Slippery truth about biography

By Anne Sebba, February 18, 2009

It used to be simple: there was fiction and there was non-fiction. No longer. Now there is bio-fiction and there is imagined biography. There are novels based on true stories and edited writers’ notebooks as well as celebrity or ghostwritten memoirs, diaries and still the occasional straightforward biography. Or, should that actually be, the occasional biography written backwards?


Review: Major Farran’s Hat

By Geoffrey Alderman, February 12, 2009

By David Cesarani
William Heinemann, £20

On May 6 1947, Alexander Rubowitz, a teenage member of “Lehi” — “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”, — was abducted in Jerusalem by a “special squad” of the Palestine Police, led by Roy Farran, who later interrogated and murdered him.


Literature = art + science

February 12, 2009

Late in life, Benjamin Disraeli was asked to account for his transformation from young dandy-about-town to sombre Victorian politician. He replied: “The English prefer their statesmen like their weather — cold and grey.” Until very recently, the same could be said of how the English like their scientists. No emotion, please, we’re British.


Review: Rhyming Life and Death

By Clive Sinclair, February 5, 2009

By Amos Oz
Chatto & Windus, £12.99


At work in an identity laboratory

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 5, 2009

In a chilling reminder of how life imitates literature, the title of AB Yehoshua’s latest novel, Friendly Fire, has in recent weeks become a key phrase in Israel. “Friendly fire” was the official cause of the deaths of five IDF soldiers killed in last month’s operation in Gaza. It was also what killed the son of a character in Yehoshua’s book, and what spurred that character to try and escape Israel for an archaeological dig in Tanzania, in a desperate attempt to shed his now resented Israeli and Jewish identity.


Review: Out Of The Shadows: A Life Of Gerda Taro

By Julia Weiner, January 29, 2009

By François Maspero (Trans: Geoffrey Strachan)
Souvenir Press, £12

Gerda Taro died while photographing a battle during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, just days short of her 27th birthday. Celebrated as the first woman to photograph a battle from the front lines and the first to die covering a war, within a short period her name had been all but forgotten, only mentioned in conjunction with her partner and lover, Robert Capa.


Review: The Silence Of Dark Water: An Inner Journey

By Julia Neuberger, January 29, 2009

By Jonathan Wittenberg
Robin Clark/Joseph’s Bookstore, £17.95

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg lives life at an extraordinarily intense level. Deeply spiritual and practical at the same time, his mind is always questing while his hands create the garden of which dreams are made. His new book is a cross between autobiography, spiritual journey and a perpetual quest for truth.


He survived Auschwitz, now he judges mass murderers

By Gerald Jacobs, January 22, 2009

One day in 1943, the Nazis liquidated the Kielce labour camp in the heart of Poland. The inhabitants were made to stand in two columns while the German commandant led his soldiers between them to take the children away from their parents. When those parents tried to hold on to their children, literally for dear life, they were brutally beaten.

Amid this infernal drama, the father of one nine-year-old boy marched his son up to the commandant, to whom the boy declared: “Herr Hauptmann, ich kann arbeiten (Captain, I can work).”


Review: Three Musketeers

By Peter Moss, January 22, 2009

By Marcelo Birmajer
Toby Press, £14.99

‘Almost all good jokes about paranoid people converge on a single, serious doubt. Is paranoia a state of alienation which imagines dangers where there are none, or a state of lucidity which perceives real dangers invisible to everyone else? All paranoid people who are not psychotic will claim the second explanation; the wives of paranoids will go for the first.”


Mad and sane in Israel

By David Herman, January 22, 2009

Adam Resurrected

By Yoram Kaniuk (Trans: Seymore Simckes)
Atlantic, £7.99

The World A Moment Later

By Amir Gutfreund (Trans: Jessica Cohen)
Toby Press, £14.99

These are both big, ambitious novels about Israel, each with a rich cast of fascinating, eccentric characters. But they and their writers are very different. Kaniuk, almost 80, is a distinguished author of nearly 20 novels. Gutfreund, still in his 40s, is just starting out. More importantly, the two novels reflect different times and attitudes to writing.