Bibliophile

A few years ago a friend added me to the mailing list of a British publication that lists books (not ebooks) that are available at a reduced price. The masthead proudly proclaims that it is ‘Britain’s Best Postal Book Bargains.’ And at the side is the royal crest that bears the legend ‘By Appointment To H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh Booksellers London.’

The publication consists of over thirty closely-printed pages, with each page containing summaries of the various books offered, often accompanied by a colour photo of the cover. The prices are often very tempting. To take just one example, chosen at random, the paperback version of book (no. 88201) ‘Forget the Anorak: What Trainspotting Was Really Like,’ by Michael Harvey was 9.99 pounds sterling but is now reduced to 5 pounds. Of course, to that has to be added the cost of package and posting, but anyone ordering several books can thereby reduce that expense.

Just imagine, a newspaper lands in your mailbox, each of its thirty-six pages summarizes an average of fifteen books, so that you are offered a wide range of reading options in fields that vary from Biography to Art and Home Entertainment (they include CDs and greeting cards too), with every genre in between. In addition, you have the added satisfaction of knowing that H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh may be reading the very same books, or at least the Bibliophile summary of them (though I doubt he does much reading these days).

And so, on a monthly basis over the course of several years I have been able to enjoy summaries of an almost endless supply of books. In the past I have indeed ordered some books from there, but the attraction of printed accounts of books has been overshadowed by the almost infinite supply of books provided on-line by Amazon. And so there goes another industry swallowed up and destroyed by the internet.

Interspersed among the book summaries are little snippets of quotes, in italics, that remind the reader of the joys of reading. “Hell, it is well known, has no fury like a woman who wants her tea and can’t get it,” is from the almost unending store of bons mots taken from the works of P.G. Wodehouse. In the History section we find the following quote from John Maynard Keynes: “Ideas shape the course of history.” And there are many more, too numerous to give here.

Sadly, I feel that the days of Bibliophile are numbered. Admittedly, there are still those among us who prefer to read a printed page rather than peruse a computer screen, or worse still, a mobile phone screen, but they are getting ever fewer.

Because I have sought to market the books I write via various internet bookselling sites, I am bombarded on a daily basis by lists of books on offer, both in paper and in electronic form, which may be ordered or downloaded either gratis or for a very small fee. And of course, one can always go onto the Amazon site and look for books to buy or download, either according to subject or author or genre, or anything one wants.

The whole world is out there on the internet, so there is no need to restrict oneself just to the few hundreds of books offered by Bibliophile to its readers. But the focus of the Bibliophile readership appears to be on books published in England, either recently or in the past, and I still enjoy reading the well-written summaries. It’s almost as if I’ve read the actual book, so that I come away feeling that I’ve achieved something by devoting an hour or two to its pages.

Once again, we are forced to opine: sic transit gloria mundi.

 

 

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Predators

No, it doesn’t apply to all men, but it would seem to be a corollary of the power that many men have obtained, by fair means or foul, over women, particularly in the workplace.

The recent revelations about the way Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein appears to have made a habit of molesting, harassing and pestering women for sexual favours have given rise to a wide range of expressions of shock, horror and disgust.

What a bunch of hypocrites! Especially the men.

It now transpires that everyone knew about Weinstein’s shenanigans. And nobody spoke up because he was all-powerful in Hollywood. And that, of course, is the devastating combination: men and power.

It’s not so long ago that we witnessed a tape of the current president of the USA boasting about molesting young women because of the power he wielded as a TV personality and owner of the Miss World beauty pageant. Yet it didn’t stop him getting elected to the highest office, probably because many men either identified with him or admired him for his (mis)behaviour. Why any women voted for him is beyond me, but that’s another matter.

Mr. Weinstein is far from being alone in the field of sexual harassment. Not so long ago Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he was popularly known in his homeland, France, was the very powerful head of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and on the verge of becoming the leading candidate for the French Presidency, But then he tried to molest a maid in a New York hotel, and was accused and found guilty of sexual assault and attempted rape. Then it transpired that he was widely known to have been a sexual predator, only nobody had had the courage to speak out.

The Fox News Channel has recently had to fire or accept the resignation of several of its leading anchor-men (not women) because it transpired that the sexual harassment of female colleagues was virtually part of the organisation’s culture. Something similar seems to have been going on in the administration of the Uber ride-hailing company, though details have not been made public. As in the other cases cited above, women and girls who rejected the advances of the predatory men were threatened, bullied, sacked or paid off.

