“The city is destroyed, plundered. A very interesting city. Polish culture. An ancient, rich Jewish colony. These frightening bazaars, dwarfs in hooded coats, hoods and side-locks, the aged, a school street, ninety-six synagogues, all half-destroyed, and stories – American soldiers were here, oranges, cloth, thoroughfare, wire, deforestation and wasteland, endless barren land. Nothing to eat, no hope, war, everyone is equally bad, equally foreign, hostile, inhuman, before life was traditionally peaceful” – from Isaac Babel’s 1920 Diary in which he describes his experiences with the Cossack cavalry during the Polish-Soviet war.
To actually feel what it was like to be caught up in the most momentous event of the 20th century, and to walk in the shoes of those who either stayed and wrote under the increasingly tricky conditions of censorship, or fled to become émigrés pining for a lost world, or visited from abroad wanting to see revolution in action . . . read Pete Ayrton’s anthology Revolution!Writing from Russia 1917. Of all the books marking this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution, this is the one to go for.Continue reading Review | Revolution! Writing from Russia 1917, Pete Ayrton (ed.) | Book of the Week
“What was the grand plan? Build a clifftop church and then hurry away back to London when it was finished? Or was he to remain and become a spiritual guide of some kind? He didn’t know . . .”
Midlife crisis, existentialist angst, spiritual awakening, burnout, soul loss . . . the list of labels is a long one, but whatever the inner crisis, transformation or degeneration are among the possible outcomes.
Proctor McCullough and his business partner Jim are consultants on catastrophe – “futurology at its most pessimistic“. They run an “independent agency that analysed behaviour during terrible events and helped businesses plan better resolution strategies . . . Their small client base included corporations, broadcasters, and now the government.” He and his partner Holly, a solicitor for asylum seekers, have been together for 13 years and have six year old twins, Pearl and Walter. They live in a semi-detached Victorian house in Wandsworth. Continue reading Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week
The Yorkshire moors: wild and untameable. Land of the Brontës, Bram Stoker, Ted Hughes and David Hockney, that much I knew, until I read Ben Myers’ pungent and addictive novel, The Gallows Pole, about a forgotten chapter of history. King David Hartley of Bell House was the leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, “whose brutality had put the fear in many and whose wicked practices had damaged the trade of the common man, but whose efforts had rewarded the brave too, and whose rumoured generosity had put clothes on the backs and food on the tables of the starved communities of the upper moorlands when everyone else had failed them.”
In the 1760s, Hartley ran “the yellow trade,” creating counterfeit coins, from his “gloomy sky palace” perched on the lawless upper moorlands — Sowerby Bridge and Halifax to the east; Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall to the west. A place apart, it is well away from a changing England where the “wheels of industry turn ever onwards and the trees are falling still. Last week I did chance to meet a man right down there in Cragg Vale who told me that soon this valley is to be invaded. He spoke of chimneys and buildings and waterways and told of work for those that wanted it, but work that pays a pittance and keeps you enslaved to those that make the money. This man — he told me this land around us was soon no longer to be our land but that of those who want to reap and rape and bind those of us whose blood is in the sod. They’re pulling it out from beneath our feet like a widow shaking out her clippy mat. He said he had it in writing. Said it was legally binding.”
Established in 1983, Dedalus Books is a truly unique publishing house which is recognised for its quality and unorthodox taste in the esoteric, the erotic and the European. The press’s founder and MD, Eric Lane, is unashamedly intellectual. His tenacity and vision have kept Dedalus going through the lean times, and helped it to flourish during the good. Dedalus had two books on the Booker Prize longlist in 1995: Exquisite Corpse by Robert Irwin and Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf by David Madsen. The complete list of Dedalus prizewinners is at dedalus.com
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. No, neither of my parents were great readers. My mother grew up on a farm in southern Italy and my father in an orphanage in Surrey. They met at the end of WW2 when my teenaged mother accompanied a friend who went for a job at the RAF base in Naples. My father was doing the interviewing and offered the friend a job and also one to my mother who refused. As they were leaving my father said to his colleague, I’m going to marry that one – meaning my mother – which he did, in February 1946. My mother was nearly 20 and my father 25. My sister was born in November 1947 and I followed in September 1949. We lived in Finchley which my mother loved. We used to go every few years to Italy. In the end my mother used to speak to everyone in Italy in English with the odd word of Italian whereas my father spoke to everyone in fluent Neapolitan. My parents were very happily married for 25 years until my father died of a heart attack in 1971.Growing up I was a voracious reader but also loved sport, especially football.I was a very spontaneous child and often got in trouble at school for being ‘cheeky’.