Tag Archives: Pushkin Press

A World Gone Mad

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A World Gone Mad –
The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939/45
Pushkin Press – £18.99

     God help our poor planet in the grip of this madness.

Amid so many of my reviews, I’ve so often felt both the need and the inclination to write that history continues to unfortunately repeat itself. The above opening quote, along with the title of this book, do absolutely nothing whatsoever to make me feel anything otherwise.

With a madman in the White House, France deliberating whether or not to vote for the out-and-out, Nazi-Crazed-Nationalist this coming Sunday, and an overtly spineless, dithering Theresa May in Downing Street, we do indeed live in a world gone mad.

Yes: God help our poor planet in the grip of this madness.

To add further fuel to a fire already out of political control, two of the above are women; which, when placed alongside the authoress of this fine book, Astrid Lindgren, does make one either quake with frustration or wonder what society has come to. There again, so far as Britain is concerned, there really is no such thing as society – an ideology set in inexorable place by another (altogether wretched) woman, Margaret Thatcher. And boy, has her vision come true.

As Britain is falling apart at the seams.

All the more reason that May’s cabinet should readily take heed of A World Gone Mad – The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939-45 most readable, vivid and intensely personal chronicle of a Europe on the precipice of self-annihilation: ”What a world, what an existence! Reading the papers is a depressing pastime. Bombs and machine guns hounding women and children in Finland, the oceans full of mines and submarines, neutral sailors dying, or at best being rescued in the nick of time after days and nights of privation on some wretched raft, the behind-the-scenes tragedy of the Polish population (nobody’s supposed to know what’s happening, but some things get into the papers anyway), special sections on the trams for ‘the German master race,’ the Poles not allowed out after 8 in the evening and so on […]. What hatred it will generate! In the end the world will be so full of hate that it will choke us.”

Sound familiar?

What with Isis, terrorists and the deplorable Nigel Farage spouting forth with more nationalistic bile than ought to be allowed, the world is already on the verge of choking. Choking on it’s nigh unquenchable embrace of ignorance, greed and cowardice. Three areas this brave, and according to Die Welt, ”breathtaking read,” touches on throughout its yearly titled chapters (1939 to 1945).

Implausibly regal and refreshing to read, these 220 pages (excluding Glossary of Names) are a Swedish civilian and mother’s account of a dark and incendiary world – which more than anything else, ought to act as some kind of literary warning.

David Marx

Affections

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Affections
By Rodrigo Hasbun
Pushkin Press – £9.99

Every now and then, it does seem as if one is living in both a veritable
vacuum of one’s own making – whether by design, whether by default. And such is most definitely the case with the prime protagonists in this seemingly dark investigation into the human psyche.

Affections is admittedly, an affectionate book so far as (three) sisters’ troubled relationships can be concerned; yet it’s also a scenario of political reportage with regards the Bolivian revolution – in which Che Guevara was captured and murdered (supposedly financed by the US government).

But what I found the most alluring and satisfying about the Bolivian, Rodrigo Hasbun’s overtly convincing novel, was it’s all prevailing, under-written humanity – the subliminal trajectory of which, was never far away: ”I saw my sister everywhere. Not a single day went by when I didn’t see her. If the telephone went, my first reaction was always to think it was her. I bought a dog, and then another. I needed to feel like I had company, that someone was always there waiting for me at home […]. It’s not true that our memory is a safe place. In there, too, things get distorted and lost. In there, too, we end up turning away from the people we love the most.”

Written in such a way that is capable of stopping one in their everyday tracks, these 142 pages, are, if nothing else, poignant, powerful and provocative, as substantiated by El Pais: ”Hasbun’s writing has a strange power. He likes to reach into the darkest places. Reading him is like… a journey to the brink of an abyss.”

It’s no wonder this book is the Winner of an English Pen Award.

David Marx

Messages From A Lost World

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Messages From A Lost World –
Europe On The Brink
By Stefan Zweig
Pushkin Press – £16.99

Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads. It was necessary for this dark hour to fall, perhaps the darkest hour in history, to make us realise that freedom is as vital to our soul as breathing to our body.

