diamond Heart in Scotland, ‘a centre of dynamic calm in which mind and spirit gather energy for the next forward move’. He is the stand-in writer to teach a course on ‘The Search For Page One’. If Russell Hoban finds it

Once happy havens

Leon Sciaky was born in Salonica in 1893, when the city was still a provincial Ottoman town. His family were grain merchants, Sephardic Jews who had been settled there for 400 years and still spoke Ladino at home. In concise, elegant prose, he describes in this memoir a childhood of Oriental pace and comforts, surrounded

Shifting hearts, shifting sands

A man of about 60 who had read the American edition of this novel — it was published there a couple of months ago — told me lately that it was a ‘grown-up book’. Among other things, I take him to mean that besides recognising the difficulties of love, it embraces them; and that love

Radium and the nature of love

For 16 years, from 1878, Blanche Wittman was a patient in the infamous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, diagnosed by the famous Dr Charcot as a hysteric. Putting Blanche on display in a cataleptic state, Charcot explained to audiences that he hoped to reveal, through her ‘a certain system, a secret code, which … could point

The maze of the mind

With the publication last year of Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear, the first volume of a trilogy and his eighth translated work of fiction, it was plain that Javier Marías was embarking on a project which required readers to leave behind all conventional ideas of what a novel is. At one point in