“The next morning, standing in the doorway to see me off on my way to the north of Punjab, to the capital, Islamabad, the Begum strained with both hands to raise a heavy old leather-bound Koran under which I ducked to receive divine protection. She resembled a classical figure holding up a torch so that I might see the good in her country.”
Two great matriarchs loom over this memoir which flies over Pakistan like a magical flying carpet: Isambard Wilkinson’s grandmother, and her friend, Sajida Ali Khan a.k.a. the Begum, from Lahore in the Punjab. As a small boy visiting the Irish family home that is suffused with a “heady, dusty fragrance” and chock-full of Anglo-Indian mementoes dating back to the 19th century, a warm and intoxicating vision of another world offered an antidote to the cold austerity of boarding school. His first actual visit to Pakistan was with his grandmother in 1990, to attend a wedding of one of the Begum’s children; and then in 2006 as foreign correspondent. His desire to explore the country and live there eventually was cut short by kidney failure, dialysis and successful surgery when his brother gave him a kidney. Travels in a Dervish Cloak has been seven years in the making.Continue reading Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week
Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself. ROSE: No, but there were books around. I was quite a lonely child and books were a marvellous escape and provided adventure, friends and role models – Noel Streatfield, E. Nesbit, Johanna Spyri, L. L. Montgomery, Louisa M. Alcott and Lucy M. Boston. Just remembering makes me want to get back under the sheets and counterpane with a pile of them. BARNABY: No, I can remember them both being rather concerned that I was reading “yet another book” instead of riding a pony, or playing with the dogs. There were many books in the tiny, dark Tudor cottage in which I was brought up, but they were mostly all inherited. They included a vast shelf of bound Punch magazines and a full set of Jorrocks. At a young age I used my pocket money to acquire the Ladybird history books but before the age of seven I had graduated to Jackdaws – fascinating folders of facsimile historic documents and maps.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start? ROSE: No. I was in the film business at first, but I married a bookaholic, and books took over our lives. BARNABY: No, I had imagined I would either be a Naval Officer like my father and grandfather, or in the cavalry like my other grandfather, which would be combined in old age by brewing beer, or becoming a clergyman like my ancestors.Continue reading Interview | The Directors of Eland Books | Indie Publisher of the Week
Where were you born? Southsea, which conjured exotic images of Pacific islands in my young mind. Then I discovered it was part of Portsmouth. I was born there because my father was in the navy.
Where did you grow up? After my birth, my father went off to sea to the Antarctic and my mother took me and my elder brother to our grandmother in rural Ireland. I went to boarding school in the UK at the age of seven ‘til 18. Ireland was our one constant for many years, as well as my parents’ Edwardian-bohemian home on the seafront in Deal, Kent, then an old smugglers town with a raffish air.
What sorts of books were in your family home? My parents read lots and widely, from biography and history to novels of all stripes. My father’s favourite book is Lampedusa’s The Leopard, and my mother loved Nancy Mitford. There were also plenty of humorous books, including P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh.Continue reading Interview | Isambard Wilkinson | Author of the Week
Arriving in Madrid by Car the other night there seemed to be no transition; the earth, a road cut into its open face, and then a notice: Madrid. After that some lights and suddenly we were in the capital of Spain, only a few minutes from the open land to the civilized Castellana with its trees and gardens. In this city that is both provincial and international, new and old, no middle way seems necessary: it is a place of extremes, geometrical lines, radical emotions. Why bother with such inessentials as bourgeois villas and suburbs — this is simpler, strong as coarse Logrono wine and more aesthetic.
Since the American agreement there is a new atmosphere of potentiality; the American tourist on his way through now stays longer, there are not only just embassy people or the press. (We noticed also yesterday in the Palace bar some rather familiar sharks and a few 5 per cent operators, last seen in Egypt and Tokyo, perching on high stools waiting and watching . . . the sort that show up when something is going to happen.) Suddenly Madrid contains suspense, against its old and well-known atmosphere of no-hurry. The people waiting around in bars are only the ripples on the edge of the pool, the real pawns are for instance American generals in civilian clothes, business men . . . the atmosphere of construction is especially appealing to the American pioneer spirit, for here there is ( in some ways) everything to be done.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Gael Elton Mayo, Letter from Madrid | Moroccan Courier Dec. 1953
Our monthly round up of deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn now that summer is over.
