Critical mass 2010

Reflections and revelations, verdicts and vignettes from a year in the life of the JC Books pages



● Zweig… brings to life the horrors of the First World War, of famine and inflation in post-war Austria and Germany, where in 1923, "a shoe lace cost more… than a luxury shop with a stock of two thousand pairs of shoes". And then he describes leaving his Salzburg home for the last time: "as the train crossed the border, I knew, like the patriarch Lot in the Bible, that all behind me was dust and ashes, the past transformed into a pillar of bitter salt."
David Herman on Stefan Zweig's memoir 'The World of Yesterday', reissued by Pushkin Press

● Resnick's childhood is so tainted by neglect and emotional abuse that were she to lie on a psychiatrist's couch it is unlikely she would ever get up again.
Brigit Grant on 'Love Junkie: A Memoir of Love and Sex Addiction' by Rachel Resnick

● Various studies show Wiesenthal to have been a complex and ambivalent figure, not above manufacturing facts to suit his purpose. Yet, despite this, his was the essential voice of conscience during the 1950s and '60s, keeping the memory of Nazi crimes alive when so many wanted to bury it.
Ben Barkow, reviewing 'Operation last Chance' by Efraim Zuroff


● Gerber quotes Jeremy Shoham, one of the newer wave generation of British jazzmen, who likens jazz improvisation…to the talmudic tradition of exploring every angle of an issue.
Michael Knipe on 'Jazz Jews' by Mike Gerber

● Most people in this country probably neither know nor care whether someone is Jewish or not.
Vernon Bogdanor reviewing Anthony Julius's massive 'Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Antisemitism in England'


● In ostentatiously rejecting their parents' political quiescence, some parts of the German radical Left crossed over to unabashed antisemitism under the thin veneer of anti-imperialism.
Oliver Kamm on 'Utopia or Auschwitz? Germany's 1968 Generation and the Holocaust' by Hans Kundnani

● With the infliction of pain such a central issue in the book, were there any qualms about circumcision? For a second, Safran Foer looks rattled. "We discussed it. We thought hard about it." And? "they were both circumcised… with anaesthetic."
Rebecca Abrams puts a sharp question to Jonathan Safran Foer about his and novelist wife Nicole Krauss's two young sons in the wake of Safran Foer's hymn to vegetarianism, 'Eating Animals'

● "Sex and death are certainly at the top of my list".
Amy Bloom reveals to Sophie Lewis her favoured short-story subjects as the American writer talks about her latest collection, 'Where the God of Love Hangs Out'

● Goldstein's glorious novel celebrates the perils, pitfalls and profound joys of a life of the mind and spirit.
Ariel Kahn on Rebecca Goldstein's '36 Arguments for the Existence of God'


● The [UN human rights] council's operations are a dark farce. Its current membership includes such bastions of freedom as Egypt, Bolivia and Indonesia. The hundreds of thousands displaced in Sudan or Sri Lanka are of no concern in comparison with Israel's actions.
Adam LeBor on 'No Enchanted Palace', Mark Mazower's history of the United Nations

● I was - and this is not a sentence I thought I would ever write - transfixed by the chapter on pi.
Simon Round reflects on his interview with Alex Bellos, author of 'Alex's Adventures in Numberland', relating his love of mathematics


● Immaculately paced and unfailingly compassionate, it lightly imparts lessons on everything from ambition and wealth to loss and longing.
Hephzibah Anderson on 'The Lessons' by Naomi Alderman

● It is a long time since I have read a book as charming as this. There is a beguiling sweetness and simplicity to Solomons's writing, yet the story is shot through with just enough darkness to keep it from becoming saccharine.
Rebecca Abrams on 'Mr Rosenblum's List' by Natasha Solomons


● Hitch-22 reads like a glorified and over-extended gossip column
Vernon Bogdanor on Christopher Hitchens's memoir

● The Hare with Amber Eyes is possibly the best Jewish book for years. Full of personal and political drama, adultery and Big History, from Dreyfus to Hitler
David Herman on the family memoir of his interview subject, potter Edmund de Waal

● "Only Dante…has written with equal power of death from hunger."
Mark Glanville quotes translator Robert Chandler on Vasily Grossman in his review of the latter's 'Everything Flows'


● The authors give us a Rabbi Schneerson who expected he would never die, yet they omit to mention that he prepared a will in 1988 and left instructions on how Chabad should be operated after his death.
David Klinghoffer on 'The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson'

● "I think it is extremely dangerous to offer prescriptions for what the writer's role should or shouldn't be. It's a recipe both for bad art and political posturing".
Adina Hoffman, interviewed by Rachel Lasserson about Hoffman's book, 'My Happiness Bears no Relation to Happiness', winner of the 2010 JQ/Wingate Literature Prize

● This is a novel of immense fluency. The writing is wonderfully mobile, and inventive, and Jacobson's signature is to be found in every sentence.
Anthony Julius on 'The Finkler Question' by Howard Jacobson, this year's Man Booker winner


● Sing on, St Bernard! The optimal survival of planet earth hath need of thee.
Michael Horovitz on 'This Room in the Sunlight' by Bernard Kops

● At his best, Grossman is certainly a great writer. But, like Philip Roth, he is one of those great writers who can be very uneven, producing whole chapters of breathtaking genius, side by side with clunky and sentimental prose.
David Herman reviews David Grossman's 'To the End of the Land'


● Good journalism is written for a specific occasion. When the occasion is past, the best use for it is as wrapping for one's salt-beef sandwiches. Bernard Levin was the ablest British journalist of his age. Yet even he could not produce a good book out of his collected journalism. Where Levin failed, Schama cannot be expected to succeed.
Vernon Bogdanor on 'Scribble, Scribble, Scribble' by Simon Schama


● For those who wish to see the Mad Men era from a London perspective, Sassoon's charming and heartfelt autobiography is a gentle, at times naive, but always enjoyable meander through world-shaking times
Jan Shure on 'Vidal', by Vidal Sassoonc

● One persistent indication of Self's psychosis as he shuffles through Los Angeles is his conviction that everyone he meets is being played by someone famous. Will himself is at times incarnated by David Thewlis, at others by Pete Postlethwaite.
Jonathan Beckman on Will Self's 'Walking to Hollywood'

● Between them, his parents had 17 siblings. Berkoff was brought up in the driving poverty of London's East End "dodging bombs" in the blitz before he and his sister Beryl were evacuated to Luton.
John Nathan reviews 'Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent', Steven Berkoff's childhood memoir.


● There are three things everyone knows about the actress Sarah Bernhardt: she slept in a coffin; she had one leg and she played Hamlet.
John Nathan on 'Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt' by Robert Gottllieb

● He colluded with his absent parents in keeping his circumstances a secret; and he effctively helped his father exile his mother to their flat in Israel, which only deepened his later sense of guilt.
Lawrence Joffe on 'Home Alone', David Cohen's recollections of a solitary childhood after he was deserted by both parents


● Lesley Blanch described her husband's writing as "an organic necessity". Gary characterised it as "une evacuation quotidienne". Bellos calls it "bullshitting".
Stoddard Martin reviews Romain Gary: 'A Tall Story' by David Bellos

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