Category Archives: Modern History

Man Booker Longlist 2018/6

My shadow books first. The Melody by Jim Crace and The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. Both writers that I discovered thanks to the Man Booker Prize.  Both such mellifluous titles, but both actually about menace.

CraceIn The Melody the principal character, Alfred Busi is a widower, in his prime he has been a renowned singer, songwriter. We meet him first as he is about to be significantly honoured by his town, an unnamed seaside town, with an Avenue of Fame: town worthies remembered, pedestalized and in bronze and Mister Al, is to be one of them.

But the might before his honouring ceremony, he had a damaging encounter with a feral creature that has got into his larder. His nights have often been disturbed by urban foxes and other creatures upsetting his bins and scavenging for food; but on this occasion he has been alerted by the tinkling of some Persian Bells, and goes down to investigate, but when he opens the larder door, something attacks him, scratching his face badly and biting his hand.

He calls for his sister-in-law, Terina to help him and she dismisses it as an animal, but he responds “a cat with dentures by the look of it”.

He does not call the police, and later on this incident is reported badly and inaccurately in the press. The town is alerted to the feral menace of possible “Neanderthals” hiding out in the bosk, the wild wooded area away from the sea at the back of the town.

This is a novel about change and “progress”. The first part is about changes in Alfred himself, partly brought on by the first attack, and then exacerbated by another more personal attack, and by a discovery which pulls away all his certainties. Two years a widower, there are bound to be alterations to the daily grind, or in the taking of pleasure but to become a victim in one’s own home is another order of magnitude, a disconcerting and destabilising event.

In the second part of the book, which follows some six or seven years later, the disruption seen in the first part has been completed.

I must first have come across Jim Crace in 2001, when he was listed for Being Dead, and I have gone back into his other novels.  One Quarantine, is the book I have given away most often.

Tim Winton, an Australian writer, I discovered through the Booker listings in The Riders. This must have been in about 1992, it is not his best I think, but I have read most of the others since, also going back through earlier novels. The Shepherd’s Hut though, is streets ahead of all of them. I cannot imagine why this is not on this year’s longlist, only that it was not presented for consideration.

WintonJaxie Clackton is the son of a butcher, his father is one of a dubious but successful breed of bully. Jaxie’s mother has died of cancer before the book opens, his childhood has been punctuated with good times, with his Auntie Marg and his cousins, and bad and worse times at home; his mother has been persistently bullied and beaten, but like so many battered wives, has stuck by her man. Now she is gone, Jaxie is the main punchbag.

After a particularly severe beating, when his eye is pretty nearly punched out, Jaxie goes off to hide out. A night or so later, he returns home but what he finds spooks him so badly that he hastily packs up a bag and makes a run for it.

Monkton, which is where is he is running from, is somewhere in Western Australia. (It may not even exist, I haven’t checked).  He heads into the bush, mostly mulga scrub and some tree cover where there are eucalyptus groves. He steers away from the roads and highways, though he can often hear the huge “roadtrains” passing.

He is in pretty dire straits when he discovers the prospector’s shack, where there is water but not a lot else. He has his father’s gun and some cartridges, lives rough for a while but cannot keep the kangaroo meat, as it goes off in the heat. But he realises he is not far from the salt lakes, so he goes off to get salt and finds more than he bargains for.

Jaxie thinks he is a lucky man, and by any definition this must be true, but luck is not always a two-way street, and those whom he meets are not always quite so fortunate.

This is a book full of quite brilliant descriptions: exquisite tenderness and love; the wilderness of Western Australia; survival; and also acute and devastating tension. Tim Winton writes beautifully.

I have camped out by those salt lakes, they are both wonderful and terrifying. Turning the mulga scrub into grassland for sheep permanently damaged the land. The salt lakes are a leprosy left by European settlers and rangers, some of them spread by a metre in diameter every year, the land is no longer good for cattle or sheep, which is why the eponymous hut is abandoned to its present incumbent when Jaxie gets there.

Unless you are completely turned off books by Australians, simply because I love them so much, this is a truly remarkable and astounding novel, which I cannot recommend too highly.

2018 BLL GunaratneBack to this year’s Man Booker longlist. An extraordinary debut novel by Guy Gunaratne, a BAME writer of considerable talent, who lives in London with a wife and two cats. Anyone who has two cats gets my vote.

