Category Archives: Book Review

The Italian Executioners

italian

The Italian Executioners –
The Genocide of the Jews of Italy
By Simon Levis Sullam
Princeton University Press – £21.00

[…] informing was mainly carried out by hundreds of non-Jewish Italians who grasped at the chance to make money, exact revenge, or remove an obstacle in their professional or personal sphere. A huge number of arrests and sequestrations or confiscations of property were carried out thanks to denunciations made both in person and anonymously. It is not war alone that turns men and women against their neighbours, it is also civil war – by definition a violent, fratricidal clash – as well as a context of genocide that identifies an enemy within, declaring them to be inferior and alien, authorizing their persecution, and legitimizing their victimization.

As the whole title of this most revealing, potent book might suggest, herein (essentially) lurks a re-confirmation of human nature’s innate penchant and potential for inbred, sadistic cruelty.

To be sure, as the above opening gambit illustrates – and then continues: ”Even those not actively involved, those without particular ideological ties, find themselves living in and adhering to a new system of norms that imposes – and in any case authorizes – the use of violence even against next-door neighbours, acquaintances, or friends. In this context, personal motivation, private hate, and the hope of making a quick profit can surface.’’

So if nothing else, The Italian Executioners – The Genocide of the Jews of Italy does make one wonder how human nature can be so overtly cruel, so very quickly.
And without hesitation.

The mere fact that Simon Levis Sullam has bequeathed as much to bear, already (not to mention) inadvertently, substantiates the validity of this most honest and courageous book.

As such, if Hitler’s vile regime unleashed anything upon the world, it was the cold and horrendous light of day knowledge that people were and can be horrendous anywhere and everywhere. And so far as the Second World War was/is concerned, not only was Germany capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also France and The Netherlands, Italy and even Poland – which as a nation, surely suffered more than most within said theatre of murder and hate.

All of whom were sometimes a little too zealous, a little too quick, to denounce their fellow Jewish compatriots.

In relation to Italy, Simon Levis Sullam herein presents a most troubling and unforgettable account of how ordinary Italians actively participated in the deportation of Italy’s Jews between 1943 and 1945 – when Mussolini’s collaborationist republic was under German occupation. As Robert Gordon of The Times Literary Supplement points out: ‘’[…]the picture Sullam paints is layered and locally inflected, rich with regional variation and human stories… The result is an important, proportionate, by turns angry and moving corrective: a call to complete the picture of Italy’s Holocaust, to set alongside the stories of witnesses and righteous rescuers, the portraits of the perpetrators.”

Indeed, while many historians have long believed Italians were relatively protective of Jews during this time, The Italian Executioners tells a very different story; recounting in vivid detail the shocking events of a period in which Italians set in motion almost half of the arrests that sent their Jewish compatriots to the concentration camp(s).

These collaborators ranged from ‘’petty informers to Fascist intellectuals – and their motives ran from greed to ideology,” qualities which again, remain an off-shoot trajectory of the aforementioned cruelty of human nature.

As Richard J.B. Bosworth, author of Mussolini’s Italy writes: ”Combining trenchant writing and scholarly rigor, The Italian Executioners is a brilliant exposure of how Italians were not always the ‘nice people; of the brava gente myth.’ One of the many virtues of Levis Sullam’s fine book is its accounts of such places as Venice and Florence, where it is time to accept that there is past darkness to go with all the light.’’

This book is a gripping revisionist history of Italy’s role in the Holocaust.
Brief and beautifully written, its difficult narrative shines a harsh spotlight on those who turned on their Jewish fellow citizens.
And rightly so.

David Marx

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Autumn In Venice

venice

Autumn In Venice
Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse
By Andrea di Robilant
Atlantic Books – £9.99

Even if their relationship was not sexual, they now wrote to each other in the language of lovers.

                                                                                    (‘Crouching Beast’)

What is it with love?
What is it with obsession?
And is there a difference?

Really.

Is there a difference between these two things?
If such they be called.
Or referred to.
Or struggled with – amid the everyday (claustrophobic) condition, so disproportionately settled within ones’ own parameters of cloying madness.

For what is love if not some form of wretched illness?

One need only read this tantalisingly beguiling book on one of the finest writers of the twentieth century about Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse – the secondary title Autumn In Venice. A non-randomly depicted title if ever there was one, yet a fitting one nevertheless; for as so succinctly stated in The Daily Mail (of all places), Andrea di Robilant’s previous book ‘’A Venetian Affair has all the compelling, over-the-top inevitability of an opera.’’