Uncovering a Parisian Life
The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press) buy here
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.
The BookBlast® Diary will be running a review and an exclusive interview with the Author at the end of the month.
Lesley Blanch (1904-2007), a Londoner by birth, spent the greater part of her life travelling about those remote areas her books record so vividly. She was an astute observer of places and people; their quirks, habits and passions. This article about Istanbul in Turkey, which she loved, was found among her papers. It was written some time in 1954-5.
Move over Hollywood and all those creepy doll horror movies! This sours-weet story is compellingly weird and shamanic. When Luir’s mother dies, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes abroad to study and promises he will bring home a doll for his six-year-old daughter, Luir, who is left in the care of her grandparents. But the doll brought home from Peru by daddy is a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family.
The Ventriloquist’s Daughter was longlisted for the 2014 Found in Translation Award.
TARANTINO ON THE PAGE
Quentin Mouron | Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine (trs. Donald Wilson) | Crime fiction, Bitter Lemon Press ISBN 1908524836 buy here | Review, Crime Time | @bitterlemonpub @QuentinMouron1
This fast-paced and entertaining thriller is cocaine-fuelled Tarantino on the page. “Gomez lifts the top of the sheet. McCarthy is dumbfounded. He has seen dead bodies in Watertown before – the tragic residue of drunken brawls outside bars or nightclubs, victims of muggings committed by drug-starved addicts or illegals awaiting deportation; he has also had to deal with the settling of scores between motorcycle gangs; he even saw the lifeless corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, before the Feds took it away. Bodies with their throats cut like Jimmy’s aren’t rare. Yet this is the first time he has been confronted with a corpse with the eyes slashed, the tongue cut out, and the cheeks gashed up to the ears.”
Swiss poet, novelist and journalist, Quentin Mouron won the prix Alpes-Jura for his novel Au point d’effusion des égouts in 2011.
Join us for a glass of wine to toast the publication of Far To Go and Many To Love: People and Places by Lesley Blanch — the sequel to her posthumous memoirs, On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life, published by Virago (2015).
Tickets include wine and are redeemable against books purchased.
Spain is a ‘place apart’ from Italy, France and the other Latin countries, with a very individual character, only partly explained by her language and history. The language contains many Arabic words; the Moors left much of their character in Spain after their defeat; Moorish mosques were converted into Catholic cathedrals; Romany lore is present in the flamenco songs of love which are always sad. But there is also a mystery — in the inhabitants’ pride, dignity and aloofness, and it is this inexplicable element that makes them so fascinating.
A traveller might start their journey into Spain by crossing the French frontier at Le Perthus, after which the first major town would be Gerona, standing out on the hillside, showing the coveted site for which it was so often besieged. Inside the old part of the town the streets are chasms too narrow for the sun to reach. The stranger feels compelled to stroll there, drawn into the core of a city where the Middle Ages seem to live on. “City of a thousand sieges”, it was called, from Iberian and Roman times until later, when its people organised several battalions against Napoleon, including one entirely of women.
This selection of early journalism and travelling tales by Lesley Blanch, edited by Georgia de Chamberet, published on 1 June by Quartet Books, forms a captivating sequel to On the Wilder Shores of Love:A Bohemian Life (Virago, 2015; PB 2017).
Savvy, self-possessed, talented and successful, Lesley Blanch was a bold and daring writer, travelling at a time when women were expected to stay at home and be subservient to the needs of husbands and children. She was an inspiration to a generation of women – Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Conran among them. This selection of her writings brims with her customary wit and sheds new light on an eternally fascinating – and truly inimitable – character.
Illustrated with photos and Blanch’s theatre portfolio from her time working with Russian émigré director/producer, Theodore Komisarjevsky; and featuring an insightful introduction. Far To Go and Many To Love brings together writings on subjects as various as Vivien Leigh, polygamy, the Orient Express and Afghanistan.
Praise for On the Wilder Shores of Love… ‘Sumptuous and captivating’ – Independent ‘This is a truly remarkable book’ – Daily Telegraph
Lesley Blanch MBE was born in London in 1904. She spent the greater part of her life travelling, to Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. She published 12 books in her lifetime and was a prolific journalist. She died in 2007 at the age of 103. website: www.lesleyblanch.com twitter: @lesleyblanch