In OUR MAD and FURIOUS CITY, the title of Gunaratne’s novel (deliberately written here more or less exactly as it appears on the book jacket) we find ourselves in Neasdon. Not a name to conjure with, honestly. In the novel, it sounds as dreary, messed up and conflicted as its name. We are kicking around with a group of young boys, they have mostly been around each other since primary or secondary school, though perhaps their attendance has not been 100%. They are all of them either BAME or mixed; the novel is bookended by an unidentified voice, but one who clearly knows the group, but may not be part of it.

The characters appear, each in their own section. Part 1 is called Mongrel, the chapters are Estate, Square, Ends. Here, we meet in this order: Selvon, Caroline, Ardan, Yusuf and Nelson. These characters are not all the same generation so the reader needs to pay attention because relationships will be revealed later that make a difference to how we view each boy. Sections 2 and 3 are Brother and Blood.

I do not think I would have picked this book off the shelf; the book jacket is quite threatening even without the title! But I am glad to have read it. The writing is original, visceral and fully-fledged. For a debut novel, even though Gunaratne has written short stories, this is an accomplished masterpiece. The city gets up and whacks you in the face; and has affected its young inhabitants in ways that it is hard to grasp, from its leafier suburbs.

This is a book that I would be glad to see on the shortlist, though I do not see it as an outright winner, so far.


Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Environment, Modern History, The Man Booker Prize, Travel, Uncategorized

Man Booker Longlist 2018/5

While I was surprised and hesitant about the inclusion of a poem in the longlist, having read The Long Take I do understand why it was included. There is no doubt that is has a narrative, it also has quite a few pieces that are absolutely prose and even the poetry can read like prose. [My husband would have derided it as “chopped up prose”] I remain extremely doubtful whether poetry ought to qualify, but am heartily glad this book arrived on the longlist as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

2018 BLL PoemRobin Robertson is a well know poet, he has already published five volumes of poems and has received many honours. Since I haven’t read anything by him before (almost certainly my loss) I cannot say whether narrative poetry is his usual genre. Never mind, The Long Take is a narrative.

Walker is a Second World War veteran, of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, a Canadian regiment – my sister-in-law claims that the Stuarts founded Nova Scotia, a family myth that I haven’t pursued, she may even possibly be right, but I warmed immediately to this man.

We meet him first in New York, recently de-mobbed. It is 1946 and he feels too befouled by his wartime experiences to go back to Lake Ainslie and his home and family. The title of the book comes from the cinema.  A year or so has passed and it is now 1948, Walker moves to Los Angeles, he is a press reporter and has been asked to write up some movie reviews. He chooses Deadly is the Female (a good choice) and the film make him think.  The poem expresses it thus:

He thought about it all night. That long take

inside the getaway car: one shot that lasted three minutes easy

and was just real life. Right there.

Later on Walker meets the director, Joseph H Lewis,  and talks about this one long shot and gets to hear how it was accomplished and why the title of the film was changed to Gun Crazy.

This short passage too may show you how the poem can be seen as “chopped up prose”, though I am not really rubbishing poetry written like this. Above, I have written it out exactly as it appears in the book; but you could equally have read it in a prose novel as: “He thought about it all night. That long take inside the getaway car: one shot that lasted three minutes easy and was just real life. Right there.” And you would not necessarily have thought, that sentence simply doesn’t work.

The actual prose pieces are mostly in italics, these are Walker’s flashbacks, partly to his pre-war life in Canada and his girlfriend, and nature: the lake, otters, trees and colour and then his war. The flashbacks are part of his PTSD, which is part of his not now going home, he is simply not a fit person to pick up his old life, from what he has seen and, more importantly, what he has done. Here are two pieces, separated by about 40 pages which demonstrate the state he is in mentally. [This describes his D-Day experience]:

It was all about timing. Waiting to jump from the scramble net down the side of the merchant ship to the LCA below. Trying to find the rhythm of it: the swell of the water, the boats colliding. Your best chance was just before the landing craft slammed against the ship’s hull. Mistiming the jump meant drowning or crushing. You got it right. Picked yourself up. The steel deck slippery with vomit.

Forty pages on, his mind swings back to this day

The rating with the bilge bucket is swilling off the puke, and what is left of McPherson who hadn’t timed it right, his jump from the nets to this landing craft below.

There are also occasions, within the poem, that Walker loses his grip, and this loss of control accelerates towards the end as Los Angeles itself is pulled to pieces by the demands of the automobile barons and the CRA (the very corrupt planning office); making highways and destroying public transport and ghettoising many areas of the expanding city.