A lot like this book to be honest, although I do have to say that the prime subject matter of much of Autumn In Venice is perhaps far more Shakespearian than Venetian – with Hemingway himself depicting ye merchant of the city he was so entranced by: ‘’It is sort of like having died and gone to Heaven, a place you’d figured never to see.’’

In the autumn of 1948, Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary, travelled for the first time to Venice, which he deemed ‘a goddam wonderful city.’ The writer was a year shy of his fiftieth birthday and hadn’t published a novel in almost a decade. At a duck shoot in the lagoon he meets and falls hopelessly in love with Adriana Ivancich – a seemingly striking Venetian girl, just out of finishing school. And that folks, is what these 306 pages (excluding Prologue, Acknowledgements, Notes to Pages, Select Bibliography and Index) is what this book is essentially about and focuses upon.

Although it does need to be said that the author, Andrea di Robilant (whose great uncle moved in Hemingway’s ever revolving circle of bon vivants, aristocrats and artists) does recreate what sounds like a tempestuous relationship to say the least – with overtly vivid clarity:

‘’’’Apart from babies in strollers,’’ he said, ‘’every male that passes by would come over and ask to marry you if he knew you and if he were not stupid. So would I, even though I am stupid.’’
‘’But you have Mary!’’
‘’Mary – solid, brave, courageous. Believe me, I am not ungrateful. But sometimes you travel a road together for a while and then each one goes in his direction. It has already happened to me. It would not happen with you. Because I love you in my heart and I can’t do anything about it.’’
Adriana felt her heart sink and stared out of the veranda. Was he going to propose? ‘’I could tell he was terribly serious, he wasn’t joking. I wanted to take a sip of my gin and tonic but I sat frozen. As if an avalanche was about to slide down from the mountain.’’
‘’I love you,’’ he said. And he added, in Italian, ‘Ti voglio bene.’ In the language of Dante it means you want the person you love to be well. I know what would make you happy. Even though you don’t say it, I know. I would live to make you happy, until the end of my life.’’

That the inevitable outcome doesn’t necessarily equate with said words, is of course, somewhat beside the point. But as I mentioned at the outset of this review:
What is it with love?
What is it with obsession?
And is there a difference?

I wouldn’t wholeheartedly agree with the New York Times Book Review whom describe
Autumn In Venice as ‘’splendidly engrossing,’’ but it is nevertheless ‘’an extraordinary story.’’

David Marx

Skint Estate

skint

Skint Estate
A Memoir of Poverty, Motherhood and Survival
By Cash Carraway
Ebury Press – £14.99

Poundland is burning and Sports Direct mugs are smashed across every UK high street. Stolen widescreens in every room, and we don’t even have a TV licence. Vile! Someone send Boris Johnson to Clapham and hand him a fucking broom, let’s restore order! Someone come and clean up the disorder us lone women spewed from our dirty cunts filled with sticky residue of the men we were never good enough for anyway. Peter Hitchens asks – Where’s the dad? Food bank misuse, Little Britain, Broken Britain, Black Dee from Benefits Street and Victorian baby farms. Big society? Bollox. Born out of wedlock? Bring back the 1834 poor law! Starve – them – all. Drug the weakest babies and sling them in the Thames! Throw us into asylums, let the Churches remove our children, let the doctors close our wombs, let us live in fear of Universal Credit rollouts as Katie Hopkins screeches – Where’s the dad?
We emasculate men for our own sexual gratification. We’re nothing but dirty bitches hunting for dick in the bin room on bin day to feed our reckless lifestyle choices for our free council homes and our food-bank hauls.

To suggest that this grimy-gritty; über-urban, overtly powerful book, is the perfect depiction of today’s even more Broken Britain than when said term was initially devised (by David Cameron no less – he of ultimate chagrin to that of the book’s authoress, Cash Carraway), wouldn’t be far off the mark.

As seen through the eyes of under-nourished children, poor women and poor mothers, Skint Estate is spot on. And perhaps more troubling, absolute.
Absolute in its poignant and socially tragic portrayal of what Britain has unfortunately devolved into: An utterly cold and myopic, misinformed and callous little island that is self-imploding by the day.

Hence the above opening gambit, which shoots straight from the hip of Carraway’s oft used, albeit perfect term, ”poverty porn.”

