Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli review – border crossings


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A New York family takes a road trip south, in this rigorous and beguiling novel about child migrants on the US-Mexico border that has been longlisted for the Women’s prize

A family of four, in which neither child is child to both parents, leaves New York and drives towards the borderlands of Arizona. In the back of the car, along with the usual luggage, are seven boxes. Those belonging to the adults contain books and documents, CDs and newspaper cuttings. Those belonging to the children, aged five and 10, are initially empty but fill up over the course of the journey with images and transcriptions of sounds, traces of their experiences along the way.

The novel is like those boxes. Orderly in arrangement, eccentric in the selection of its contents, it is at once intellectually rigorous and engagingly humane. Into it is crammed an account of love’s fade-out, a tender ...

Deviation by Luce d’Eramo review – the woman who entered Dachau by choice


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This strange, compelling autobiographical novel, first published in 1979, explores an unfamiliar aspect of the Third Reich

A woman, emaciated and filthy, worms her way beneath barbed wire that may be electrified. We know this scene: we’ve watched or read it scores of times. In Luce d’Eramo’s variation, the woman beneath the fence is not trying to escape from a Nazi prison camp. She is trying to get in.

D’Eramo died in 2001. Deviation, her autobiographical novel, first published in Italy in 1979, covers her experiences between the summer of 1944, when she went voluntarily to join the slave labourers in the IG Farben factory in Mainz, and late 1945 when, paralysed from the waist down, she returned to Italy.

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Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry review – savagery at sea


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Hunger drives this thrillingly vivid novel about eight men cast adrift in 1833, which draws on Melville, Dickens and Shakespeare

By their names you shall know them. It is immediately obvious, to a reader of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, that a man called Edward Fairfax Vere will be nobly inclined and that one called Claggart is likely to be a brute. So, though the real world is doubtless full of charming people with the surname Carver, in fiction – especially in a book as artfully contrived as Elizabeth Lowry’s Melville-influenced second novel – such a tag carries inescapable associations with knives cutting into flesh.

Lowry’s Carver, the esteemed middle-aged director of a Boston mental asylum, is looking back to the year 1833, when he was the 21-year-old assistant surgeon on board a Pacific-bound ship in the US navy. There he encountered Billy Borden, a sailor with a heroic reputation ...

MI5 and Me by Charlotte Bingham review – a coronet among the spooks


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The bestselling novelist reveals the truth about her spy father in a larky tale of cold war espionage

It was 1962 and Charlotte Bingham was 19 ¾ when a friend of her parents, seeing her drinking champagne at the Ritz, came over to find out the occasion for such profligate behaviour. She was celebrating, she explained, because she’d finished writing a book.

The friend was a literary agent. A few months later Bingham’s Coronet Among the Weeds was a bestseller. Artfully simulating artlessness, the precocious memoir described her life as an ebullient ingenue in search of a Prince Charming among the “weeds, drips and leches” she met in posh society. It was fresh and funny. Candour appeared to be its distinguishing characteristic. Now a veteran fiction author, Bingham has written that book’s prequel, and we discover how much – as an ostensibly guileless girlish narrator – she was actually holding ...

A Bold and Dangerous Family by Caroline Moorehead review – anti-fascist heroes


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Carlo and Nello Rosselli were influential opponents of Mussolini. This excellent book uses letters and police files to tell their story Carlo and Nello Rosselli didn’t look like heroes, or like martyrs. They were portly young men with round faces and sweet smiles. They loved their mother very much: “There is no one on earth equal to our adorable mother,” wrote Carlo to Nello. They also loved their wives. Nello’s career as an academic and biographer won him respect but was much interrupted. Carlo taught for a while too, then lost his job and lived thereafter on income from his family’s shares in a mining company. Yet when they were killed in France in 1937, almost certainly on Mussolini’s orders, the brothers’ funeral cortege was followed to the Père Lachaise cemetery by 200,000 people. Fourteen years later, they were reburied near Florence, and the city’s streets were crammed with admirers. ...

A Bold and Dangerous Family by Caroline Moorehead review – anti-fascist heroes


This post is by Lucy Hughes-Hallett from Books | The Guardian


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Carlo and Nello Rosselli were influential opponents of Mussolini. This excellent book uses letters and police files to tell their story Carlo and Nello Rosselli didn’t look like heroes, or like martyrs. They were portly young men with round faces and sweet smiles. They loved their mother very much: “There is no one on earth equal to our adorable mother,” wrote Carlo to Nello. They also loved their wives. Nello’s career as an academic and biographer won him respect but was much interrupted. Carlo taught for a while too, then lost his job and lived thereafter on income from his family’s shares in a mining company. Yet when they were killed in France in 1937, almost certainly on Mussolini’s orders, the brothers’ funeral cortege was followed to the Père Lachaise cemetery by 200,000 people. Fourteen years later, they were reburied near Florence, and the city’s streets were crammed with admirers. ...

The Mesmerist by Wendy Moore review – lively study of 19th-century medicine’s cutting edge


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This account of the rise and fall of John Elliotson, an early proponent of mesmerism and other medical novelties, is told with gustoIn London in the 1830s, “mesmerism”, a practice newly arrived from France, was at once an intriguing therapy and a sensational form of entertainment. Wendy Moore opens her lively study of the craze for it with an account of a demonstration staged (the theatrical term is apposite) in the recently opened University College hospital. The impresario and star of the show was John Elliotson, physician, professor and noted moderniser. He had summoned his peers in the medical establishment, along with an assortment of aristocrats, students and journalists, to witness the extraordinary power he could exert over two young women simply by fixing them with his eye or waving his hands before them. Continue reading...

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis – review


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The playwright and writer reveals her own life story via a lively, intelligent tribute to the neglected Brontë sister, AnneHere’s a scene from Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Mr Hattersley, his face purple, his laughter manic, has Lord Lowborough by the arm and is trying to drag him out of the drawing room. Lowborough is a reformed alcoholic. He struggles, pale with anger, to resist Hattersley’s proclaimed intent to make him drunk again. Getting hold of a candle, he burns Hattersley’s hands with it. The latter lets go, “roaring like a wild beast”, and collapses on to an ottoman from which he taunts and threatens his miserable wife, eventually staggering to his feet to knock her down. Anne Brontë’s stature as a novelist would probably have been more readily recognised had she been born into another family, not only because she had two of English fiction’s most enduringly popular ...

History’s People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan – review


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Irreverent and highly enjoyable – history as seen by the people who were thereTwo of Otto von Bismarck’s house guests once stood in awe, writes Margaret MacMillan, contemplating his chamber pot. Like everything else about the man, it was outsize. The anecdote nicely exemplifies MacMillan’s approach to greatness. She acknowledges its existence, but isn’t cowed by it. Her summary of Bismarck’s career, in this book, concedes that it was largely thanks to his tremendous will and his political adroitness that Germany was created, but it also shows him acting like a difficult child, slamming doors and announcing that his latest row with the kaiser had given him such a headache he was likely to die of it. Continue reading...