“I am standing in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In a glass case in front of me are some small, irregular beads of dark, honey-coloured amber. Discovered in a Mycenaean tomb in Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, they date from between 1700 and 1300 BC, the dawn of classical civilization. At around the same time, in north Wales, hundreds of amber beads were placed in a stone-lined tomb along with a body wrapped in the spectacular gold shoulder ornament known as the Mold Cape, now in the British Museum. Amber has been found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and in the ruins of Troy. The Etruscans imported large amounts of it, which they used to adorn jewellery, as doid the Romans after them.” So begins literary critic, cartographer and historian, C. J. Schüler’s illuminating and entertaining travelogue-cum-memoir following the Amber Route, retracing “some of the deepest fault lines in European history,” and his family’s hidden history as he goes.
A dinosaur DNA-carrying mosquito preserved inside a piece of amber was the catalyst for classic film Jurassic Park, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. As Schüler points out, this may have seemed far-fetched back in the 1990s, but not so now. A mosquito dating back to age of dinosaurs was found preserved in amber in 2019.
Continue reading Review | Along the Amber Route, St Petersburg to Venice – C. J. Schüler | Book of the Week
C. J. Schüler is based in London where he works as a writer and editor. He is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography: Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars (Éditions Place des Victoires/Frechmann), and Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London, 1891–2016. His travelogue Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice, is published by Sandstone Press today. He is an occasional reviewer for The BookBlast Diary. www.cjschüler.com
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kingsbury, northwest London. Before the arrival of an Indian community transformed its high street into a brilliant array of sari shops, this was a very humdrum lower middle-class English suburb. With a German surname, less than two decades after the Second World War, it was hard to feel anything other than an oddity. After my parents divorced, when I was eleven, we moved to Hendon where, with its large Jewish community, I felt less conspicuous.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both my parents’ education was cut short, my mother’s by economic necessity and my father’s by the Third Reich. But they were keen readers, and our bookshelves held a range of classics by Jane Austen, Dickens and George Eliot, along with early twentieth-century works by writers such as George Bernard Shaw and J. B. Priestley. I still have a hardback copy of Nabokov’s Pnin from those days, though I can’t remember which of my parents chose it. Continue reading Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week
Summer in Nice on the Côte d’Azur. After a blistering two months without rain there’s a violent storm. Chantal abandons herself to the torrential rain and wades into the sea, “it’s pure joy to be swimming in both sea and rain at once, the rain falling in sheets, drenching my head.” She acquired an obsession with the sea from her mother whom she sees in her mind’s eye, “swimming, alone, unreachable, a minuscule speck against the blue immensity, an almost imperceptible dot, except in my own memory.”
Continue reading Review | Memories of Low Tide, Chantal Thomas | Book of the Week
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I think of myself as a Londoner born and bred, but in fact I’ve lived all over the place since I was a child. I’ve lived in northern California, Manchester, Oxford, Jerusalem and now Paris.
When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
I was always turning up to live in a new place with a funny accent that I had to shed if I wanted to have a hope of making friends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I loved stories about misfits who came from foreign lands, and odd little girls who didn’t fit in. The Secret Garden, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. And I adored the Norse myths. Continue reading Interview | Natasha Lehrer | Translator of the week
Today the United Kingdom, after over three years of turmoil, officially leaves the European Union. Plus ça change. Its relationship with Europe over the past thousand years has always been one of conflict and collaboration. The historian David Starkey has argued that Henry VIII’s break from the Catholic Church in Rome made him the first Eurosceptic. “Catholic Europe was now the threat, the launch pad for invasion. In other words Henry was the first Eurosceptic: the xenophobic, insular politics he created have helped to define English history for the past five centuries.”
Continue reading Review | French New Wave – A Revolution in Design | Tony Nourmond, Graham Marsh, Christopher Frayling | Reel Art Press