White Chappell

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By Iain Sinclair.

There’s a lot in this novel and many of the references I will have missed. I was constantly going to google and researching things that were said. However, while it was not a euphoric enjoyable read, it was simply good. There’s still much I haven’t read by Sinclair – and will need to take time over the years to discover more of his books. I think he should be considered a great writer.

 

 

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Birth of Our Power

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By Victor Serge.

Great writing. And, by association a great translation. A well-formed novel and Serge then has the space to play and tease out philosophies and characters. This novel moves from Revolutionary Barcelona in 1917 to Petersburg and the journey in between. There’s still quite a lot of Serge for me to read. Excellent.

“Will you have some coffee? One should always appreciate coffee in troubled times. Humanity is wailing and suffering: let us sip the delectable mocha slowly; mine will be the egoist’s cup, yours whatever you wish; but it will leave the same bittersweet taste in our mouths.”

 

“The art of living consists in thinking. There are a few good moments: that is when, book in hand, you can lie down in the grass for an hour …”

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New Grub Street

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By George Gissing.

I had never read Gissing before but he was referenced somewhere – it may have been Berger – and this was worthwhile. Very difficult to put down; you were transported into the atmosphere and poverty of Victorian literary London.

‘A man who comes to be hanged,’ pursued Jasper, impartially, ‘has the satisfaction of knowing that he has brought society to its last resource. He is a man of such fatal importance that nothing will serve against him but the supreme effort of law. In a way, you know, that is success.’

 

Reardon had never been to Brighton, and of his own accord never would have gone; he was prejudiced against the place because its name has become suggestive of fashionable imbecility and the snobbishness which tries to model itself thereon; he knew that the town was a mere portion of London transferred to the sea-shore, and as he loved the strand and the breakers for their own sake, to think of them in such connection could be nothing but a trial of his temper.

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Exemplary Stories

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By Miguel de Cervantes.

There are some fantastic stories here. How I wish Cervantes had had time to write another Quixote. Ah well, i’ll have to just re-read it.

“He answered that of the infinite number of poets in existence, the good ones were so few that they hardly counted, and so being unworthy of consideration, he did not hold them in any esteem; but that he admired and revered the art of poetry, because it contained within it all the other sciences put together. It makes use of all of them, and they all adorn it, so that it gives lustre and fame to their wonderful works, and brings great profit, delight and wonder to all the world.”

 

 

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A Novel Without Lies and Cynics

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By Anatoly Mariengoff.

Two excellent short novels. The best new writer I have read for a long time. Cynics is absolutely perfect in that the form complements the subject exactly. A Novel Without Lies is great too – a picaresque romp through Mariengoff and Esenin’s years as friends.

“What can I tell you about this most horrible kingdom of philistinism bordering on imbecility? Besides the foxtrot, there’s practically nothing here; they stuff themselves full of food and drink and then they foxtrot again. I’ve yet to meet a human being, and don’t know where to look for one. Mr. Dollar is terribly in vogue, and to hell with art; its highest expression is the ‘music hall.’ I didn’t even want to publish my books here, despite the affordability of paper and translators. Nobody cares about poetry. If the book market is Europe, and the critic is Lvov-Rogachevsky, then it’s senseless, isn’t it, to write verse to please them, to suit their tastes.” [Esenin writing from Europe]

 

Eventually we both come to the conclusion that after the Latin poets it is ridiculous to speak of Pushkin even when you are in your cups.

 

 

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What Am I Doing Here?

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By Bruce Chatwin.

This was a great collection of articles. I read Utz years back and loved it – so this was a way of getting into Chatwin before starting the ‘novels’. There was much that was illuminating. A passionate traveller who could also write: a very cultured and interested person.

“We shall not lie on our backs at the Red Castle and watch the vultures wheeling over the valley where they killed the grandson of Genghiz. We will not read Babur’s memoirs in his garden at Istalif and see the blind man smelling his way around the rose bushes. Or sit in the Peace of Islam with the beggars of Gazar Gagh. We will not stand on the Buddha’s head at Bamiyan, upright in his niche like a whale in a dry-dock. We will not sleep in the nomad tent, or scale the Minaret of Jam. And we shall lose the tastes – the hot, coarse, bitter bread; the green tea flavoured with cardamoms; the grapes we cooled in the snow-melt; and the nuts and dried mulberries we munched for altitude sickness. Nor shall we get back the smell of the beanfields, the sweet, resinous smell of deodar wood burning, or the whiff of a snow leopard at 14,000 feet.”

 

 

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The Shadow of the Sun

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

This is a collection of essays on Africa – or perhaps essay is the wrong word – these could be seen as disconnected acts in the larger drama of Africa in change. Kapuściński veers between the descriptive narrative and musing – trying to find a meaning in the upheaval he documents. He covers the length and breadth of Africa in these pieces. This is an exceptional read. Here are some extracts:

“I arrived in Kumasi with no particular goal. Having one is generally deemed a good thing, the benefit of something to strive toward.This can also blind you, however: you see only your goal, and nothing else, while this something else—wider, deeper—may be considerably more interesting and important.”

 

“Our contemporary suspicion of and antipathy for the Other, the Stranger, goes back to the fear our tribal ancestors felt toward the Outsider, seeing him as the carrier of evil, the source of misfortune. Pain, fire, disease, drought, and hunger did not come from nowhere. Someone must have brought them, inflicted them, disseminated them. But who? Not my people, not those closest to me—they are good. Life is possible only among good people, and I am alive, after all. The guilty are therefore the Others, the Strangers.”

 

“History does not exist beyond that which they are able to recount here and now. The kind of history known in Europe as scholarly and objective can never arise here, because the African past has no documents or records, and each generation, listening to the version being transmitted to it, changed it and continues to change it, transforms it, modifies and embellishes it. But as a result, history, free of the weight of archives, of the constraints of dates and data, achieves here its purest, crystalline form—that of myth.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travels With Herodotus

By Ryszard Kapuściński.

This was an extremely enjoyable read. If you are looking for exactitude and factual journalism then maybe Kapuściński is not for you as his accounts are not to be trusted. He does make things larger than life in the same way as Cendrars and Celine (though both of these were dealing in personal reportage). Kapuściński does have a way with words and this travel with Kapuściński himself in the modern day juxtaposed with Herodotus’s Histories’ is very very entertaining. I read part of the Histories when years back but this book has inspired to pick it up again – I can see I didn’t understand it properly at the time.

The quote below could be seen as a sort of justification for his ‘magic’ journalism:

Herodotus is entangled in a rather insoluble dilemma: he devotes his life to preserving historic truth, to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time; at the same time, however, his main source of research is not firsthand experience, but history as it was recounted by others, as it appeared to them, therefore as it was selectively remembered and later more or less intentionally presented. In short, not primary history, but history as his interlocutors would have had it. There is no way around this divergence of purpose and means. We can try to minimize or mitigate it, but we will never approach the objective ideal. The subjective factor, its deforming presence, will remain impossible to strain out.

 

 

 

 

 

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