While working for the Press, Walker requests permission to write up the homeless, jobless situation in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So the poem is full of characters in bars and cafes. Here is the section in which he describes his colleagues: [This is a pretty long piece, for which I make no apology – I want people to go out and get this book to read]:

He’s got to know more people at the Press

who’d been there as long as the boss, and all from out east like him:

Templeton from Iowa’s an okay guy,

well-bred, sense of humour, smart,

and May Wood from Boston, the face of the paper.

Some said she’s a dyke, but he didn’t think so

and he liked her anyway – liked to make her laugh.

The rest were harder going.

The compositors and proof-readers

looked up at him with eyes of ruminants: carefully,

without movement. If something required scrutiny

there was a slow, elaborate shift of the shoulders. The stare.

Rennert and Sherwood were his team, in their cheap suits,

three-day shirts and stained ties,

keeping his straight on the city:

the organized crime, the stoolies, bent cops and politicians,

the ninety-six clubs, hash joints, card rooms, cathouses.

They knew the city from Griffith Park to the harbour at San Pedro,

from Pasadena to Malibu, Point Dume.

They smoked full-time, traded girls like baseball cards,

wore their hats tipped back,

had a bad word to say about everyone, told stories

even they didn’t believe.

And then there was Pike:

holding up the stacks of manuscript pages

and tapping them down on the desk to align them,

patting them straight at the tope and the sides.

There is more about all these people, especially Pike who is a snake and about the bums that he interviews, there is domesticity in his own life, illness and death, violent sometimes; but in his deeper being there is darkness and regret.

The book ends in Los Angeles in 1953. Robertson has covered pretty much everything that has happened, the Korean War, the HUAC, MacCarthy, elections and all sorts. Walker fumbles through it all, bowed down by memory and loss.

I have not got a shadow book for this post. I want you to read this book. I hope it makes it to the shortlist.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, General cinema, Modern History, Nature Writing, The Man Booker Prize, Travel, Uncategorized

Man Booker Longlist 2018/4

2018 BLL BurnsMilkman by Anna Burns: I had heard and read a lot about Milkman before actually reading the book, and nothing that I had heard or read prepared me for how dense it was. It is a first person narrative, set in an unnamed town, fully of unnamed but identified people.

The time is clearly Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the place maybe Belfast, but if so it is not entirely recognisable, there is no mention of the docks or the sea, for example. The narrator belongs to a fairly large family: ma, da (deceased), first brother, second brother (deceased), third brother and fourth brother (run away over the border); there are also sisters and first-brother-in-law and third brother-in-law and the “wee ones”, three younger sisters.  There are neighbours, the maybe-boyfriend, Somebody McSomebody (not the boyfriend), the milkman and Milkman.

It is a narrative that begins at the end and circles back to the same ending. There is violence, suspicion, betrayal, death (violent and accidental). There are those “over the water” who are in this city: the soldiers and others; there are those on the side of those “over the water” like the police. Then there are the informers and the renouncers – both sides have these, both “our side of the road” and those on “the other side of the road”. And there is a great deal of menace and rumour and gossip.

There is one shocking episode that is scarcely credible, but must be true, I fear. Partly because it would be hard to make it up and partly because if you did, there would be an outcry and a lawsuit pending. It concerns the killing of all the dogs and runs from page 93 through to page 100, it involves the British soldiers killing all the dogs because they barked and gave away their positions, then having killed all bar one, they left them with their throats cut in “the entry”, presumably one of the safe roads into the “our side”.

The narrator explains, digests, digresses, thinks and reads while she walks, generally novels written before the nineteenth century. She is aloof but also considered; she thinks a lot about being a maybe-girlfriend and whether or not she wants to join coupledom; her maybe-boyfriend has the same thoughts but until now they have never coincided at the same moment, so it hangs in there unresolved.

Then there is a rumour that she is going with Milkman; she isn’t, although she has met him – or rather he has sidled into her life in a less than straightforward manner. He draws up beside her in his van, but she will not get in; he runs beside her in the park and makes threatening remarks about maybe-boyfriend and then he “runs into her” after a French lesson, but she thinks he must have been waiting for her unseen. He upsets her, she half knows what he wants but is repulsed. He is a known renouncer, a known terrorist and he is married (she thinks). He appears to know a great deal about her, her family, her habits and her maybe-boyfriend.