In England in recent years horrifying reports have emerged of the sexual abuse of young girls, often in institutions for the disabled , by leading entertainer Jimmy Saville. Saville was a national figure whose name and face were universally known and who counted prominent politicians and media personalities among his friends. Everyone knew about it at the time. Everyone turned a blind eye. And only when a few brave women spoke up, after Saville’s death and very grand official funeral, did the truth begin to emerge. Subsequently he was disinterred and reburied in an unmarked grave somewhere on a Yorkshire hillside, but the damage to countless young women had been done, and gone unpunished.

It’s hard not to wonder what makes some men behave in this way, but I suppose the simple answer is ‘because they can.’ Being in a position of power seems to do something to the male brain, or rather some other part of their anatomy, and they do not hesitate to take advantage of their situation.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Harvey Weinstein isn’t alone in Hollywood in using his power to demand sexual favours. In fact, this is virtually a tradition in the movie industry, dating back to the time of the original ‘movie moguls’ and the concept of the ‘casting couch.’ Reports abound of similar behaviour by male actors, directors, producers and others employed in the movie industry.

Some people blame the way women dress, walk, behave or otherwise comport themselves. Others point the finger at the lax morals of our generation, the messages projected by many movies, the easy access to methods of birth control or the general atmosphere of modern life.

Let’s face it, rape has existed for as long as humans have been around. It’s reported in the Bible, it’s part of the weaponry of warfare, and it can only be perpetrated by the male of the species. In the past it was by virtue of superior physical strength that men were able to overcome women’s resistance and today it’s their power in the workplace that has given them an additional edge.

One can only hope that naming and shaming the most blatant perpetrators will serve as a salutory lesson and serve to dissuade others from emulating them.

Frantz; a Film Worth Seeing

To celebrate my birthday we went to see the film ‘Frantz,’ not knowing quite what it was about. This joint French-German production was well-received by the critics, so it seemed like a good idea. At least, we thought, we’d be able to practise our French and/or German a little.

The film starts with a scene in 1919 Germany, i.e., just after the end of the First World War, when we see a beautiful young woman, dressed in black, putting flowers on the grave of her dead fiance, the man who is at the centre of the film.

The setting  is a small town with a distinctly provincial character, the people are dressed as one would expect of the period, and the buildings are equally of their time. As we enter the house where the young woman lives with the parents of her dead fiance, the shift to the interior is equally convincing. We see the Biedermeyer furniture and fittings, hear the silences, can almost smell the food that is served and admire the genteel bearing of the older couple. Everything conveys a sense of old-world courtesy and dignified behaviour.

The arrival of a young French man who, it is assumed, knew their son, throws everyone’s preconceived ideas into disarray. The father initially refuses to have anything to do with him, regarding all Frenchmen as murderers of his son. The mother is more open and accepting, and the young woman is attracted to his artistic nature and gentle demanour.

In this day and age of the European Union it is hard to fathom the hatred that formerly existed between France and Germany. At one point someone remarks that German children learn French at school and French children learn German. Throughout the film there is an undercurrent of irony as men on each side proclaim their patriotism and sing their respective national anthems with fervour. Sitting in the cinema we know where all this will lead, and feel for all those who will be caught up in the coming conflagration.

It is a telling moment when the father of the dead soldier confesses his guilt at having encouraged his reluctant son to enlist and fight for the fatherland. He says quite clearly that ‘we old men sent our sons to be killed,’ realising too late that his attitude was mistaken. If only the realisation had come earlier, and if only that attitude had not led to another war.

There are several logical flaws in the film, but the acting is superb and the message is convincing. We see all too clearly the ravages of war, and the futility of adhering to nationalist ideas on both sides. The faithful reproduction of the interior of the German middle-class home made me feel as if I were able to look into the homes of my own German grandparents.

Both my grandfathers fought for Germany in the First World War, even though they were married men with children. One grandfather was fortunate enough to die at home shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, while the three other grandparents were murdered in concentration camps by their compatriots. I never knew any of them, but sitting in the cinema I felt as if I were seeing them, listening to the way they spoke, even seeing my grandmother doing her embroidery, serving dinner to her family, and conducting herself in a way that was empathetic, generous and kind. The speech of all the characters portrayed was invariably moderate, civilised and respectful of others.