If the preposterous cancer of Brexit weren’t enough – upon which millions and millions and millions of pounds have been completely wasted – it is the inexorable, economic cleavage between the ever increasing poor, and the equally ever increasing rich, that is rampantly destroying what’s left of Dickensian Britain.

Among other tough issues, these 339 pages give a wide-eyed, honest account of what it’s like to be a single mother in today’s Food Bank Britain: ”We are a subculture of society who can barely afford to feed ourselves, yet we will never be deemed ”in need” enough to qualify for social housing. We pay market rents and share beds with our children. We dance the boundaries of benefits yet sometimes drift into a low tax bracket. We are ‘gig economy’ workers, void of rights, void of hours. We are zero. We are less than zero. We are forced into self-employment. We are Aldi’s target audience and the cause of Philip Hammond’s awkward smirk.
‘There are no unemployed,’ he lies. Thanks to people like me.
We take what we can, whenever we can. We’ll work at 4 am for less than minimum wage and at 11 pm for the same. We’ll work in exchange for a product that we might be able to shift on eBay. Anything, for anything. But it usually amounts to nothing.”

Indeed, it usually amounts to nothing.
So many continue to vouch for as much; while the ever braying sheep of dumb-fuck ideology – seemingly insistent upon leaving Europe ”cause it’s all them fucking-nigger-immigrants fault innit?” – continue to subscribe to Johnson’s greed-driven-division.

Moreover, it does need to be said that Skint Estate is just as equally entertaining in parts, as it is occasionally heartbreaking – as the following wholeheartedly substantiates: ”To make real money in the strip club you need to be mass market. Think Coldplay. Conventional, dull, yet ultimately solid songwriters. Think of yourself as the Chris Martin of strippers and you’re well on the way to being one of the club’s top earners.”

Although it is surely such one liners as the glib reflection of Carraway’s own high-octane, terrible, terrible reality; that places this book within the realm of a certain beautiful brilliance: ”Even the kebab shop paedophile who was advertising a mattress in a cupboard in exchange for sex rejected me.”

I’d like to think Amber Rudd read Skint Estate just before she resigned.
If not, I’d strongly, vehemently suggest the ENTIRE Tory Party read this book several times over. Simply because it’s:

Vivid.
Heartbreaking.
Powerful.
Real.
Entertaining.
Compassionate.
And spot-on.

David Marx

Mallorca

Mallorca_4.9781786575470.browse.0

Mallorca
By Damian Harper
Lonely Planet – £13.99

Palma is a a stunner. Rising in honey-coloured stone from the broad waters of the Badia de Palma, this enduring city dates back to the 13th-century Christian reconquest of the island, and to the Moors. Romans and Talayotic people before that. A richly studded diadem of historical sites, Palma also shelters a seemingly endless array of galleries, restaurants, craft studios and bars – it’s without doubt Mallorca’s greatest treasure.

                                                                                    (Palma de Mallorca, page 51).

Palma is indeed ”Mallorca’s greatest treasure.”
Having recently spent ten weeks on the island, I can honestly say the island’s capital is its greatest asset – especially so far as atmosphere and architecture, hustle’n’bustle, as well as all round vibrancy is concerned.

The Old Town in the immediate vicinity of the glorious cathedral is, in and of itself, especially captivating (and makes for something of a photographer’s paradise). All of which – and a whole lot more besides – is wonderfully captured within the 216 pages of Lonely Planet’s Mallorca by Damian Harper: ”Generations of Palmá’s aristocratic families have left their mark on the Old Town, most visibly in the form imposing palaus (palaces or mansions) and their demonstratively handsome patis (patios). Wandering the old medieval street brings you repeatedly nose-to-wrought iron gate with this tantalising inaccessible legacy: almost all the palaus are in private hands, their cool, colonnaded courtyards barred from the street immediately outside by ornate metal barriers. To the unschooled, these bastions of antique privilege can be hard to tell apart; but to those who know, there are subtleties and stories to be untangled.”

To be sure, tangled up in blue, the area most definitely is not.
The area is simply hopping with people, cafes, bars, cars, brightly painted-window shutters, and as such, a menagerie of colour – not often seen in northern Europe.

