The literary year in our own words

December 11, 2008

January 4

It is worth reflecting that the country that gave us President Ahmadinejad has also produced a popular TV drama based on the true story of Iranian diplomats in Paris during the Nazi occupation who forged passports to help French Jews flee. It is a fair bet that this programme, in which the Holocaust is a fact, would not have been made elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East.

Ali Ansari on The Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US, by Trita Parsi


Tales from the hidden celeb Soho

By Alex Kasriel, December 11, 2008

To London’s glitterati he is known as the “Prince of Soho”, friend and confidante of celebrities and media types. But to London’s underworld fraternity he is known as something rather different: the boy who witnessed his father being gunned down in a gangland shooting.


Review: Lyrics 1964-2008

By Jenni Frazer, December 4, 2008

By Paul Simon
Simon & Schuster, £20

For more than 40 years, a short, Jewish New Yorker has been steadily turning out some of the greatest lyrics and music of our age, painting sharp and pithy word-pictures in that most ephemeral of things, the perfect pop song.


Extra curricular secrets

By Madeleine Kingsley, December 4, 2008

At Belgrave Hall, small girls of great privilege are hothoused by a fine headmistress, Lily Lidbury. The exclusive prep school on which Shirley Eskapa’s deft, dark new novel, In a Naked Place (Quartet, £15) centres, seems safe as high-end houses before the credit crunch.

Such is its cachet that parents put their daughters’ names down almost before the Apgar score is recorded. The yummiest mummies jostle for pride of place on the PTA. But Lily’s consummate professionalism conceals the loneliness of ongoing bereavement.


Review: Scarred Hearts

By Clive Sinclair, December 4, 2008

By Max Blecher (Trans: Henry Howard)
Old Street Publishing, £14.99

In his notebooks, Paul Klee wrote the following: “To stand despite all possibilities to fall.” He was referring to a tree, but he could equally well have been thinking about the human race, each member of which lives life balanced upon an invisible tight-rope.

The characters in Max Blecher’s newly resurrected novel (translated with great sensitivity by Henry Howard) have already fallen, but are not yet dead. Mortally damaged, they exist in some intermediary stage.


Review: Chocolate and Cuckoo clocks: The Essential Alan Coren

By Peter Moss, November 27, 2008

By Alan Coren (eds: Giles Coren and Victoria Coren)
Canongate, £20

The late Alan Coren and I used to live either side of Hampstead Cemetery. It was a favourite walk for both of us. Alan lived on the uber-expensive Hocroft Estate, where houses sell for uber-millions, and called it Cricklewood. I live in West Hampstead and call it East Kilburn. We both earned our daily bread writing humorously for various mediums.


Complex contest

November 27, 2008

The longlist has been announced for the £50,000 Warwick Prize, open not merely to both fiction and non-fiction titles, but to "substantial pieces of writing in the English language in any genre or form". The theme for the 2009 award is "Complexity". The 20 longlisted titles cover "politics, maths, economics, global warming, slavery, nature, music, science fiction and poetry".


Review: The Comeback

By Rebecca Abrams, November 27, 2008

By Emma Gilbey Keller
Bloomsbury, £18.99

You've got to admire Emma Gilbey Keller's chutzpah. Here we are on the cliff-edge of a major recession with job security eroding faster than the Norfolk coastline and out she comes, enjoining the sisterhood not to abandon their professional ambitions.

Professional ambitions? Remember them? The things you had in abundance before you had children and ran out of time, energy and, well, let's face it, ambition.


Life and a death in Chicago

By David Herman, November 20, 2008

On March 2, 1908, Lazarus Averbuch walks into the home of the chief of the Chicago police, who shoots him dead. Averbuch is a young Jewish immigrant, who fled his home in Kishinev after the infamous pogrom. It is the period of the anarchist scare and attendant hostility towards the new wave of Jewish immigrants. This is the dramatic beginning, based on historical fact, to Aleksander Hemon's latest novel, The Lazarus Project (Picador, £14.99). What follows is a gripping tale of history, exile and loss.


Review: Chagall: Life, Art, Exile

By Matt Shinn, November 20, 2008

By Jackie Wullschlager
Allen Lane, £30

Brightly coloured lovers flying over Russian rooftops; synagogues and rabbis; violinists; the odd donkey or two: few artists have a more easily recognisable style than Marc Chagall.