After generations of slaughter on its soil, Europe found peace and economic stability through the founding of the EU in 1957. In an idealistic, co-operative post-war world looking to the future, anything was possible. The writer Gael Elton Mayo covered England with Henri Cartier-Bresson, for Robert Capa’s brainchild, Generation X, which she describes in her autobiography, The Mad Mosaic, as “the name given to the unknown generation, those who were twenty after the war, and in the middle of a century. Capa wanted to choose a young man, and young girl, in each of twelve countries and five continents, examine their way of life, and find out what they were doing, thinking and hoping for the future.” (Holiday changed ‘Generation X’ to ‘Youth of the World’ when it was published; an abbreviated version also appeared in Picture Post in 1953.)
Half a century on, from the six founding members, the EU has enlarged to 27 member states, (with Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey in accession negotiations). Its impetus seems to be shifting as it morphs into an economic, political and cultural powerhouse. In the recent travel writing issue of Granta, Jeremy Treglown writes: “The British, with their mix of insularity and transatlanticism, can find it hard to grasp that so many continental Europeans, especially the young, are patriotic about being European.”
An article about sparring with Hemingway and the stamina required to be a writer fell out of Gael Elton Mayo’s copy of Robert Ruark’s Something of Value while rearranging the overfilled bookshelves in the hallway this morning. Gael wrote about 1950s Spain in the 1950s in her memoir The Mad Mosaic.
The American writer Robert Ruark was a friend of hers: “He wrote not (yet) bestsellers, but sports columns, that were syndicated and appeared in twenty newspapers at once all over America. We went to see him with Dennis, in his villa near Palamos. The atmosphere was very different from our village. Friends of the Ruarks had houses with floodlit lawns, beach houses, booze and boredom. But Ruark was as hospitable as Dennis, having people to stay, offering meals, drinks, leaving all his guests for a few hours then returning, rubbing his hands together, to announce he had just had someone killed off. He was referring to the novel that he was working on, about the Mau Mau, Something of Value. He had many Tahitian primitive paintings and played Hawaiian music. He drank mainly rum with Coca Cola, and much ice and lemon. He had two boxer dogs who went swimming with him, and a wife called Ginny who looked as if it had all got beyond her long ago.”
To box with Hemingway when he was in his prime was a rather unusual experience for a reporter who had been sent to interview him. I went to cover the arrival of the Pan-American Airways Clipper across the Pacific via Manila to find Hemingway buoyant with the success of his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He had just sold the film rights to Paramount for a record sum. Some months before the balloon went up at Pearl Harbour he had been sent to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war for Marshall Field’s now defunct paper, PM.
Here are our latest top 10 reads from a selection of indie publishers every book lover should know. A good read underpinned by an open mind can change your lifeview irrevocably. Palestine in Black and White by Mohammad Sabaaneh is one such book.
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“God, like fireflies, only shines in the darkness, wrote Schopenhauer.” – Fireflies (p. 71)
Fireflies by Luis Sagasti is a brief, existential history of the world in the form of eight essays knitted together by subtle connection points. An eclectic array of highbrow and pop cultural personalities are presented in a seemingly random manner but have common threads that carry an underlying message. Philosophy helps us live our lives, is a consolation: Wittgenstein and Habermas make an appearance; as does the celebrated author of haikus, Matsuo Basho.
An original and stimulating work of experimentalism, Fireflies is in the tradition of fellow Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (who asserted that “the brain begins in the eye”), Roland Barthes and Michel Tournier. What is true and what is false? Are conspiracy theories grounded in any kind of reality? Is there a relationship between death and black holes? Can words express truth, and is perception reality?
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. My father owned and ran a large bookshop right in the centre of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am from originally. It was a bookshop that had been in the family for three generations, and where the likes of Borges, the Ocampo sisters and Bioy Casares had current accounts. Both my parents were and are great readers and I grew up surrounded by books from a very early age. No doubt my love for literature grew from that. I even started writing at an early age, and had a book of poetry published when I was thirteen.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? Definitely in literature, in some form. I’ve always studied and worked with literature. I did an BA in Literature, followed by an MA in Translation and a PhD in Latin American Literature. I then lectured on literature, translated literature, examined literature papers and even wrote articles and books on one of Argentina’s most celebrated writers, Julio Cortázar.