Books

Review: The Rowing lesson

By Lawrence Joffe, April 25, 2008

By Anne Landsman
Granta, £12

Summoned back to Cape Town from bohemian New York, Betsy Klein finds herself tending to a once irrepressible father now lying in a coma. For days, she lingers around the sterile corridors of Groote Schuur Hospital with her mother, brother and sundry nurses and doctors, all hoping against hope for Harold Klein to awake.

But the past is where the book is really located as Betsy, pregnant with her first child, recalls incidents from her loving yet anguished relationship with her father.

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Annabel Levin turns a baked bean into an award-winning story

By Candice Krieger, April 18, 2008

North-London mother-of-two Annabel Levin has won a BBC short-story competition for her tale about a fire-breathing baked bean.

Ms Levin’s story, Dr Sharpneedle Visits, was picked from 2,000 other entries in a competition organised by the BBC’s Reading and Writing initiative (RaW).

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Mike Leigh's secret

By John Nathan, April 18, 2008

An illuminating new book on the director of Secrets and Lies and Vera Drake reveals how Habonim helped him

Mike Leigh On Mike Leigh
Edited by Amy Raphael; Faber £16.99

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Provocative philosophy of violence

By Adam Lebor, April 18, 2008

As bookshop shelves groan under the weight of ghost-written biographies, misery memoirs and celebrity recipes, it is invigorating to find a publisher tackling the great questions of our age. Slavoj Zizek’s latest work Violence (£12.99) is part of Profile’s Big Ideas series. Other volumes tackle democracy, identity and bodies.

Zizek’s thoughtfully provocative book examines violence in a series of essays that ranges from the tinder-box suburbs of Paris, to Abu Ghraib prison, Stalin’s purges, and the Holocaust.

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Oedipus, Maddy and the trouble with myths

By Natasha Lehrer, April 18, 2008

Where Three Roads Meet
By Salley Vickers; Canongate, £12.99

Salley Vickers, who is both a psychoanalyst and a novelist, accepted the challenge of Canongate’s Myths series — to retell a myth “in a contemporary and memorable way” — with a smart conceit, imagining an encounter between Tiresias and Sigmund Freud, an ancient mythical character and the great modern reteller of ancient myths, in the last weeks of Freud’s life.

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Young, brave and engaged

By Angela Kiverstein, April 11, 2008

When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, 14-year-old Israeli Bat-Chen Shahak sent a poem of condolence to Rabin’s wife, Leah. The following year, Bat-Chen herself was killed by a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv. Now Kar-Ben has published The Bat-Chen Diaries revealing an engaging personality reflecting on everything from schoolgirl tiffs to righting the world’s wrongs. Highly recommended for age 11-up. (Kar-Ben, £4.99, available through Kuperard, 0208 446 2440.)

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How a diplomat took on the Shoah

By Anne Sebba, April 11, 2008

The Diplomat’s Wife
By Pam Jenoff
Mira, £6.99

Pam Jenoff’s first book, Kommandant’s Girl, had a striking cover of a Nazi in a greatcoat with swastika arm-band, locked in a clinch with a blonde woman in a red coat. Its author recalls: “initially, I had a visceral reaction against the picture, but I realised it provokes discussion about the Holocaust and that’s good. There are a lot of grey areas… it’s hard to judge people who had to live through these events.”

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The Amy paradox

By Paul Lester, April 11, 2008

Amy Winehouse: The Biography
By Chas Newkey-Burden
John Blake, £17.99

One of the problems involved in writing a biography about a super-celebrity like Amy Winehouse or her US counterpart in the tortured young diva stakes, Britney Spears, is that it is impossible to keep pace with the speed at which events in their life are relayed to us in this endlessly updated Internet-scurril age. Chas Newkey-Burden’s account takes us up to late 2007, with a brief reference on the book jacket to the five statuettes she received at February’s Grammy awards in the States.

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Think yourself happy

By Simon Round, April 11, 2008

Nutrition expert Dr Michael Sharon says he has discovered the secret of happiness.

Michael Sharon is a happy man. He is not happy just because he is financially well off, although he is. He is not happy just because he has a loving relationship with his partner, although he has one. And although he is happy that his new book is being published, his happiness in not just about that.

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Lunch with the man who ate the world

By Simon Round, April 11, 2008

Food critic Jay Rayner dined at the best restaurants in five continents. It was in Russia that Jay Rayner came face to face with his Jewish food heritage in the most bizarre and surreal fashion.

Rayner was sitting in the Sirena, one of Moscow’s top and over-the-top restaurants. It is, says Rayner, a strange place to eat. The floors are made of glass, there are sturgeon and carp swimming beneath the feet of the oligarchs perusing the menu.

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