As a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ian Buruma came over with his family from his home in Holland to visit his English grandparents. Bernard and Winifred – known to each other as ‘Bun’ and ‘Win’ – lived in St Mary Woodlands House, a large vicarage in Berkshire. The Burumas would be greeted by ‘Grandpop’, a sturdy, kindly figure in a green tweed jacket, smoking a pipe; there was a cook and a charlady and a homely smell of old dog. In the summer, croquet was played on the lawn and village fetes were held, with cucumber sandwiches and home-made cakes served up to local grandees. One of the many stamp-sized photographs in the book shows Win holding a paper-hatted Buruma up to a lighted Christmas tree.
It was all quintessentially English, and proudly so; and yet there were small markers that differentiated Bun and Win from their more conventional neighbours. They were both passionate about music, Wagner in particular. Their surname was Schlesinger, and a retired colonel in the village was occasionally heard to mutter, ‘Don’t