I Crossing J akov Lind (Methuen £14.99) Jakov Lind suffers from angst. It threatens to engulfthe reader within the ﬁrst chapter of Crossing, and maintains its intimidating presence throughout. But then Lind is a Jew; an Austrian Holocaust survivor, and an immigrant to Britain. Divorced from his native tongue, which had become the language of persecution, he discovered in English an intoxicating egalitarianism (‘If you can call even a prime minister ‘you’, without elaborate titles, such a country was superior to my own’).
As an outsider, Lind evokes an uneasy picture of England as oblivious to the Europe from which he had fled. Arguing that communism was merely ‘red fascism‘ at a time when the British Left was embracing Stalin, Lind found himself isolated from his wife and friends. Drifting in search of an identity, he embraced in turn Judaism, atheism, and political Zionism, but his restlessness remained.
Lind’s narrative forsakes straightforward chronology, instead using minor incidents to pave the way for an exploration of wider issues — his experience of LSD , for instance, as a voluntary patient in the 505, triggers a furious, stream-of-consciousness exploration of his fragile marriage. As this suggests, although writing in English may have enabled Lind to purge some of his angst, it hasn’t cured him of it. Without it, paradoxically, he would have little to say. Crossing is an autobiography which reads like philosophy, fuelled by insight and self-revelation as Lind struggles to make sense of his life.
I The Hairline: ATraoedy in Fez William Betsch (Seeker & Warburg, £25) A magical book, in every sense, centred on the true story of a young Moroccan bride, Hakima, who apparently killed herself following a
dispute over her virginity. The tale is evoked rather than told by juxtaposing stunning colour images of Fez and its people , interviews with Hakima’s relatives, personal diaries and dictionary definitions of key Arabic words. None of these elements exactly coincide, each acting instead as a warp to the labyrinthine weft of the telling. The immediate appeal of the book will be to admirers of Paul Bowles, who provides the introduction, and contemporary Moroccan writers such as Mohammed M’rabet.
Texts and images are unified by recurring leitmotifs such as sacrifice , haunting, invisibility and death, vividly evoked by the blood of a freshly-killed sheep and the crimson dyes of the famous Fassi tanneries. The narrative seethes with ambiguous motives, incipient violence and references to magic; its appeal lies in the tensiOn between attraction and repulsion, encapsulated in repeated, and somehow beautiful, shots of a sheep with its throat cut lying on a ﬂoor of coloured tiles. There is, however, something intrinsically disturbing, if not downright exploitative, in the production of a beautiful Western coffee-table book from the violent death of a young Moroccan woman. A Paul Bowles poem opens by asking, ‘Can we make wounds beautiful?’. While Betsch’s book demonstrates that we undoubtedly can, it begs the question of whether we should. (Barry Flood)
I God’s Politician: John Paul at the Vatican David Willey (Faber and Faber, £14.99) First, David Willey. The Rome correspondent for Radio 4 since 1972, a self-styled ‘cradle Catholic’, but with a current scepticism about the workings of his church. Second, Karol Wojtyla. A 71-year-old Pole with a fondness for skiing, ex-goalie for the school football team. Current occupation: Pope.
God’s Politician is Willey’s attempt at a critique of the contemporary Roman Church under the stewardship of Mr Wojtyla. Sometimes the criticism hits home, and sometimes the author gives old Karol a little too much credit. Would you attribute General J aruzelski’s downfall, Lech Walesa’s rise, nay, the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe, to the Pope’s visit to Poland in 1979? Willey does, getting rather too misty-eyed about the Slav pontiff liberating his fellows from communism.
Where the book succeeds is in detailing Catholicism’s troubles as it heads for the 21$t century. Widespread flouting of church teaching on contraception; a head-in-the-sand approach to world population problems; the challenge of Islam; the inability of a Eurocentric church to come to terms with Catholicism in Africa and Latin
America; a Pope who despotically crushes any outbreak of theological dissent. Incidentally, the book also contains the typo of the year so far. Pope Pus X, anyone? (Keith Davidson)
I Hideous Kinky Esther Freud (Hamish Hamilton £14.99) From Clement’s old faithful spaniel on those Pedigree Chum ads, through Lucien’s paintings, even down to dear little Emma’s TV excursions, the Freuds have been the epitome of the intellectual English middle-class. Just the type of people, in fact, who would take off to Morocco for adventure and romance, so long as there was always the security of a nice fat wad in the bank, waiting to be spent on a flight back to Hampstead.