I believe that all my grandparents were good, kind people whose lives were tragically cut short, depriving me and the rest of my family of their presence. The lack of grandparents has bothered me since I was a child, and it seems to be a part of me that just will not go away. I don’t know if it’s legitimate on my part to find solace in a fairly superficial commercial film, but it seems that I’m ready and willing to accept any substitute for the real thing.

 

‘Stalin’s Englishman; the Lives of Guy Burgess’ by Andrew Lownie

 

 

(published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2015

The defection to the USSR of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in 1951 remained prominent in the British press for almost a decade. Their defection was followed  a few years later by that of Kim Philby, and eventually also the unmasking and confession of Sir Anthony Blunt. These four, together with, it is surmised, John Cairncross, were known as the ‘Cambridge Five,’ the men who passed reams of secret documents to their Soviet handlers.

All five men were members of what is universally recognised as the British upper class, born into wealth, given the best education money could buy and blessed with the intelligence and ability that gave them access to senior politicians and enabled them to attain senior positions in MI5, MI6, the BBC and the Foreign Office.

Andrew Lownie’s research into the life and times of Guy Burgess, the man who is considered to have been the principal secret agent, reveals a person of outstanding intellectual ability who went through the rigorous education system accorded to young males in Britain (Dartmouth, Eton, Oxbridge). Perhaps this system had something to do with the fact that most of the Cambridge Five were avowed homosexuals, and Burgess was apparently extremely promiscuous in this regard, even though at the time homosexual behavior was banned by law in England. This may also have enabled the Russians to blackmail the men into cooperating with them.

While studying for a degree in history at Cambridge Burgess became convinced that Russian Communism was the way forward, and he supported various workers’ causes. At that time the Russians were assiduously seeking out students who would support their cause and serve as agents on their behalf. America, which was in the throes of McCarthyism, was abhorred by Burgess. After leaving university he was employed organising talks on current events at the BBC, later moving on to various posts in the Foreign Office, while Maclean, Philby and the others rose through the ranks of MI5 and MI6, the secret surveillance and espionage agencies.

There can be little doubt that the background shared by the Cambridge Five with most of the other employees of the institutions in which they were employed helped to keep them in their positions. The concept of ‘the old school tie,’ and the fact that they shared the same way of dress, habits, haunts and speech cadences served to prevent them from coming under suspicion. Referring to espionage activity, a letter sent by one Foreign Office official to another contains the sentence: ‘It seems that Donald (i.e., Maclean) is up to his old tricks.’ In a telling phrase, Lownie comments on this in one of the copious notes to the book, ‘This was alas typical of the way Maclean’s case was handled by the Foreign Office.’

Burgess’s heavy drinking eventually got him into trouble, and when Maclean’s cover was blown the two men managed to defect undetected to the USSR even though the British authorities had begun to grow suspicious of them and were investigating their activities. This, however, was pursued in a bungling and somewhat lackadaisical fashion. Reading about the episode today brings scenes from the satirical television series ‘Yes, Minister’ to mind. Only the actual events were in no way amusing.

In the final chapter of the book Lownie speculates on the reasons for Burgess’s actions, and concludes that he experienced rejection and alienation in his youth, as well as the lack of a father (his father was often away at sea, and died when Burgess was only thirteen), causing him psychological stress. While there was certainly an ideological element in his actions, he also had a rebellious streak and a desire to ‘épater le bourgeois.’ The man who loved to engage in intellectual debate, gossip with friends, visit the London clubs where the members of the upper class congregated and enjoy the good things of life, ended his days in the drab environment of Soviet Russia, drinking heavily while missing his friends and all things English.

It has taken Andrew Lownie thirty years to complete this fascinating book, which is based on an immense body of written and oral material – published and unpublished theses, books, interviews, correspondence and manuscripts. Lownie has succeeded in bringing to life – and  even arousing our sympathy for – a character who betrayed his country without batting an eyelid or experiencing a single moment of regret.

I was privileged to attend the author’s talk about the book given at the Charroux Literary Festival held in France last August, and this aroused my appetite to read it. I’m glad to say that I am now able to treasure the copy signed by Mr. Lownie himself and I have derived immense enjoyment from reading it.