                                                                                                                        Stefan Zweig

With regards Germany having fallen unto the abyss of such abhorrent absolutism during the nineteen-thirties; are the above words not as equally descriptive and heartbreaking as events currently taking place in both the United Kingdom and the United States?

With such division as directly manifested by Brexit and the vile, vitriolic likes of Donald Trump, one cannot help but ask if humanity, let alone society at large, has learnt anything (from history).

Wasn’t Hitler’s madness enough?

The New Republic succinctly refers to Stefan Zweig as ”one of liberalism’s greatest defenders,” which, it has to be said, this astonishingly brave and in parts, beautiful book, more than quintessentially attests to.

In ‘The Sleepless World’ alone, the Austrian born, Jewish writer bequeaths the reader with such majesty as: ”A thousand thoughts restlessly on the move, from the silent towns to the military camp-fires, from the lone sentry on his watch and back again, from the nearest to the most distant, those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation, a weft of feelings, a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights.”

To think that an array of monsters amid the Third Reich may well have read these words – but still acted the deplorable way they did (by among other atrocities, initiating the Final Solution), really is hard, if not impossible to comprehend.

There gain, certain books were only written so’s to be burnt – were they not?

Were the likes of Gove, May, Farage, Johnson and that utterly messianic, deplorable cunt, Trump, to even have the capacity to evoke, let alone believe in and/or act upon ”those invisible gliding threads of love and tribulation […] a limitless network now covering the world, for all the days and all the nights;” said world would (today) be a far better, safer place.

As Will Stone has written in this edition’s Introduction: ”Nationalism is the sworn enemy of civilisation, whether past, present or future, its malodorous presence thwarting the development of intelligence, its tenets those of division, regression, hatred, violence and persecution. In nationalism, with the Nazis as its most lethal form […]. Zweig’s Europe is an almost mystical conviction that whatever remains of the European spirit, the sum of artistic achievement that has accrued for centuries, can only survive the modern plague of nationalism, materialism and philistinism, can only safeguard its crown jewels of philosophical thought, art and literature through a practicable spiritual integration, a higher guild of amiable coalition.”

Try telling that to the current Foreign Secretary; or indeed, any of the words contained herein (and no, I’m not coming from a coveted pedestal of implausible idealism).

If you only read ONE book this year, make it Stefan Zweig’s Messages From A Lost World.

It really is that stunning, pertinent and invaluable.

David Marx

Summer Before The Dark

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Summer Before The Dark
Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936
By Voker Weidermann
Pushkin Press – £12.99

”Little lies. It was war. Truth was dead.”

There’s something extraordinarily expressive and expansive about the way friendship has been conveyed throughout this altogether elgaic book. Almost all of its 168 pages – with the 169th depicting a black and white photograph of the two prime protagonists – appear to be drenched in the sort fraught sincerity one doesn’t often hear about – let alone come across, today.

Anchored in the Belgian, seaside town of Ostend during the summer of 1936, Summer Before The Dark bequeaths the reader with coterie of artists, intellectuals, drunks and madmen, all of whom are essentially on the run from the vile powers that be.

At the vanguard of said posse of silent lunacy, are the two literary sensations, Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, one of whom is (even) more off the rails than the other. But what makes the book so utterly rewarding, is its slightly warped and opaque description of an era underlined by desperation: ”Roth felt on the verge of death. His room, he said, looked like a coffin […] at some point there’ll be a return journey. But when? The more urgent this question becomes, the less often it is posed. With every day of this vacation that goes by, any return becomes less plausible. They all know it. But it’s never discussed. Optimism is a duty. There’s a length of rope in the suitcase, but nobody talks about it.”

Such descriptive nonchalance is what perhaps accounts for The Financial Times having written: A marvellous book… literary biography at it s best. Faithful to facts, it reads like a novel […] extreme personalities, tense political backdrop and tragic central relationships, it would make a terrific film – Death in Venice with more sex, more booze, more action and considerably more conversation.”

Sounds more akin to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but instead of Richard and Liz going at it, we have two fesity, ageing writers – flung together by way of jealousy and ambition, The Nazis and ultimately, love.

David Marx