Esther’s mother did this very trip in the 605, with her constant companions little Esther (aged five but narrator nonetheless) and Bea (at seven, a veritable woman of the world). This, as they say, is their story. And that’s it, really. Freud’s prose is evocative enough, her telling of comic interludes a highlight and many of the five-year-old’s discoveries manage to elicit a broad ‘aaahh’ from the reader. But the whole is somehow soulless, safe'and frightfully middle-brow. The exact opposite of what we might expect from the title, perhaps, but just what we would predict from a Freud. (Philip Parr)
Philip Parr takes a tour around the latest crop of travel books.
Sharing the spoils of the lucrative travel genre, Picador and Abacus offer companions, soul-mates and even the occasional map for the itinerant man. Man, you notice — travel writing is a man’s world, or so these publishers’ output would suggest. Among the writers in Worst Journeys: The Picador Book ot Travel (Picador £14.99), for instance, women are outnumbered ten to one by men. It’s a quirky collection, including poetry and fiction in addition to the traditional travelogues of Bruce Chatwin and Colin Thubron, although some of the contributors’ credentials appear questionable. Umberto Eco, for example, always seemed like a man who rarely journeyed further than the wine cellar, and his account of William Randolph Hearst’s personal Xanadu could as easily have been written from the shores of Lake Como as from downtown LA.
More authentic travel writing can be found in Robert Byron’s Road to Oxiana (Picador £4.99) introduced by — guess who — Bruce Chatwin, who considers it the greatest representative of the 305 golden age oftravel writing. Dipping into Byron’s account of his trek across Afghanistan, one can understand
why. The author has a great respect for the people he encounters along
the way and is thankfully free from
the traditional Western superiority complex.
Travel writers seem be venturing ever further afield these days— Lawrence Millman headed for the Arctic Circle in search of a new slant. His Last Places (Abacus, £5.99), charting a less than comfortable journey from Norway to Greenland, is full ofvivid, grittily humorous accounts of everything from Turkish economy-class travel to the after-effects ofeating rancid seal blubber.
The best of the batch is the work of a woman: Catriona Bass’s Inside The Treasure House (Abacus £5.99). Having worked in both China and Tibet, Bass possesses a virtually unique perspective - Oriental views ofTibet as a backward land populated by dirty, stupid people qualified her Western preconceptions of a mysterious, romantic land. Her evocative prose certainly dispels the Chinese myth, but her honesty and clarity of expression make this much more than a typical Britisher-in-awe travelogue. (Philip Parr)
I Eddie Devlin Samuel Dow‘s, Nithsdale Road, Pollokshiclds, info 423 1460. Mon 3, 7.30pm. Free. A ‘Words and Music‘ performance evening with Southside writer Devlin and members of Maryhill Women Writers.
I Martin Gilbert Waterstone’s 45—50 Princes Square, 221 9650. Wed 5,7.15pm. Free. The author of Churchill- A Life (Minerva, £9.99), on which the current TV-biog is based, will be talking about the book and signing copies.
I Carl MecDougal, A.L. Kennedy, Brian Whittinghatn Castlemilk Library, 100 Castlemilk Drive, 634 2066. Mon 10, 7.30pm. Free. Creche and refreshments. Three West Coast writers, including the latest winner of the Saltire Society First Book Award (Kennedy) will read from their work.
I Kathleen Jamie, Dante Jack Cleoe. Brian Johnstone Shore Gallery, Bernard Street, info 033 336 491. Sun 2, 8pm. Free. Monthly poetry reading at the Shore, this time featuring three Fife bards, one of whom (Clegg) writes exclusively in Scots. Music provided by The List‘s very own Norman Chalmers on squeezebox.
I Ruth Rendell Waterstones, 83 George Street, 225 3436. Tue 4, 7pm. Free. The mistress of murder and mystery will be reading from and signing copies of Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter (Hutchinson, £14.99) — her first Inspector Wexford novel for four years.
I Martin Gilbert Waterstones, 13/ 14 Princes Street, 556 3034. Thurs 6, 7pm. Free. The author of Churchill — A Life (Minerva, £9.99), on which the current TV-biog is based, will be talking about the
1 book and signing copies.
I Greg Bear Waterstones, 13/14 Princes Street, 556 3034. Wed 12. 6.30pm. Free. The world‘s highest-paid sci~fi author will be signing copies of his latest opus, Anvil ofStars (Legend,£8.99).
64 The List 31 January— 13 February 1992