The writing is dense in the sense that the paragraphs are immensely long, they represent her thinking and her way of relating this to an imaginary friend (the reader probably); it is not precisely stream-of-consciousness because it is also actually narrative, without it we could not possibly know what was going on. There are six chapters but there could equally be ten or five, the breaks come slightly arbitrarily though generally starting with encounters with Milkman or post-Milkman encounters when she is trying to ingest what has happened.

Certainly the writing captures explicitly the tension which must have prevailed everywhere in Northern Ireland at the time; the local rules which if broken could end in tar and feathers, knee-capping, beating or death; the kangaroo courts held in out of the way sheds or hutments; the curfew; the suspicion of neighbours, of “the others”; the surveillance. It must have been nearly intolerable and then to add to the mix the innuendo, the rumour and the gossip. This is all there on every page, so that you must stop and take a breather.

Then finally there is a beautiful love story which lifts the whole tenor of the novel into another plane; wonderfully and delightfully revealed in the last chapter. Sheer joy and relief!

Do I think this will make it to the shortlist? The answer is yes.

My shadow book is an out-and-out love story; a debut novel by Anne Youngson.

YoungsonMeet Me at the Museum is an epistolary novel.  Initially Tina Hopgood writes to a Professor Glob, the finder of the Tollund Man but he is no longer there, being as it were 104 had he still been around. But the Curator of the Silkeborg Museum writes back and there develops over a period of about a year and a bit, an intense friendship.

In tone it is not unlike 84, Charing Cross Road, an epistolary memoir.  Helen Hanff wrote to a bookseller in London at this address and over time they created a warm and rewarding relationship, though they were never to meet, as Frank Doel died before Helen Hanff ever came to Britain, their correspondence lasted over several decades.

This novel is more intense, as the letters go back and forth by email attachment.

It also reminds me a lot of Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects, because Anders Larsen, the curator (who is fictional) writes quite a lot in his letters about the Tollund Man and the artefacts that are found that relate to his time.

Tina Hopgood describes her life on an East Anglian farm and he describes his life as a curator and widower. Their letters gradually draw out more detail and become more intimate and then right at the crux Tina has to make a serious decision.

Will their relationship on paper survive, and will she go to meet him at the Museum?

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Culture, Modern History, Politics, The Man Booker Prize, Travel, Uncategorized

Two recommendations from Canada

My friends rather despair of recommending books for me to read, as they are either on my TBR (currently waiting for the addition of the Booker Longlist novels) or I have already read them, so it is a welcome treat to have a reliable source in Canada for interesting and rewarding novels.


Two very different books. One a rather fabulously romantic love story with a sad ending and the other an equally absorbing story set against the background of the Russian Revolution, which was in its own way also a romantic love story but of a very different calibre.

The two main characters in The Lonely Hearts Hotel are orphans who end up in the same orphanage. Pierrot and Rose. The children are kept apart as far as possible, but the attraction is insurmountable in spite of the efforts of a vicious nun, Sister Eloïse. Set in Montreal, Canada the two children survive what amounts to terrible abuse and deprivation, and eventually leave –  Pierrot as the protégé of an elderly widower and Rose as a childcare nurse, at which point their trajectory unravels. Living parallel lives and yet longing for each other, the circus that is their separate existence finally swings them, trapeze-like, together again.

Heather O’Neill paints a vivid world, full of coincidence and drama, with an edge of sadness and misery. But this is not to say that this is not a joyous book, it teeters on the brink, all the time, of tears but is also full of passion and delight.

Pierrot very much reminded me of Jude, a character in A Little Life, the mental and emotional damage is so gross, and yet he is a fine young man, if warped by his experiences.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a very different book, the arch-aristocratic Alexander Ilyich Rostov, recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club and Master of the Hunt is arraigned before a court and his punishment is internal exile, not to Siberia but to the Hotel Metropol. It is not until he returns to the hotel, not to his suite of rooms but to the attic, that the full horror of his situation strikes.

In spite of the fact that the hero is not permitted to leave the hotel premises, Amor Towles brings all of Russia to his feet. The retinue of staff from kitchen to cloakroom, the various guests and Nina, the child that befriends, him all contribute to the many layers that this story brings to the reader. Friendship, loyalty, love and the occasional adventure; Hotel Metropol offers them all.

This is Stalin’s Russia, but a life confined to a small room is not enough to stop Alexander from learning what is happening outside the revolving doors, for those doors bring the world to him. And when Stalin dies – it is Alexander, now a respected waiter, who watches and listens as the heads roll and new people rise, like cream, to the top. Though unlike cream, there has been a bloodbath…

Thrust from extreme luxury to a small attic room, Alexander survives. In fact, possibly because of house arrest, he is spared other more terrible consequences of his background; as poet and bon viveur he lived on though not in the style to which he was accustomed while his contemporaries variously vanished, committed suicide or were killed by the State.

