“The story of Langford Grove School is a period piece. It is the story of the remarkable headmistress and sole proprietor, Elizabeth Curtis. Whether it was gin and scallops for lunch with Frank Auerbach; a fireside chat with David Wynne; Sir Thomas Beecham holding up his orchestra until Curty took her seat; driving Vanessa Bell’s daughter Angelica to Blakeney Point; encouraging early orienteering on Bodmin Moor; caring for and educating Basque children escaping Franco’s cruelty; deciding at the drop of a hat that all lessons one particular term should be learnt in French; or following the Wartime exploits of her Naval Officer son, on whom Ian Fleming was said to have based some James Bond characteristics – this was “Curty”. Curty was a progressive educationalist who wanted the very best in artistic experiences in beautiful surroundings for the sixty or so pupils in her care at Langford Grove,” from the Preface by Lucinda Curtis, grand-daughter of “Curty”
A century ago, being an educated and intelligent woman meant learning a European language, singing, dancing and music. Women who wanted to go to university were referred to as “blue stockings” (from the group of women who in the 1750s held “conversations” to which they invited men of letters and members of the aristocracy with literary interests.) Continue reading Review | The Story of Langford Grove School 1923-62 | Blue Horizon Press
Anna Kim’s The Great Homecoming, published by Granta Books just before Lockdown is a sweeping tale of friendship and betrayal that explores the devastating impact of the Korean War, Russian and American politicking and the Cold War on individuals, families and cities in Korea and Japan during the 1950s and ’60s.
Anna Kim was born in Daejeon, South Korea but grew up in Austria and wrote the novel in German. She has garnered much praise and recognition for her previous work, and is the recipient of, among other accolades, the Austrian State Fellowship for Literature and the 2012 European Union Prize for Literature, for her second novel Frozen Time. This slick and accomplished translation by Jamie Lee Searle is sure to widen Kim’s fanbase and acclaim, and rightly so.
The novel begins in the present day. A young translator, Hanna, who was born in South Korea but then adopted by a German couple, visits an elderly Korean man, Yunho Kang, who lives in the American missionary quarter in Seoul. When Hanna translates a letter that Yunho has received from America informing him of the death of a Mrs Eve Lewis, he embarks on reminiscing about Eve Moon, or Yunmee – for she is a woman of many names and identities – and his friend Johnny, in Seoul in 1959. Continue reading Guest Review | Rachel Goldblatt | The Great Homecoming, Anna Kim | Granta Books
TJ Gorton lives between London and SW France, when not locked down. He had a brief academic career teaching Arabic at St Andrews, before being lured into an unloved career working for oil companies, mostly in the Middle East. Since retiring, he has published seven books, from translations of Classical Arabic Poetry, to anthologies of travel writing about Lebanon, Beirut, and Jerusalem. His biography of a 17th-century Druze prince Renaissance Emir: A Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici by Ted Gorton and debut novel, Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, shortlsited for the Best First Novel Aard, are both published by Quartet Books. Author website. @tedgorton1
Where did you grow up, and what sorts of books were in your family home?
I was born in Texas to a military family, beginning an itinerant life which went on to include spells in Turkey, Japan, Argentina, Turkey again, Beirut, Paris, Oklahoma, and Oxford. Growing up, there were not a lot of books around, though my mother subscribed to the Reader’s Digest so I would read that and anything else I could scrounge.
What books had the greatest impact on you?
One seminal one (early teens) was The Wisdom of the West by Bertrand Russell, who explained the mysteries of Greek philosophy in brilliant graphics and exquisitely clear prose; I still rummage through it from time to time. But the one book that blew my mind at about age 18 was Joyce’s Ulysses. Coupled with a superb English teacher, it opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of literature for remaking the world. Continue reading Interview | T. J. Gorton, author
C. J. Schüler is based in London where he works as a writer and editor. He is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography: Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars (Éditions Place des Victoires/Frechmann), and Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London, 1891–2016. His travelogue Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice, is published by Sandstone Press today. He is an occasional reviewer for The BookBlast Diary. www.cjschüler.com
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kingsbury, northwest London. Before the arrival of an Indian community transformed its high street into a brilliant array of sari shops, this was a very humdrum lower middle-class English suburb. With a German surname, less than two decades after the Second World War, it was hard to feel anything other than an oddity. After my parents divorced, when I was eleven, we moved to Hendon where, with its large Jewish community, I felt less conspicuous.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both my parents’ education was cut short, my mother’s by economic necessity and my father’s by the Third Reich. But they were keen readers, and our bookshelves held a range of classics by Jane Austen, Dickens and George Eliot, along with early twentieth-century works by writers such as George Bernard Shaw and J. B. Priestley. I still have a hardback copy of Nabokov’s Pnin from those days, though I can’t remember which of my parents chose it. Continue reading Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week
The fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago marked a symbolic end to the ideological split between East and West, spreading across Europe and dividing the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, and their allies, during the Cold War.
Since 9 November 1989, European countries have built over 1,000 kilometres of walls along their borders, with the backing of new populist parties in Hungary, Austria and Italy, in a bid to tackle the continent’s biggest migrant and refugee crisis since the World War Two. By the end of the Cold War there were approximately fifteen walls and fences along borders around the world; today, there are at least seventy.
The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the issue of enforcing border checks, is a central issue in the Brexit negotiations. [Chatham House] Even if a border wall falls, it stays in the minds of people. A link between walls and a country’s mental-health problems has been made by psychiatrists. [The New Yorker] Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 5 Reads for Independent Minds | Central & Eastern Europe