Then of course, there’s the cathedral itself, which Harper briefly touches upon at the outset of the book on page nine: ‘’Resembling a vast ship moored at the city’s edge, Palma Catedral dominates the skyline and is the island’s architectural tour de force. On the seaward side, the flying buttresses are extraordinary. A kaleidoscope of stained-glass windows and an intriguing flight of fancy by Gaudi inhabit the interior, alongside an inventive rendering of a biblical parable by contemporary artist Miquel Barcelo. You’ll find yourself returning here, either to get your bearings, or simply to admire it from every angle.’’

It’s true, I did find myself returning.
In fact, the Catedral was nigh centrifugal every time I visited Palma (the author goes into far more detail with regards this architectural gem on page 51).

Mallorca moreover, is predominantly renowned for sunshine and stunning beaches, which, along with the island’s other towns – such as Manacor (birthplace of the tennis great, Rafael Nadal) Inca, Arta, Pollenca and Valldemossa – this travel guide does shed a great deal of light upon.

For instance, with regards the stunning Valldemossa on the west of the island (that I visited twice), Harper writes: ‘’In any poll of the prettiest villages in the Balearics, Valldemossa (p100) is always a contender, if not outright winner. Draped like a skirt around the eastern foothills of the Serra de Tramuntana, the village has the usual Mallorcan cobblestone lanes, flowerpots, pretty church and stone architecture. But Valldemossa gains extra cachet with its former royal monastery, which once housed Frederic Chopin and George Sand; aside from giving Valldemossa’s residents something to gossip about in perpetuity, their stay bequeathed to the town one of Mallorca’s most uplifting music festivals, Festival Chopin.’’

Divided into six sections: Palma and the Badia de Palma, Western, Southern, Northern, Eastern Mallorca and The Interior – Mallorca really does tick ALL the boxes.

Indeed, whatever it is your looking for, you’ll most definitely find it herein. From Arts & Crafts, to Accommodation, From Itineraries to Information, From Travel with Children to Regions at a Glance, it’s all here – neatly laid out and punctuated with detailed maps and an alluring selection of colour photos.

If nothing else, a wonderful momento of this topographically fascinating island.

David Marx

 

The Book of Revelation

revelation

The Book of Revelation –
A Biography
By Timothy Beal
Princeton University Press – £21.00

Dreadful and hopeful, dreamy and disgusting, Revelation is a sticky bit of biblical tradition: hard to grasp firmly and even harder to let go.

                                                                        (Introduction).

To describe the (actual) Book of Revelation as a topsy-turvy, highly contentious, misogynistic, supremely ordained, if not antagonistic affair; might be considered as something of a far too suave and succinct synopsis.
There again, maybe not.

Where to begin?
Well this particular biography of a work – many consider ought never to have been allowed unto the pantheon of the Bible to begin with – does, if nothing else, take the reader on one hell of a literary journey.
No pun intended.
To be sure, puns aren’t exactly something would ever equate with such a disturbing subject matter. As Timothy Beal nigh immediately writes in the Introduction of The Book of Revelation – A Biography: ”Indeed, no biblical book – perhaps no religious book – has been so simultaneously revered and reviled as Revelation. Many hail it as the pinnacle of prophetic vision and imagination, the cornerstone of the biblical canon […]. Others denounce it as downright diagnosable, the work of a highly disturbed individual whose highly disturbing dreams of inhumane […] violence should never have been allowed into the Bible in the first place.”

So yeah, inflammatory or what?

These ten chapters denote a diverse take on what is clearly, a dour, if not didactic work.
A work yet to be fully understood within its own design of fluidic parameters; parameters that are surely (?) way off the scale so far as any form of pragmatism and acute sensibility is concerned: ”Seven angels dressed in bright robes with gold sashes come out of the temple in heaven, and the four creatures give each one of them a bowl of divine wrath in the form of a plague. The first pours his bowl on the earth, and it causes painful sores on those who have taken the mark of the beast and worshipped him. The second pours his bowl on the sea, and it becomes like the blood of a corpse; everything in it dies. The third pours his into the rivers, and they become as blood. The fourth pours his on the sun, and it scorches the people of the earth, yet they still refuse to repent. The fifth pours his on the beast’s throne so that his kingdom is cast into darkness, yet the people do not repent, even as they gnaw their own tongues off and curse God in agony. The sixth pours his bowl on the river Euphrates, and it dries up to prepare the way of the kings from the East.”

As is perhaps to be expected, most of these 208 pages (excluding Preface, Further Reading and Index) don’t particularly make for jolly reading. They do however remind the reader of the extent to which we can all on occasion, subscribe to the controversial darkness that somehow lurks within our own subconscious.

