Stefan Zweig – Diaries by Stefan Zweig, covering the period from 1931 to 1940, has just been published in English for the first time. Die-hard fans, like me, will want to read this but if you’re new to Zweig’s writing, I’d start with his books or short-stories instead (The World of Yesterday, Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman or short-story collections). As a companion to his other works, I found this an interesting peek into the author’s mind; as much for the things he doesn’t say as for what he says.
The World of Yesterday by Stephan Zweig is his autobiography, finished two days before his and his second wife’s joint suicide. It’s a lament for a lost world, a love letter to creativity and artists and an eloquent analysis of events that led up to both the first and the second world wars. The parallels with aspects of our own turbulent times are hard to ignore. Zweig, an Austrian Jew whose wonderful novellas (The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman) many of you will know, was the world’s most popular author in the 1920s and 30s, until Hitler banned his books. Highly recommended.
In his acclaimed poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas exhorts us to resist death when it comes knocking, to ‘rage against the dying of the light.’ But did he take his own advice? We find out in The Violet Hour by Katie Roiphe, a curious and captivating look at the end days of five famous writers, namely Dylan Thomas, John Updike, Sigmund Freud, Maurice Sendak, and the seemingly inextinguishable Susan Sontag. Selecting writers who she feels were ‘especially attuned to death,’ albeit in extremely different ways, Roiphe considers whether their personal insights can bring us consolation and courage.
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!
You don’t need to be paranoid to suspect the world is skewed towards men – mainly white men. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez demonstrate, with data, the ways in which it is and some of her research should come as a surprise to even the most well-informed feminists. From what qualifies as deductible work expenses, the way streets are cleared of snow, the design of playgrounds to medical research, women remain invisible. An eye-opener.
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.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann is a book unlike any I’ve read before; part fiction, part non-fiction. Facts and myths, history and politics, memories, even photos, are woven together to create a rich tapestry. At its heart lies the true story of two men, at either side of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, whose young daughters are killed. After being hit by the same devastating loss, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan become friends and decide to take their message of reconciliation and forgiveness out to the world. An original, clever and deeply moving read.
This may seem a perverse time to be reading The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare; however, I have my reasons. I first met the author and broadcaster in Munich. The Literaturhaus is a glorious place to meet like-minded artistic folk. Yet, it was a few days later in the beating heat of the German countryside that we talked openly and with that rare candour which seems only ever to emerge – fleetingly – in moments of stillness. Nantesbuch is a small stretch of wilderness, some few miles north of Penzberg. Clare puffed on a cigarette and described his journal as a process of reflection upon his seasonal depression. I countered that summer was in fact the most sobering time of the year for me. He smiled – lit a further cigarette – and that was the end of that.
I was born in Britain in the mid-nineties; as such, I am fortunate enough to know very little of war and her brutish seams. Instead, I see explosions on television and sleep safely in my bed with only the rumbling Northern Line to stir me. And All the Trumpets by Donald Smith is enlightening, troubling and overwhelmingly humbling. The autobiography recounts Smith’s years as a Japanese prisoner of war. It is a story of almost incomprehensible suffering; daily torture, rampant disease and total psychological discombobulation come to define Smith’s lived experience in a story too far-fetched for fiction.
It’s an annual event now. October comes, and with it the “memoirs” of a politician unceremoniously chucked out of office in the past decade. First we had Nick Clegg, whose Politics: Between the Extremes didn’t much change prospects for Britain remaining in the EU, but attracted the attention of Silicon Valley. Gordon Brown’s largely turgid memoirs reminded us all of why he had trouble communicating with the public. David Cameron’s exhaustive For the Record took up nearly 700 pages before he could bring himself to write about the referendum. A Promised Land by Barack Obama does not depart from these efforts in its mission, but it is refreshing in its style.