Review: Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life

By Samir El-youssef, September 2, 2009

Sari Nusseibeh with Anthony David
Halban, £12.99

Contrary to what is expected and desired, historically victimised nations are not more prudent or compassionate than others. Driven by trauma and a deep sense of injustice, they are more susceptible to extreme views and actions; their reaction to any kind of assault is more likely to be an overreaction. The history of Palestine-Israel could thus be viewed as a cycle of action and overreaction justified by extreme ideologies and political views. Moderation, especially on the weaker, Palestinian side, is a rare currency.


A question of German identity

By David Herman, September 2, 2009

Disguise (Fourth Estate, £7.99) is Hugo Hamilton’s first novel since his prize-winning memoir, The Speckled People (2003). This was the book that made Hamilton’s name, one of the best accounts of childhood written for many years. It told the story of Hamilton’s childhood in post-war Ireland, the son of a nationalist Irish father, a monstrous figure who refused to let his children speak English.


Review: 1938: Hitler’s Gamble

By Robert Low, August 27, 2009

By Giles MacDonogh
Constable, £20

Few would disagree with Giles MacDonogh’s assertion that 1938 was a year of “cataclysmal [sic] change” for Germany. At the beginning of the year, Hitler was in firm control but the army still wielded considerable independence, Germany lay within the borders laid down by the Treaty of Versailles, and its Jews, though barred from public life, retained their property and, in the author’s words, “continued to lead relatively normal lives” — a disputable assertion.


Review: America America

By David Herman, August 27, 2009

Ethan Canin
Bloomsbury £7.99

Ethan Canin has hit the jackpot with his sixth novel, a story of political intrigue, conspiracy and social change in modern America.


Growing up is hard to do

By Angela Kiverstein and Leonora Craig Cohen, August 27, 2009

What would you do if you woke up after a fatal accident in the body of a machine? This is the premise of Robin Wasserman’s chilling SF thriller, Skinned (Simon and Schuster, £6.99). Beautiful, popular 16-year-old Lia will never age or feel pain. Unable to eat, listen to music or feel emotions, she is cut off from all the things teenagers most enjoy. A “mech” or living experiment, she’s rejected by her friends and boyfriend. Only other “mechs” offer her refuge.


Writing at full gallop

By Anne Joseph, August 20, 2009

Sitting in Meg Rosoff’s comfortable Highbury kitchen sipping coffee, enjoying the welcome summer sun through the open back door is a scene in stark contrast to the hardship depicted in Rosoff’s latest book, The Bride’s Farewell (Penguin, £10.99).
Set on 19th-century Salisbury Plain, the story features a young woman, Pell Ridley, who decides to leave home on the morning of her wedding day determined to find a different life; one away from sorrow and adversity. Taking her only possession — her horse, Jack — Pell’s journey is full of mystery and romance.


The Jew who’s black, white and blues

By Michael Knipe, August 20, 2009

Really the Blues
By Mezz Mezzrow & Bernard Wolfe
Souvenir Press, £12

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Farrago
By Jim Godbolt
Hampstead Press, £19.95

Mezz Mezzrow’s notoriety as an opium addict and a dealer in marijuana has overshadowed his reputation as a jazz clarinettist and the leader, in 1937, of the first mixed-race band to perform on Broadway.


Review: Moral Clarity

By David Conway, August 20, 2009

By Susan Neiman
The Bodley Head, £20

In Susan Neiman’s lexicon, idealism is “the belief that the world can be improved by means of ideals expressing states of reality that are better than the ones we currently experience”.

She seeks to reinstate it among the left after so many withdrew from active engagement for a protracted, post-modern sulk following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their reasoning seemingly went: if that’s where political idealism leads, better stay at home reading Derrida or watching the world go to hell in a handcart on TV than try improving it.


Review: The Blue Notebook

By Madeleine Kingsley, August 13, 2009

By James Levine
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £12.99

Reading The Blue Notebook, James Levine’s fictionalised diary of a Mumbai child prostitute will seize your heart. Just 15, Batuk has already spent six years on the infamous “street of cages” — “making sweet-cake” as she euphemistically records, with 10 punters, or “bakers”, a day.


Uplifted by a pessimist

By Francesca Segal, August 13, 2009

Ariel Leve is a pessimist. She’s a hypochondriac, an Olympic-league worrier, and expends a considerable amount of energy and intellection on figuring out how, precisely, it’s all going to go wrong.

She is also very funny. Eeyore meets Woody Allen. Or, as Joan Rivers described her, “the love child of David Sedaris and Fran Leibowitz”. But then you probably know that, having read her Big Bagel columns a couple of years or so ago in this very newspaper, and no doubt her Cassandra columns too, much beloved in the Sunday Times.