This novel is an absolute marvel. Everything you need in the way of interest, excitement and suspense.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Modern History, Travel, Uncategorized

If we throw away the key…

Two legal volumes hit the top of my TBR pile together. In Your Defence by Sarah Langford and The Secret Barrister (author unknown for obvious reasons).


Both books, written by professional barristers have a desired agenda: to present to the general public a picture of the justice system from the point of view of the prosecuting or defending bench.

These two books are not Scandi-police procedural novels, they are a genuine attempt to get us, the benefiters of a good, honest and just legal system, to understand better what is actually happening in court.

The Secret Barrister is a cry of alarm, using many exhaustively detailed reasons why our justice system is being steadily undermined, the author is desperately trying to get us to wake up. Fuelled by lurid newspaper reports we spend an unusual amount of our attention devoted to complaining about the National Health Service while at the same time our Justice system is being financially squeezed out of existence.

A country in which justice is eroded and enough people cannot see that justice is being done, will eventually take matters in its own hands: vigilante groups; rag-tag revenge gangs; summary local justice may follow, and that will mean anarchy.

In a single stroke of the Chancellor’s pen, the tax on beer was reduced by a penny, while the tax on cider and spirits was held level at the same time that the budget for the Justice system was slashed by an more or less equal amount. This does not make any sense.

The Secret Barrister asks why that should matter to us? The answer is that one day it might be you or me. If we were prosecuted, whether innocent or guilty as charged, we would want to have proper representation. But that, especially in the civil courts is becoming exceeding expensive, and beyond the reach of a growing proportion of the population. This book, though, deals specifically with the criminal courts, where legal aid is also steadily being eroded so that even middle income people are having to find the wherewithal to defend themselves privately.

In Your Defence, heartily endorsed by Helena Kennedy QC, is of a different kind. This is a book which, using an amalgam of disguised cases, demonstrates examples of how the law deals with different situations. Each chapter begins with an extract from different Acts of Parliament which are effective in law. For example: Children and Young Persons Act 1933. In this chapter, we look at a particular trial (which is not one trial but a simulacrum of many similar) from the defence barrister’s engagement, through to the trial itself and its outcome. The amount of time is takes to mount a defence, to defend and as well as to counsel the defendant. Each chapter has one defendant standing for many, and disguised so that there is no possibility of true identification.

But read in tandem with The Secret Barrister, it is a window on to a world that most of us hope never to visit.

Just as the NHS is there for those in need from the cradle to the grave, so the justice system should be also, and is not. If your chosen (or unchosen but real) lifestyle has led you to rely on the health service to get you back on your feet, you would not be impressed if the doctor was able to say, on your arrival in his surgery, “this injury/illness is a direct result of your actions, pay for the remedy yourself”. But as The Secret Barrister points out, this is very much the case in the courts. You may well find yourself funding your own defence, and if you have enough but not a huge amount of money and few assets you may find yourself in the claws of a very inadequate level of professional assistance, of failing that have to defend yourself (litigant-in-person) which might be disastrous, all because you and your spouse of partner are not eligible for legal aid.

Everyone should know about this and this is one way to find out. The next step is to do something about it. Letters to your MP, anyone?



1 Comment

Filed under Books, crime, Law, Modern History, Politics, Uncategorized

Power and politics of today seen through Shakespeare’s lens

Sitting at home, a Professor of the Humanities was considering the forthcoming elections in The United States and possibly, Europe and wondering about what might happen, as one does. Then it did happen – Brexit, Populism and Trump. In conversation with others, he was persuaded to put pen to paper.

This all sounds ridiculous, but it is not far short of how Tyrant, Shakespeare on Power came to be written. In the Coda to this extraordinary study of Shakespeare’s plays and his times, Stephen Greenblatt admits that this was his very purpose: to see the situation in today’s political sphere through an different, but very accurate lens. By doing this he has shown the cunning way in which Shakespeare draws parallels from distant history from such an Oblique Angle that he avoids the penalties suffered by other contemporaries: Thomas Kydd, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and many other less well known writers and pamphleteers.

