Dzhamshid Karimov

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Karimov senior creams off the cotton and gold revenues, has many palaces and a retinue. His nephew Karimov who has been taken off into custody far from being the residue that his uncle may presume is, as a journalist and human rights defender, fighting for freedom of expression. I ask you who is being more […]

In Byron’s Shadow

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the summer of 1816, when Byron and the Shelleys, stranded by heavy rain beside Lake Geneva, decided to amuse themselves by composing ghost stories (a diversion that led to Mary Shelley’s writing Frankenstein), they were accompanied by Byron’s physician, John Polidori, who joined the competition and began a supernatural tale of his own. The […]

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Friends, Fame, and War

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Javier Cercas’s first novel, Soldiers of Salamis, addressed the moral confusion of the Spanish Civil War and how it scarred a generation for life. The book was a deserved success and went on to become an international bestseller. His second novel, The Speed of Light, tackles a different conflict, the Vietnam War, and how it […]

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Friends and Lovers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Justin Cartwright has peculiar timing. As the cameraphone footage of Saddam Hussein’s execution diffuses over the Internet, he releases a novel that turns on a filmed hanging. Here, it is Nazi resistor Count Axel von Gottberg who has the noose placed around his neck and the camera trained on him, executed for his part in […]

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Delhi Mix

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

During the 40th anniversary of Indian independence in 1987, I interviewed Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi for The Independent. I admit to giving him an easy ride without reference to the breaking Bofors corruption scandal, which would for ever dog his name. For I lacked the confidence, and frankly the commitment, to enter the […]

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Guilt & Culpability

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As if to answer those who failed to see the preoccupations of her Booker Prize-nominated first novel, The Dark Room, as universal, rather than specifically German, Rachel Seiffert has returned to the same themes – culpability, guilt and accountability – in a second novel set largely in modern Britain. The novel tells the love story […]

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DT and the Maestro

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Unless I have drastically misunderstood his latest novel, I’m forced to conclude that, in his ninth decade, Norman Mailer has completely dropped his conkers. The Castle in the Forest is a preposterous book; a bafflingly preposterous book. It is, at least ostensibly, trying to tell us something about Adolf Hitler. But what on earth is […]

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Radium Relationships

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Per Olov Enquist’s last book to be translated into English was the masterly and prize-winning The Visit of the Royal Physician. Now, once again, he has taken an historical story and used it as a vehicle for enquiry into love, art and death. He treats these big themes with miniaturist care and attention, while his […]

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Parallel Lives

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The practice of abandoning twins at birth was one of the traditions in the Nigerian village of Keti which didn’t survive the onslaught of colonialism and the arrival of the first missionary, Reverend Drinkwater, in 1918. Mamo, the protagonist of prize-winning author Helon Habila’s ambitious second novel, is grateful for the destruction of this particular […]

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A Financier’s Fall

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Irène Némirovsky recently shot to fame with the posthumous publication of her unfinished novel, Suite Française (published in the UK in 2006). The circumstances of the book’s recovery attracted as much notice as its literary merits. The Jewish author had been arrested in the village where she and her family had taken refuge during the […]

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Sexistentialism

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Two events cause Cordell Carmel, a black freelance translator probably in his early or mid-forties, to change every aspect of his life in pursuit of ‘freedom’. The first occurs when he drops in unannounced on Joelle, his girlfriend of eight years, and finds her screaming in bliss as a well-endowed lover, the eponymous Johnny Fry, […]

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‘It’s the Culture, Innit?’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The form of George Walden’s new book is as arresting as its content. Imagined members of his own family ask ‘Dad’, in the wake of an eight-year-old grandchild’s having been knocked unconscious by some marauding Somali, whether it is ‘time to emigrate’. Replying from vacation in southern France, Walden hurries off a 200-page reflection about […]

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Cradle to Canvas

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Art historians tell us what we are looking at. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it, not many among us having much idea how to read the images we crowd into galleries to see. Hence Simon Schama is welcomed into our living rooms on a Friday night to explain patiently that the […]

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Clean In The Open Air

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is difficult to isolate the special brilliance of Derek Mahon, because he is so various, and inclusive. Perhaps it lies in his overall tone, which is that of a man disgusted by the world, who nevertheless celebrates the world, by including just about everything that is in the world, tempering his disgust with a […]

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On and On and On

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

How to Live Forever – just what is needed right now – is a concise, clear and phenomenally interesting account of the immortality industry. Not that many of us really want to live forever. Who could stomach an eternal existence, with all its concomitant sorrows and inconveniences, the inevitable collapse of all personal ambition, the […]

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Fairy Footsteps

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The life of a choreographer, perhaps more than any other artist working in music or theatre, is hard to describe for those outside the world of ballet. All the tiny details that go towards making even the slightest dance have little meaning when described cold, away from the studio or the rehearsal stage. Jerome Robbins, […]

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Knowing The Score

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Film music is a neglected topic, but an increasingly important one in a world where there is a bifurcation between the increasingly banal universe of rock music and the creative cul-de-sac that is contemporary classical music. To declare an interest, I would rather listen to a concert of Sergio Leone than the desiccated tunelessness of […]

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Vigour and Pith

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In his mid-Victorian heyday William Powell Frith (1819–1909), best remembered as the painter of Ramsgate Sands (1852–54), Derby Day (1856–58) and The Railway Station (1860–62), was the most highly priced artist in the world. Even as late as 1875 his period piece Before Dinner in Boswell’s Lodgings, first exhibited in 1868, fetched £4,500 at Christie’s, […]

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