Edmund de Waal’s moving exhibition The Library of Exile at the British Museum has reminded me of his magnificent book The Hare With the Amber Eyes which has stayed with me ever since I read it in 2011. If you haven’t read it yet, now would be a perfect time. It’s a memoir of de Waal’s family, the Ephrussis, Jewish bankers, grain traders and intellectuals. Pillars of early 20th century Viennese society and possessors of unimaginable wealth; grand palaces in Vienna, pink chateaus on the Cote d’Azure and priceless art collections. Then came Hitler. The Hare With the Amber Eyes is an absorbing book, not only in learning about the tragic destiny of the Ephrussis but also to understand central Europe in the run up to the Second World War. An absolute must-read.
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It’s been a long, strange year and summer holidays can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned. Luckily there now seems to be light at the end of the tunnel and some sort of new normality feels within reach. I’ve struggled to find books that excite me lately and have noticed I’ve veered towards lighter reads which should tie in well with some beach reading. Here are the ones that captured my imagination. Happy summer!
The Hare With the Amber Eyes transported us to the rarefied world of the unimaginably wealthy Ephrussi family. Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal follows another Jewish family, the Camondos, neighbours of the Ephrussis and, eventually, family by marriage. In 1936, following the death of Count de Camondo’s only son, their grand residence was donated to Paris as museum and remains untouched to this day. This is their story.
Imagine this: You’re enjoying your breakfast as usual, tea and toast with delectable honey, some cheese, a pear, perhaps an egg. While musing on the day ahead, you notice that a tiny scrap of paper has been pushed under your door. It reads ‘you had poison for breakfast.’ A potential murder is under way and it’s your own! In Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket, the legendary narrator reveals how he employed both investigative expertise and philosophy when landed with this very dilemma.
It’s been an indisputably sombre year, but the youngest among us have been particularly discombobulated by global events, gloom and grim predictions emanating from every news source, including via osmosis from their worried adults. Good News by Rashmi Sirdeshpande is here to redress the balance, a book stuffed full of happy real-life stories, including good people in power, businesses making a difference and the collective determination of everyday people. It will change the way the kids in your life think about both the media and the world.
I shed a tear as I finished The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, an Italian writer whose books keep winning prestigious Italian book prizes. Veronesi’s writing was new to me and that, it seems, has been a mistake. The life story of ophthalmologist Marco Carrera had warmth, humanity, universal truths and provided the perfect holiday read.
I’ve been kept up at night by Matthew Walker’s absolutely riveting Why We Sleep. Walker, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and Director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, shares with us his ground-breaking research into sleep in this accessible and entertaining book. And the good news is, I’ll never feel guilty going to bed early ever again!
With summer right around the corner and the recent reopening of swimming pools, I thought that it was a fitting time to reread a favourite book of mine, The Swimming Pool Season by Rose Tremain. The novel focusses on British expats Larry and Miriam Kendal, who have made the quaint and quiet French hamlet of Pomerac their new home. Their move to sunnier climes from Oxford follows the collapse of Larry’s swimming pool empire, Aquazure, but their adjustment to life abroad has been bumpier than anticipated. When Miriam is urgently called to attend to her ailing mother, Leni, back in England, we discover the intricate details of their lives, where unrequited desires, frustration and “what if” questions run amok.
Remember being thirteen? Or rather not? We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida will take you back to your teens the way Sally Rooney took you back to your first love in Normal People. The insecurities, dramas, hopes, lies, friendships, crushes, embarrassments; Vida reminds us what a roller-coaster of emotions puberty is through the story of headstrong Eulabee and her best friend, the bewitchingly beautiful and charismatic Maria Fabiola. Addictive reading.
The 15th of March 2019 was an extraordinary day in history, marking as it did, the very first global school strike for climate. Raising their collective voice, more than a million and a half school children across the world took to the streets, demanding immediate action on climate change. How to Change Everything by Naomi Klein is inspired by this new wave of bold, young campaigners. Aimed at teenagers who wish to understand the history, science and politics of climate change, while also acquiring the tools for activism, the renowned social activist and writer shares her decades of accumulated wisdom.