Greenblatt on WSIn this extremely readable study of tyranny, Greenblatt selectively studies the careers of Richard III (Shakespeare’s version), Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King Lear and Coriolanus, extrapolating from these plays the many ways in which tyranny can arise, thrive and fall. In the chapters on Richard III, the author goes right back to the Henry VI plays, threading through the gradual decline of that monarch to the rise and rise and fall of Richard, Duke of York (the father) to Richard of Gloucester (the son) who through treachery and deceit becomes King Richard III.

Ricardians (like myself) rise up in horror at this portrayal of Richard III, but nevertheless seen as through a glass darkly, as an explanation for examples of modern tyranny that has an uncanny resemblance to Stalin and Hitler, it is a masterpiece of exposition.

In one chapter, Enablers, Greenblatt looks at some of the fairly minor characters around Richard who have given him help to the top job, but whose assistance far from being rewarded becomes, in time, a growing paranoiac threat.  In Shakespeare’s play this is the case for the Duke of Buckingham, for example, failing to grasp the nettle of the two Princes in the Tower, he earns for himself, his own demise – if you are not for me then you are against me. How many of Stalin’s one time supporters ended up dead, and the same with Hitler? This chapter also shows the subtle use Shakespeare makes of the crowd.  The crowd becomes a tool for the playwright in many of these plays, in Julius Caesar, Richard III and especially in Coriolanus, and as his writing and skill developed so did the “crowd scenes” – and you have to remember that in his own times, there were crowds milling about the stage, in the Pit, you only have to be a groundling once at today’s Globe Theatre or the recent production of Julius Caesar at the new Bridge Theatre in London, to know how intimately involved you become in these scenes.

The chapter on Coriolanus reads a bit like a Guardian article after the election of Donald Trump.

In civilised states, we expect leaders to have achieved at least a minimal level of adult self-control, and we hope as well for thoughtfulness, decency, respect for others, regard for institutions. Not so Coriolanus: here we are dealing instead with an overgrown child’s narcissism, insecurity, cruelty, and folly, all unchecked by any adult’s supervision and restraint.

Sound like anyone on the world stage today?

Quite apart from its contemporary overtones, this is a wonderful study of the latter stages of Elizabeth I’s reign: ageing Virgin Queen, full of suspicion – with good reason – she had manoeuvred and managed her life, treading always upon a narrow causeway between the old Catholic and the new Protestant religion, unable to fully eradicate one or fully endorse the other and surrounded by plotters and supporters alike, who were looking on to the next event – her succession. Compared to her predecessors, Elizabeth’s reign had been remarkable. But blood was shed, sometimes unfairly; heretics – of both persuasion – were burnt; writers and demagogues punished. Greenblatt shows how Shakespeare managed his own journey, on an equally narrow causeway, with studied brilliance.

This book is not just for scholars and schoolchildren, but for everyone. A piece of work!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, History, Modern History, Politics, Uncategorized

Horror and tragedy in Italy

FacismThis book, A Bold and Dangerous Family, is a must read for everyone who loves Italy and especially Florence. Not because it encapsulates all the beauty, civility and cultural splendour, its superficial exquisiteness, but because it shows in merciless detail the hideous underbelly of that fair city.

Not least also, because it looks from the outside as though Italy is en route somewhere along the same trajectory today. This biography of the Rosselli family is a warning from history.

Caroline Moorehead has the ability to bring to life in detail all the machinations of the political turbulence that led to the dictatorship and tyranny of Benito Mussolini, the ideas behind the fasci, and then its terrible and terrifying consequences. But all this is refracted through the lives of anti-fascists, most particularly Carlo and Nello Rosselli and their immediate circle.

Brought up largely by their mother, Amelia, there were three brothers: Aldo, Carlo and Nello. Aldo was killed in the First World War, Carlo was the reactionary, the visionary who saw far into the future what fascism would bring to Italy, including war in Europe and Nello was the historian, who used Italian history as a way of showing where Mussolini was taking Italy; in fact his parallels were so transparent that he was persuaded to tone down his writings.

Ms Moorehead draw us deeply into the family Rosselli and their devotion to the cause of anti-fascism which in the end destroyed them. They were regarded as heroes after the end of the Second World War, their bodies exhumed from Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and brought back to be buried in Florence in a cemetery in Trespiano.

Attempts to bring to justice the men that killed them were futile, though the names were known. Many of the perpetrators of the scheming and execution of their killings, not least Mussolini and Ciano (his son-in-law) were already dead.

For another absorbing book by Caroline Moorehead see my post November 7th 2014 – Au revoir les enfants



Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Modern History, Politics, Travel, Uncategorized