An Evening with the Author of  ‘Woman in Gold’

 

When I heard that Anne-Marie O’Connor would be speaking at the Tower of David Museum in a dialogue with fellow-author Ora Ahimeir I jumped at the opportunity to see and hear the author of the monumental book ‘Woman in Gold’ in person. As readers of this journal are doubtless aware, the book relates the saga of Maria Altman’s battle to reclaim the painting by Gustav Klimt of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was expropriated from the family in Vienna by the Nazis and since then retained by the Austrians.

The evening began with a brief personal account by Anne-Marie O’Connor, who has been living in Jerusalem for the last four years, of the almost accidental way she came to write her book. In her work as a journalist she became interested in the character and history of Maria Altman who, like her, was living in California. One thing led to another, and she ended up travelling all over California to interview other former residents of Vienna. Thus, she gradually built up a picture of what happened then and later, what became of the families and individuals who had once formed part of Vienna’s intellectual, professional and social elite when the Nazis took over and instituted a regime of persecution, terror, plunder and murder. As the material she was collecting assumed ever-greater proportions, O’Connor realized that she would not be able to compress it into one or two articles, and so the book, to which she ended up devoting five years of her life, came into being.

The dialogue between the two writers (Ora Ahimeir published her first novel, ‘Bride,’ in 2012 and is currently working on another), took the form of questions addressed by each one to the other. The two women were located on a dais at one end of the large room in the ancient building, with a table between the two chairs on which they were sitting. When O’Connor was asked how, as an Irish woman living in the US, she had come to interest herself in that very Jewish subject, she replied that as a journalist in America she was used to investigating all kinds of topics and interviewing diverse people. She added that having had a Jewish step-mother from an early age, she had read a great deal of Jewish-oriented literature.

When it was time for questions from the audience someone asked O’Connor what it felt like to have become a bestselling author. In her reply the author explained that she was glad to be able to share that story with so many people, and that she was particularly delighted that the book had done well in Israel, where so many of the people who had undergone similar experiences lived. She noted that the whole episode of encountering the former Viennese residents had been a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience which had enriched her spiritually and given her the opportunity to write about a variety of subjects.

O’Connor also stated that the success of her book had triggered several cases in which refugees and Holocaust survivors claimed restitution of sequestered property, and that in many instances these had been successful. The book had opened up hearts and minds to what had become of the property and possessions of survivors, and the groundswell of public opinion had played a major role in obtaining justice for a large number of individuals.

As the evening concluded, Ora Ahimeir told the audience that Zuckerkandel, the name of a family which is mentioned several times in O’Connor’s book, was the maiden name of her late mother. There had been two branches of the family, one wealthy and educated living in Vienna and one poor and orthodox living in Poland. There had been very little contact between the two branches before the war, but both ended up in the same concentration camp, where they met their deaths together. I foresee another fascinating book about to be written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Home

 

It’s two o’clock in the morning as the ‘Fasten Seat-Belts’ sign comes on in the plane bringing us back to Tel Aviv. We anxiously scan the darkness outside for the first signs of the city that never sleeps.

And suddenly, there it is. The strings of lights that tell us that Tel Aviv and its surroundings are alive and kicking. The lights are everywhere, shining like strings of jewels, guiding us to our destination.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not one of my favourite people, said recently that until the Jews came back to live in this part of the world once more, about one hundred years ago, the region was desolate. I don’t know how much truth there is in that statement but there can be no doubt that the thriving, bustling, energized city of Tel-Aviv did not exist, and the millions of Jews who have made Israel their home have brought progress, modernity and vitality to what was formerly a neglected backwater of the Turkish Empire. And before that, too, for thousands of years, Jews lived here, although not in sufficient quantities to create a viable political entity of their own.

So that every time I return to my country, Israel, I experience a certain uplifting feeling, knowing that, unlike previous generations of Jews, my generation is privileged to have a country that is our own, with all the attendant difficulties as well as all the achievements – and there are plenty of both. And that is something to treasure.

After having been away from home for over a month, I seem to have forgotten how to cope with the vagaries of the local climate. How could I have forgotten that in Jerusalem, which sits at 400 feet above sea level, the mornings are cool, no matter how hot the forecast day-time temperature? I have just come back from a European country, France, that is engaged in the descent into winter, where the day starts off cold and remains cold throughout. I also spent a few days in Valletta, Malta, which starts off hot and remains thus throughout the day and night. There can be no doubt that when it comes to climate, Jerusalem is unique.

Of course, being reunited with friends and family is the high point of coming home, and it is almost worthwhile going away in order to appreciate the happy reunion with our loved ones. I no longer seem to be bothered by the lack of sleep that made our first day one that extended over forty-eight hours, and the necessity of implementing the myriad of mundane tasks that awaited us – unpacking, attending to laundry, going shopping, and doing cooking – so that sleep was simply not an option.

But who cares about such trivialities. Hallelujah, we’re home!

‘Judas’ by Amos Oz

(Published (in Hebrew) by Keter Books)

Amos Oz, the doyen of Hebrew writers, was not awarded the prestigious International Man Booker literary prize, which went instead to David Grossman’s book, ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ (see my review of it in my blog post for 3 August). Having read both books in the original Hebrew, I am unable to give an opinion as to the quality of the translation of either, but as far as I can tell Oz’s book is a more enjoyable read.

The story concerns the three-month period in the winter of 1959 spent by drop-out student, Shmuel Ash, in a house in Jerusalem, where he is employed to serve as a debating counterpart to an elderly and disabled intellectual. Oz’s descriptions of the exigencies of the Jerusalem winter, the interior of the strange house and the characters of its even stranger inhabitants seem somehow to ring true. As someone who has lived in Jerusalem for fifty years, this reader found the characters described in the book, ranging from Shmuel Ash’s professor at the university, Gustav Eisenschloss, the old man whom Shmuel is employed to entertain, Gershom Wald, and his enigmatic but seductive daughter-in-law, Atalya, the widow of his son who was killed in Israel’s War of Independence, convincing and even vaguely familiar.

A sense of menace hangs over the events – or rather non-events – recounted in the book, ranging from the political disagreement in the period prior to the foundation of the state of Israel between Atalya’s late father and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, on the one hand, to Shmuel Ash’s attempts to write an academic analysis of the attitude of the Jews to Jesus through the ages, on the other. Through their disagreement, Amos Oz manages to present the argument both for and against the establishment of the Jewish state with rare conviction. The concept of betrayal, of the betrayer as ‘Judas,’ and the Judas of the gospels as the representative of the Jews who rejected Jesus and Christianity, also runs through the book as a constant leitmotif. Over and above the intellectual parrying of the various characters hangs Shmuel’s attraction for he unattainable Atalya, and the developing relationship – or rather non-relationship – betwee n them.

The frequent repetition of the actions that constitute Shmuel’s daily routine of ablutions, regular haunts and eating habits tends to become somewhat tedious after a while. The incidental chapter that purports to give Judas’s eye-witness account of the crucifixion of Jesus and the events leading up to it seems to me to be superfluous and out of place, even though it does provide some kind of explanation for what happened and why. Even so, the detailed and gory account jars on the reader’s sensibilities and interrupts the flow of the narrative that concerns the characters in the story, and Jerusalem in the period before the Six Day War.

In this book Amos Oz paints a picture of a time and place that are no more, and of characters that belong to that time and place, and are possibly no longer to be found in the Israel that emerged in the wake of the Six-Day War and all that it entailed. I have a sneaking feeling that Oz regards the bumbling, fumbling hero, Shmuel Ash, as something of an alter ego, which in my view couldn’t be further from the truth. Nonetheless, for someone like me, who is not averse to a bit of nostalgia, the book is entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable.

Happy Days

Although we’re coming to the end of our vacation in France we have not been cut off from happenings in the rest of the world, specifically Israel and England.

Summer in Israel is always hot and this year it seems to have been hotter than usual, at least according to the level of complaints emanating from that corner of the Middle East. But whether this is due to global warming or greater sensitivity on the part of the local population it’s difficult to say. Two things are clear – the frequency of terrorist attacks seems to have fallen, and the political hostility between the various parties and factions is as intense as ever, with no apparent solution in sight. So nothing new there.

As for my other homeland, England, matters have become far more emotional and malevolent ever since the egregious Brexit referendum last year. Those who oppose it give no quarter in deriding, criticizing and otherwise castigating those political leaders involved in negotiating and presumably eventually executing the policy. The criticisms range from vicious caricatures of their personal characteristics to name-calling and total rejection of their intellectual and emotional suitability for their task.

One thing is clear, the hypocrisy of politicians has never been revealed in all its unsavoury clarity as has been the case with the Conservative party. Several of its leading members, including the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, advocated remaining in the European Union prior to the referendum but, once the result in favour of leaving became clear, they promptly undertook to implement a policy diametrically opposed to what they had originally advocated. We all knew that politicians weren’t to be trusted, but this is just too blatant to be simply papered over or ignored.

The Labour party is no better than the Conservatives, having consistently wavered between opposing and supporting some kind of arrangement to leave the EU. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, first opposed the idea, even penalizing party members who disagreed with him, and subsequently coming round to some kind of cack-handed support for a ‘soft Brexit,’ whatever that may mean.

For observers outside the country, England seems to be going to the dogs, with the decline in the exchange rate of the pound against all other currencies, the rise in anti-Semitic and racist incidents, wholesale departures of professionals who are non-nationals and a general decline in the quality of life. But when we spent a week in London earlier this year everything seemed pretty much as usual, with charming baristas, waiters and shop-assistants hailing from all the corners of the world, and life continuing pretty much as usual. I’ve quoted Samuel Johnson’s dictum before about he who tires of London having tired of life, and it’s as true today as ever.

Naturally, people are worried about what lies ahead, but the fact of the matter is that nobody knows. The politicians charged with conducting the negotiations are portrayed by anti-Brexiters as inept, but the process of negotiating is itself inevitably clouded in secrecy. Statements issued by the representatives of the EU are disparaging about statements made by the British negotiators, but it’s difficult to tell whether this is just part and parcel of the process or genuine expressions of opinion. At least on the subject of reciprocal health insurance between the EU and Britain agreement has been reached that enables existing coverage to be maintained, which doubtless comes as a great relief to British nationals residing in the countries of the EU, as well as to European nationals living in the UK.

There are still a great many hurdles to be overcome in the negotiation process, chief among them trade agreements, which are traditionally complex and require lengthy talks before any kind of conclusion can be reached. Whether the politicians representing England can achieve the desired outcome remains to be seen, but for the moment they seem to be intent on fulfilling the mission which they have taken upon themselves to achieve, even if this was not what they originally wanted in their heart of hearts. But which politician ever followed the dictates of his or her heart?

All politicians everywhere are steadfast in seeking to remain in power, and for all those concerned in this particular instance that seems to be the salient point.

A Bilingual Literary Festival

In the picturesque village of Charroux in Central France I was able to attend a literary festival held in French and English. The three-day event was crowded with interesting talks, some in French but most in English, given by a wide range of writers. I wasn’t able to attend all of them, or even most of them, but the few authors whose presentations I attended were undoubtedly accomplished and interesting speakers. The festival organisers had also arranged for the authors’ books to be on sale, and book signings were also held.

The village of Charroux is situated on a rather steep hillside. Some of the sessions were held in a communal building situated on the main street, near the historic remains of an abbey, while other talks were given at a building further up the hill, near the town hall. This is also where the festival bookshop was situated. Inevitably, this entailed rather a lot of traipsing up the hill and down the hill, to the general delight of all concerned, especially the authors who were assigned specific times for their book-signings.

One of the talks I attended was given by Andrew Lownie, the author of a book entitled ‘Stalin’s Englishman; the Lives of Guy Burgess.’ Lownie gave a fluent presentation, replete with photographs, recounting the trajectory of Burgess’ life and times. In the 1950s and subsequently, when the news of Burgess’ treason and defection became public, it became clear that members of England’s privileged upper class — men who had attended public school and Oxbridge universities — were involved, and Andrew Lownie has endeavoured to provide some explanation for their motivation in betraying their country. Like the other members of the ‘Cambridge Five,’ Burgess was well-connected to England’s governing elite, with influential friends in MI5, MI6, the Foreign Office and the BBC. This is without a doubt a fascinating story and I felt impelled to buy the book and have it signed by the author.

Another fascinating talk was given by Mike Welham, who has written several books exposing conspiracies and underhand activities, whether implemented by governments or big business. In order to avoid libel charges he presents his books as novels, changing names of individuals and places, but essentially using factual information and research as the basis for his stories.

At the end of Mr. Welham’s talk he presented all those who had attended with a free copy of his latest book, ‘Death of a Scientist; A Time for War, A Time to Die, A Time for Justice,’ which also promises to be an interesting read.

The intrepid organisers of the festival, Chris and Kate, were aided and abetted by a host of helpers and/or volunteers, who manned refreshments stalls and the bookshop as well as helping with technical matters. The local bed-and-breakfast establishments, as well as the various bars and bistros, evidently benefited from the influx of literature-loving individuals, whether English or French, and provided a warm welcome to the visitors. At lunchtime on the day we were there, the Irish bistro-cum-bar had run out of fish, salad, and also eventually steak (we managed to order two of the last ones left). But this did not seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, and we overheard a lively discussion between the English waitress and some other customers as to how they would like their eggs and chips.

The weather was warm, the sun shone gently, and throughout the time I was there it felt good to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who, like me, had come from various parts of France to indulge in our passion for books.

Vive la Musique!

Spending  part of the summer in central France has constituted our annual vacation for several years now. We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, and the cooler weather. If there are any musical events we are happy to attend them, but they are not the main reason for our choice of location.

This year, however, there has been more music on offer in the Limousin region than ever before, although some of it goes beyond our definition of music in the traditional and perhaps somewhat narrow sense.

Every summer several members of the Paris Symphony Orchestra spend time in the region, from which some of them originate, and offer concerts to the public at large. The program of the one we attended in the nearby mediaeval church situated at Chambon sur Voueize consisted of instrumental works by Mozart and Vivaldi as well as two pieces for soprano by Handel and Caccini. The crystalline voice of the talented young soprano, Andrea Constantin, was enhanced by the excellent acoustics of the church, with its high, vaulted ceiling. The packed audience gave each piece an enthusiastic reception, applauding between the movements of Mozart’s clarinet concerto as well as at the end of each piece.

At one point the cellist who leads the ensemble, which consists primarily of several members of the orchestra’s string section, announced that they would be playing a surprise item, and went on to say that we would be hearing three pieces by Giora Feidman. The name is familiar to many Israelis as that of the man who has made klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish) music popular. Sure enough, the clarinettist who had starred in the Mozart concerto returned to the stage and proceeded to get the audience tapping its feet to the rhythmic and sometimes emotional music. It felt slightly strange to hear klezmer music in a church, but the audience gave it a decidedly enthusiastic reception and we certainly enjoyed it.

A few days later the same ensemble was due to give a concert of chamber music gems in the Orangerie of the nearby Boussac chateau. The structure itself was adorned with the stuffed heads of the various animals that the master of the chateau must have once hunted, as well as with some beautiful tapestries, which are produced locally.

The programme turned out to be a selection of individual movements from quartets and quintets by Borodin, Boccherini, Dvorak and Haydn, ending with the first movement of Schubert’s sublime quintet in C major. To hear it is to share the ecstasy and agony of Schubert’s short life, but to hear just one movement without the continuation is tantamount to being allowed to see the Promised Land from the mountain-top but not to enter into it. Still, it was an enjoyable evening, and we appreciated being able to partake of these precious gems in that very special environment.

In recent years an enterprising resident of a nearby village, with the support of the regional administration, has organised an annual music festival focusing on contemporary and world music of various kinds. Since one such concert was given in the church that is opposite our house I decided to venture forth and risk my sanity by attending a concert of experimental music for string quartet. To my surprise, the little church, which usually stands empty, was packed full with enthusiasts for this kind of music. The first piece consisted of the cellist playing some kind of music on the stage, while the three other instruments played occasional, seemingly random, notes off-stage. My first impression was of cats mating, but I confess to taking a jaundiced view of such music, and I wondered how any of them knew what to play and when since there was no contact between them.

For the second piece, however, all four musicians were on stage, and the piece (whose composer’s name I did not catch) consisted of their playing a somewhat monotonous tune by plucking the strings of their instruments. There was a melodic element, and after a while the monotony had a kind of hypnotic effect, which even found its way into my hardened heart. In a later piece, an elegiac melody for strings called ‘For Elise,’ the tender mood was shattered by the church bells striking the hour (four o’clock). When the piece ended the cellist said ‘I want to play it again,’ which they promptly did, to great applause. The concert ended with a piece by an American composer called Golden who hails from Alabama, and one could definitely detect elements of southern rhythms and negro spirituals in among the various sounds produced by the instruments.

The concert ended before the church bells could cause any more disturbances, and the members of the audience filed out of the church into the pale sunshine and were offered a drink of juice or wine. I hurried home, feeling badly in need of a reviving cup of coffee, and pleased at having exposed myself to a new and not completely unwelcome experience.