What are you reading? – 28 March 2019

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 28, 2019
Open books

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager at Solent University, is reading Alicia Appleman-Jurman’s Alicia: Memoirs of a Survivor (Bantam Books, 1989). “Books on the Holocaust tend not to take a child’s point of view. One of the few exceptions is Alicia, a first-hand account of life and death in one of the Polish ghettos under Nazi occupation. Appleman-Jurman’s childhood ends abruptly when first her father and then brother after brother are killed. Filled with a child’s resolution to protect her mother at any cost, she must somehow find food and shelter for them both while knowing that at any moment they might be betrayed by a neighbour. It is incomprehensible what those years must have been like to live through, and indeed the horror is somehow recounted without the undoubted emotional trauma invading the page. The act of writing gives a distance that turns the narrative at times into more of an adventure story, but perhaps that is just as well.”

Nigel Rodenhurst, specialist support lecturer at Aberystwyth University, is reading Martin Amis’ Night Train (Jonathan Cape, 1997). “The story begins with a homicide, and two ‘police’, Mike Hoolihan and Tom Rockwell (the deceased’s father), investigate. The pursuit of the truth leads to existential debates and old literary chestnuts about the extent to which the truth about human motivation can ever be known. Other striking features include a ‘postmodern’ lack of detail regarding setting – the reader is confronted with ‘generic’ late-20th-century America. It is classic Amis in terms of its unrelenting darkness and bitterness, from incest, to alcoholism, to lies within lies and human connections that do nothing to restore or redeem. I note that Amis was apparently engaged in a ‘truce’ with popular culture at the time, but rather than a loving homage to US cop shows the stilted dialogue conveying serious ideas comes across as derisory. Someone with no knowledge of Amis’ wider oeuvre, however, might read it completely differently.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Winchester, is reading George Bourne’s Change in the Village (Duckworth, 1966). “Bourne, real name George Sturt (1863-1927), took his pen-name from the small Surrey village in which he lived for much of his life and produced a memorable collection of books on aspects of rural life. Of these, The Wheelwright’s Shop (1923), written from the well-placed vantage point of the family business that he had inherited from his father, was the most famous. Change in the Village, originally published in 1912, displays all the qualities for which Bourne became modestly famous, not least his well-judged, down-to-earth, graphic writing style and his sympathetic but never sentimental observation of the dissolution of a traditional peasant civilisation under the pressures of modern economics.”

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