Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck

On 9 November, the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to emigrate to Europe between 1993 and May of this year. The vast majority drowned in the Mediterranean. As a death toll, the figure is numbing. As a proportion of the EU’s population of 510 million, it is less than 0.007 percent – smaller than the population of, say, Skelmersdale or Haywards Heath – an influx that could easily be accommodated within our large, wealthy continent.

Jenny Erpenbeck, the brilliant German novelist whose four previous books have probed her country’s troubled 20th century history, has now turned to the greatest challenge it has faced in the 21st: the refugee crisis. Her latest book, Go, Went, Gone, eschews the magical realist elements of its predecessors in favour of a crisp documentary approach. It also draws on that classically German genre, the Bildungsroman, a novel charting the moral education of its protagonist. Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | Go, Went, Gone, Jenny Erpenbeck

Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | The Dandy at Dusk, Philip Mann

What makes a dandy? In the popular imagination, the dandy is a peacock, eccentrically and eye-catchingly dressed. Nothing, however, could be further from the precepts of that original dandy Beau Brummell, who rejected the pink and blue silks of the eighteenth century in favour of a sober, well-tailored suit. “If John Bull turns round to look at you,” he declared, “you are not well dressed.”

In this erudite, wide-ranging and appropriately elegant book, the German-born writer Philip Mann examines six personalities who embody different aspects of dandyism in the 20th century: the Austrian architect Adolf Loos; Edward, Duke of Windsor; the courtier and couturier Bunny Roger; the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp; the French film director Jean-Pierre Melville; and, somewhat surprisingly, his leather-jacketed German counterpart Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | The Dandy at Dusk, Philip Mann

Guest Feature | Philip Mann, “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns”

Soho Bohemia

“Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be,” the hypochondriac Mr. Wodehouse says in Jane Austen’s Emma. Proverbially never healthy was Jeffrey Bernard, whose weekly column in the Spectator was frequently substituted with the notice: “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell.” What began as a euphemism for the fact that Bernard was too drunk to write his column or even – which happened a few times – to resubmit an old column in the hope that it had been forgotten, in later years became a bitter truth. His Low-Life column which he had been writing since 1978 and which was generally held to be a suicide note in instalments, ended with Bernard’s death in 1997 after he had willingly stopped the dialysis necessary for his survival. That he had his own ideas about life, he had already made apparent earlier: Asked to write his autobiography he promptly put a small ad in the New Statesman, enquiring whether anybody knew what his movements between 1960 and 1970 had been. Continue reading Guest Feature | Philip Mann, “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns”

BookBlast® Archive | Gael Elton Mayo, The Magnum Photographic Group | Apollo Magazine, 1989

Gael Elton Mayo (1921-92) was writer-researcher for the Magnum Photographic Group, Paris, 1950-56, working with Robert Capa, David Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She wrote Generation X (England) with Cartier-Bresson, later changed to Youth of the World. 

The Memories of a friend and colleague
Magnum, the only photographic agency of its kind, was at its height in 1950. The name Capa still stirs some of the young, though they may not know why — but it has left an aura. The original photographers have retired or died and the world has changed from the time when people did not watch television, hardly anyone owned a set, and magazine photos were the only way of seeing life, which in Capa’s case meant showing up war; to witness world events and bring them back alive—a pictorial service. The visual images could be seen in Picture Post, Match, Epoca, Vu, Holiday Magazine . . .

Founders of The Magnum Photographic Group

It was founded in 1948 by four photographers: Robert Capa, David Seymour (known always as Chim), George Rodger and Henri Cartier-Bresson, subsequently joined by four others; but the true inventor who conceived what was almost a philosophy was Capa. The headquarters were in Paris in an office run by Margot Shore. It was owned and operated by the photographers themselves. Cartier-Bresson was the only Frenchman, with Werner Bischof, Carl Perutz, Ernst Haas, George Rodger, Fenner Jacobs and Chim. Capa was the catalyst, the unofficial boss; he had ideas that covered the whole world, he organized the assignments, the group became like a brotherhood, with Capa encouraging, helping, sometimes even clothing, and all the time appearing to be merely a wild, good-time, hard-drinking man. Ernst Haas said of him, “He was the only master I ever respected.”

I worked as writer and researcher with Chim, Cartier-Bresson and Capa, but when any of the others appeared in the office or in the café downstairs at St Philippe du Roule there was a quality of belonging to the same family. In whichever country we might meet we would automatically sit or dine together. There was no unemployment pay for us as we were freelance: if the time between jobs was long and someone was broke, Capa gave them money: he did not lend, he gave; he did not want it back. Perhaps because it was a new venture, or perhaps because the war was still fairly recent, there was always a feeling; of excitement. Capa spent lavishly and believed that life was for living, though as his brother Cornell said of him, “He was born without money and died the same way.”

Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Gael Elton Mayo, The Magnum Photographic Group | Apollo Magazine, 1989

BookBlast® Archive | What Makes a European? Jane McLoughlin | The Observer, 1971

Dunstan Curtis – DSC, VC, CdeG, CBE – fought during the War to destroy Fascism and preserve freedom, and has spent 25 years working for the unity of Europe. English in manner, European in experience, he is perpetually interested in learning “what makes each nationality tick.”

When a strictly traditional British fly fisherman puts grasshoppers on a pin to catch trout à la française, there is more at stake than a compromise over warring conceptions of sport. Here is evidence of a development in homo sapiens – the new European.

If any one man has the right to be called a progenitor of the British European, it is Dunstan Curtis. Not only for his adaptability as a fisherman, but because he has put in more time as a European civil servant since the war than any other Englishman. When he was awarded the CBE on his resignation as deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, a national newspaper described him then as “one man who has kept a toehold for Britain in Europe”.
Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | What Makes a European? Jane McLoughlin | The Observer, 1971

Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Ludwig’s Room, Alois Hotschnig

Henrietta Foster is a freelance journalist and TV producer for the BBC. Her latest film, Beyond The Grace Note, is about women orchestra conductors. She is writing a book about Hungarian Jews.

Alois Hotschnig sent me a copy of Ludwig’s Room about a year or so ago. Accompanying the book was a postcard of a fearsome blue dragon by Albrecht Dürer, and on the reverse was a greeting in pencil. I mentioned his gift to Tess Lewis, the translator of the book, and that I was very much looking forward to reading it. Quick as a flash an email came back saying that as I had just been through a bad emotional break up, I was not to read the novel under any circumstances – any circumstances whatsoever. It was not a book for the broken-hearted. A little taken aback I did, however, obey my wise and good friend.

A few weeks ago and with some trepidation, I decided that I was now sufficiently robust to bookblast durer dragonread Ludwig’s Room. I was also curious to discover why it would have been so harmful for the recently dumped. Like Dürer’s dragon, it is a spiky, frightening, bleak and at times difficult book to read. But also like Dürer’s mythical beast, it is finely drawn and deceptively engaging. At times, it is very funny in a self-deprecating rather black-humoured way.
Continue reading Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | Ludwig’s Room, Alois Hotschnig

Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

Born in France, Pierre Loti loved the East. No one could understand his desire to exchange the greyness of France for ‘the far horizons of a sailor’s life’ better than Lesley Blanch, author of such celebrated evocations of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia as The Wilder Shores of Love, The Sabres of Paradise and Journey into the Mind’s Eye. In this haunting biography she shows herself a sympathetic historian, consulting manuscript letters and diaries as well as Loti’s innumerable publications. Her book is a labour of love, an enquiry into a very complex man, as well as one brilliant escapist writing about another. Who, then, was Pierre Loti?

Loti-Viaud
Loti in yet another change of costume. Syrian or Algerian, the bedouin or the Effendi … all were escapes into another life.

Loti was born in 1850 as Julien Viaud, son of a respectable Protestant family living in the port of Rochefort on the Atlantic Ocean. His father was an official in the Mairie. In 1867 he entered the French navy, in which he would continue to serve until 1910. This extremely unconventional man proved a good officer. Most of his superiors appreciated his ‘agreeable character, very good education’, and later his literary fame, though some fellow officers noticed a cold manner.

The French navy was sufficiently broad-minded to employ an officer who wore rouge, dyed his hair and adopted disguises. More unsettling even than dressing as an acrobat, a Turk or a Bedu, Loti often wore the uniform of a rating rather than an officer. Moreover his friendships with handsome sailors, (Julien, Leo, Samuel, many others}, which such clothes facilitated, were no secret. As his daughter-in-law told Lesley Blanch: ‘Loti loved both men and women passionately and if there had been a third sex he would have loved that too.’

Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Mansel | Pierre Loti: Travels with the Legendary Romantic, Lesley Blanch

Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch

The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.

Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11. Who, in 1960, would have dared predict that the heirs of the Red Army − that vast force which had done so much to shape the geo-politics of the late twentieth century, already humiliated by the Afghan mujahideen − should in 1996 be defeated, run out of its own territory by a band of lightly-armed Chechens which rarely exceeded a few thousand in number?

Continue reading Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch