The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse @WorldEdBooks and Ellis Island: A People’s History by Malgorzata Szejnert @ScribeUKbooks offer an excellent complementary read, giving a different take on getting through the gateway to the Promised Land that was the United States a century ago.
Ellis Island in New York harbour remains the ultimate symbol of American immigration. It was the continent’s busiest inspection station for sixty years until it closed in 1954. Millions of immigrants went through an extensive and elaborate legal and medical vetting process when they disembarked: Jews escaping from political and economic oppression in czarist Russia and Europe; Italians escaping rural poverty; Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Greeks . . . along with arrivants from Syria, Turkey and Armenia. Approximately forty per cent of U.S. citizens today can trace at least one of their ancestors back to Ellis Island. Continue reading Review | The Last Days of Ellis Island, Gaëlle Josse & Ellis Island: A People’s History, Malgorzata Szejnert
The Moroccan poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist, Tahar Ben Jelloun, is one of France’s most celebrated writers. He has written extensively about Moroccan culture, the immigrant experience, human rights, and sexual identity. An author who intervenes in politics, On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter (translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins) is the third book in a series in which the previous titles are Racism and Islam explained. It takes the form of a semi-imagined dialogue between him and his daughter. Continue reading Review | On Terrorism: Conversations with My Daughter, Tahar Ben Jelloun | Small Axes/HopeRoad
Tazmamart was an underground military prison in southeast Morocco where those considered enemies of the king were detained from 1972 to 1991. It was built after two failed coup d’états against Hassan II of Morocco. On 10 July 1971, around a thousand soldiers were driven to Skhirat palace, where the king was celebrating his birthday and when a shot was fired, panic ensued. Hassan survived the mayhem and those deemed responsible were rounded up and dispatched to Kenitra prison. Many of those detained were unwitting participants in the alleged coup and, like Aziz BineBine, a recent graduate of the Royal Military Academy, had not fired a shot. He was one of several army officers sent to Kenitra and later to Tazmamart. Continue reading Guest Review | Lucy Popescu | Tazmamart: 18 Years in Morocco’s Secret Prison, Aziz BineBine | Haus
“You don’t travel in order to deck yourself with exoticism and anecdotes like a Christmas tree, but so that the route plucks you, rinses you, wrings you out, makes you like one of those towels, threadbare with washing that are handed out with slivers of soap in brothels. You leave far behind you the excuses or curses of your birthplace, and in each filthy bundle lugged about in crowded waiting rooms, on little station platforms appalling in their heat and misery, you see your own coffin going by. Without this detachment and lucidity, how can you hope to convey what you have seen?” — from Nicolas Bouvier’s The Scorpion-Fish
The Swiss writer and photographer, Nicolas Bouvier, (1929-98) was a traveller in the real sense of the word, navigating different worlds and writing about forgotten people and changed places. He gives us alternative perspectives on places like the Balkans, Iran, Azerbaijan, Japan, China, Korea and the highlands of Scotland.
He is unusual in the way he writes, at times, in a stream of consciousness about the world around him and how he feels in the instant so directly and openly. In The Scorpion Fish, his description of a bomb blowing up a bus and the grisly aftermath is not only very beautifully written but mirrors his inner collapse and sense of physical decrepitude. Continue reading Review | So It Goes – Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between, Nicolas Bouvier | Eland Publishing
Ahead of the first two live podcast recordings of the 15-part weekly #BridgingTheDivide series going out on Thursday 30 July, here is a guest review of the featured book, Mazel Tov, to give a taste of what you’ll hear and experience. Tune in on Thursday at 5 and 6 p.m. to hear author J S Margot and publisher Adam Freudenheim talk about their experiences.
Towards the end of this marvellous memoir the narrator writes “If I occasionally had the temerity even briefly to think I could penetrate the millefeuille of Jewish culture, I was soon disabused of this idea.” The book is full of various cultural millefeulles that require penetrating – ironic considering that patisserie is the one gastronomic art that the Belgians do not excel in.
Mazel Tov is the story of an extraordinary friendship – in fact several extraordinary friendships that marked the twenties of the author J.S.Margot. At first sight it is the story of a young Flemish woman at university in Antwerp who teaches the four children of an Orthodox Jewish family to earn a bit of extra money. It is also the story of her first great love for an Iranian political refugee. In both cases she is exposed to a culture and religion that is not her own. She also begins to realise that she is on the receiving end of a certain amount of paranoia and suspicion from both her employers and her boyfriend. Continue reading Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Mazel Tov, J.S. Margot | Pushkin Press