Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich review – the astonishing achievement of the Nobel prize winner


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From Chernobyl to the experience of children during the second world war ... Alexievich has produced her own remarkable version of Soviet history

In 1993, two years after Svetlana Alexievich published Boys in Zinc, her oral history of Russia’s war in Afghanistan, she was sued by a number of the people she had interviewed. They accused her of offending their “honour and dignity” and of portraying their soldier sons as “soulless killer-robots, pillagers, drug addicts and racists”. Though the case was in part thrown out, it said much about the fickleness of memory and the way that the rawness of grief – conveyed to Alexievich during the interviews – had quickly been overlaid by a more bearable narrative, in which the war had been a heroic venture to help Afghanistan create a new society: their sons and husbands had not died uselessly but for a noble cause. Alexievich would not ...

The Lost Boys by Catherine Bailey review – a Hitler vendetta and a remarkable family tale


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When the Nazis arrested the plotters against Hitler, they came for their families too ... how one woman escaped death and tracked down her children

In 1987, Fey von Hassell, younger daughter of the former German ambassador to Rome, published her memoirs. A Mother’s War told the story of the vendetta carried out by Hitler against the families of the men implicated in the July 1944 coup plot – of which her father Ulrich von Hassell was one – and the survival, against all the odds, of herself and her small children. Catherine Bailey, author of two successful family biographies, has retold Fey’s story, filling in gaps and setting it in a wider context. It is indeed an extraordinary tale.

Ulrich von Hassell, an aristocrat and diplomat of the old school, was posted to Rome in 1932. From the first opposed to the Nazis, his opposition grew stronger as Europe moved ...

Dreamers by Volker Weidermann review – Munich 1919, a moment of anarchy

A superb account of an episode when the writers took over and it seemed all could be different. Then people were rounded up and shot

On 7 November 1918, a critic and journalist called Kurt Eisner, with long grey hair, a wild beard and pince-nez, led a victory parade through the streets of Munich, calling for revolution. Crowds flocked, among them the many disbanded soldiers returning from the war. Eisner dreamed of a free and independent Bavaria, run by councils of writers and workers in which artists would elevate and educate the masses and there would never again be war. He would be prime minister. It could not, indeed did not, last. But for three chaotic weeks, ungoverned Munich was in perpetual carnival mood, with women sitting outside on their porches in the sunshine and prophets, “hypnotists, and those who had been hypnotised” preaching anarchy and happiness. Thomas Mann’s son …

Living with the Gods by Neil MacGregor review – the nature of belief


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From stones laid 11,000 years ago to modern Japanese temple offerings … reflections on objects and faith

Neil MacGregor has chosen to open his new book with a statement of what it is not. Living with the Gods, he writes, is neither a history of religion, nor an argument in favour of faith, nor a defence of any one belief. Rather, it is an attempt to define the nature of belief, the way it influences people and the countries they inhabit, and to show how fundamental it is in explaining who we are and where we came from. For, as he says, it is in deciding how we live with the gods that we decide how to live with each other.

MacGregor has spent many years using art and artefacts as a means of looking at the past, and once again his new book has been accompanied by a ...

Rise up Women! by Diane Atkinson review – Arson, arrest, escape, and the right to vote


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Factory girls and Fabians go to war in a dramatic chronicle of the brutal fight for female suffrage

On 21 June 1908, half a million people gathered in Hyde Park to celebrate “Women’s Sunday”. There were 30 brass bands, bugles and 20 platforms with speakers wearing the purple, white and green colours of the votes for women campaigners. It was, for the most part, a good-humoured event, but it did not persuade the government to extend the franchise to women. Since peaceful protest had clearly failed, Christabel Pankhurst warned the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, “militant methods must once more be resorted to”.

What we remember today of the suffragette movement is the image, captured on grainy film, of Emily Davison, the former governess and journalist, throwing herself under the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913, and dying four days later of a fractured skull. But ...

What You Did Not Tell by Mark Mazower review – a dramatic family memoir


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In uncovering his ancestors’ secrets, the historian also paints a vast and rich picture of left-wing European Jewry throughout the 20th century

There is a level of secrecy within families that is sometimes hard for outsiders to comprehend. Max Mazower, grandfather of the author, never told his much loved wife Frouma, to whom he was married for many years, the name of his mother. This was, in a way, the least of it. Nor did he talk about his long and active past as a revolutionary socialist in tsarist Russia. Memory and secrets, how they are buried and how they can be unearthed, lie at the heart of Mark Mazower’s fascinating and scholarly reconstruction of a family’s life and the myriad relations, friends, acquaintances, places, houses and adventures that spin out from it.

Mazower is a distinguished historian of 20th-century Europe and he brings to his digging the doggedness ...

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich review – for ‘filth’ read truth


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The Nobel prize-winner’s astonishing oral history of the experience of Russian woman during the second world war finally appears uncensoredWhen Charlotte Delbo – a French dramatist arrested by the Germans in Paris and sent to Auschwitz in 1943 – came home from the camps, her first thought was to write about the women with her who had survived, and the ones who had not. But when she finished her book, with its mixture of memory and testimony, she put it away in a drawer for 20 years, worried in case it did not convey what it had really been like. She wanted to be certain that the writing was so plain, so transparent, that nothing would come between the readers and their understanding. Related: Belarus women who served on front lines of world war two – in pictures Continue reading...

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich review – for ‘filth’ read truth


This post is by Caroline Moorehead from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




The Nobel prize-winner’s astonishing oral history of the experience of Russian woman during the second world war finally appears uncensoredWhen Charlotte Delbo – a French dramatist arrested by the Germans in Paris and sent to Auschwitz in 1943 – came home from the camps, her first thought was to write about the women with her who had survived, and the ones who had not. But when she finished her book, with its mixture of memory and testimony, she put it away in a drawer for 20 years, worried in case it did not convey what it had really been like. She wanted to be certain that the writing was so plain, so transparent, that nothing would come between the readers and their understanding. Related: Belarus women who served on front lines of world war two – in pictures Continue reading...

The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard review – a brother’s death never mentioned


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Beard was swimming alongside his nine-year-old brother when he drowned. After decades, he has written a touching memoir about memory and forgetting A young boy with thick dark hair, in swimming trunks and clutching his knees to his chest, is perched on a rock, staring speculatively out to sea. He looks cold, like many generations of children on English beaches. His name is Nicholas and, as his brother Richard tells us, he has just an hour or so left to live. Soon after his grandfather took this picture, the two boys went swimming from a nearby cove. The water was choppy. An undertow caught them. Richard, at 11 the stronger swimmer, scrabbled for a toehold in the sand and made it back to the beach. Nine-year-old Nicholas drowned. This haunting photograph is the jacket of The Day that Went Missing, a book that Beard calls his “inquest” into his ...

The Disappearance of Émile Zola by Michael Rosen review – J’Accuse and after


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The story of Zola’s intervention in the Dreyfus case and flight to London is a lively portrait of a disputatious age On 13 January 1898, the Parisian daily L’Aurore carried what quickly became one of the most celebrated letters in literary and political history. Written by Émile Zola under the heading of “J’Accuse”, it was an immensely long open letter addressed to the president, in which he not only accused the French establishment, and particularly the highest levels of the army, of obstruction of justice and antisemitism, but named those generals he considered most culpable. What had prompted the outburst was the recent guilty verdict for treason handed down to a Jewish artillery officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was believed to have passed military secrets to the German embassy. Zola, along with many others, maintained that Dreyfus had been convicted on the basis of forged documents, and that the ...