As such, The Book of Revelation really is so much more than A Biography; it’s an engaging and provocative account of a book that even the likes of Augustine and Martin Luther occasionally struggled to come to terms with.

David Marx

 

Vicious

vicious

Vicious
By Xurxo Borrazas
Small Stations Press – $14.99

The labyrinth of yes or no…

                                             (chapter 13).

Convoluted in its simplicity, Vicious is the sort of read that keeps one hanging onto the mild precipice of expectation, but, at the end of the day, to no ultimate avail.

To describe the journey unto the end as both provocative and occasionally distrubing, wouldn’t be too far off the mark for that which I should imagine it was (originaly) intended; although I have to personally say, I felt to no more enlightened (or entertined for that matter) by the book’s conclusion on page 182.

For me, Xurxo Borrazas’s Vicious could just as well have ended on page 61, where he writes: ”The mud-chocked pathways, the frostbitten fields and fences and the repetition of days like heavy links on a prisoner’s chain are enough to wear down the will of the most vigorous.”

Centered around a multiple of gruesome murders that have taken place along Galicia’s infamous Coast of Death, this is a semi- postmodern novel that could at best – from a literary perspective at least – be considered beguiling. As the actual writing itself does (admittedly) draw the reader in. But once inside, or within the parameters of that which is actually being told, there’s a vacuosity that is hard to deny:

”The stone and dirt paths that extend toward the valley form a labyrinth in the night, which is a labyrinth in time, which is a labyrinth in fear, which is a labyrinth in silence, which is a labyrinth without words, which form another labyrinth without walls, entrances or exits.”

Hmm, The General In His Labyrinth (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) it most certainly isn’t, although I would have to contend that Vicious – for all of its pronounced ambiguity – is worth investigating. Even if just for the following one line: ”And intense fear pounded in his chest with all the force of childhood.”

David Marx

1931

tobias

1931 – Debt, Crisis, And The Rise Of Hitler
By Tobias Straumann
Oxford University Press – £16.99

It felt like the end of capitalism as people knew it. Looking back at the year 1931, Arnold Toynbee considered it an ‘annus terribilis,’ observing that ‘men and women all over the world were seriously contemplating and frankly discussing the possibility that the Western system of society might break down and cease to work.’

(‘The Rise Of Hitler’)

The (many) parallels between this most concise and coherent book, and so much of what is going on in the world today – especially in Venezuela, Brazil, the United States and Brexit Britain – really doesn’t bear worth thinking about. Admittedly, such is easy to stipulate and ponder upon when aided with the frightening confirmation that is hindsight; but hey, reading certain pages of 1931 – Debt, Crisis, And The Rise Of Hitler, is reflectively akin to that of a mirror of today’s, elongated, troubled society.

For instance, on page 196, Tobias Straumann, continues from that of the above opening quote, when he writes: ”Especially the period from May to December 1931 seemed to him ‘unlike any months which the living generation of mankind had lived through’ since the end of the war. ‘To those who lived through those critical months, it felt as though the combined forces of Fate and Folly were making a concentrated attack upon the the citadel of civilization.”

What with a greed riddled, unquestionably, self-serving, dishonest Prime Minister having recently been ensconced in Number 10, the inexorable, highly inflammatory ramblings of Nigel Farage, and a modern-day rendition of Adolf Hitler in the White House, it seems ”the combined forces of Fate and Folly” really are ”making a concentrated attack upon the citadel of civilization.”

That there’s an austere photo of Adolf Hitler running for the presidency of Germany on the opposite page, substantiates the aforementioned parallels even further.

Hitler’s vile ideology clearly gained from Germany’s acute debt crisis of the nineteen-thirties (”Hitler managed to profit from the crisis because he had been the most vocal critic of the reparation regime responsible for the lion’s share of German debts. As the financial system collapsed, his relentless attacks against the foreign creditors and the alleged complicity of the German government resonated more than never with the electorate”).
So too will that of Messrs. Johnson, Farage and Trump.
The only difference being, instead of an out and out debt crisis, we currently have a crisis of moral ambiguity and racist intolerance. The latter of which, in Hitler’s Germany at least, came to fruition within the confines of the concentration camp – which the British invented, and America is currently utilising at the behest of its President (to incarcerate Mexican children).

Tobias Straumann’s 1931, is, like George Orwell’s 1984, dour and disturbing; ironic and important.

David Marx