Why write an autobiography? Setting aside the ‘celebrity’ memoir, it is generally undertaken in a person’s later years, usually to give insights into how experiences have shaped them as a person . . . to preserve their life story for future generations . . . to shed light on an important moment in time . . . or to set the record straight.
Alastair Niven starts his engaging memoir, In Glad or Sorry Hours, in his early childhood, ending in the present, spanning a period of social and cultural innovation. He played an influential role, contributing to shaping the evolution of culture in England for over three decades: at the Africa Centre, the Arts Council, the British Council, as President of English PEN and at Cumberland Lodge. For twenty years he was Chairman of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Discerning and generous in using his power, he clearly deeply cares about the value and wellbeing that literature and culture bring to individuals and to society. Continue reading Review | In Glad or Sorry Hours – a memoir, Alastair Niven | Starhaven Press
Venice Noir: The Dark History of the Lagoons is by a Venetian writer, cultural journalist and radio presenter, Isabella Panfido. To read about the folklore, myths and legends of the lagoon replete with an insider’s knowledge is not so usual. Venice Noir is a declaration of love for the islands and their inhabitants, and the sacred, inviolable waters of the Lagoon. It is neither straight history, nor a tourist guide, or pure fiction, but a poetic amalgamation of all of these.
A truly unique city built on a series of low mud banks between the tidal Adriatic, La Serenissima has charmed, fascinated and ensnared legions of romantics, visitors, artists and writers for centuries . . . Proust, Henry James and Thomas Mann . . . Muriel Spark, Lesley Blanch and Janet Todd . . . Anita Brookner, Daphne du Maurier and Donna Leon to name but a few. Continue reading Review | Venice Noir, Isabella Panfido trs. Christine Donougher | Dedalus Books
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