Archive for December, 2010

Tito with John F Kennedy, October 1963

It has been gratifying to note the level of interest in Finds’ edition of Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia by Richard West, first published in 1995 (i.e. at a time when interest, for the grimmest of reasons, could not have been higher). Evidently, readers and scholars are still keen to reflect on the twentieth-century story of how a state of ethnoculturally diverse Slavs was made and then unmade in the western Balkans. Richard West’s study of Tito is, naturally, much preoccupied by the question of whether Tito can really be evaluated as the great unifier, the paternal statesman who kept a lid on Yugoslavia’s ‘nationalities problem’ with a firm and steady hand. On the whole West is well disposed to Tito. 15 years later, though, it’s a matter of debate whether Tito’s efforts are even remembered, never mind celebrated.
In his review of West’s book for the New York Review of Books in November 1995, Michael Ignatieff drew an evocative picture of what had been Tito’s stature at home:

“The ruin of all he stood for makes it easy to forget that he was probably the only leader of a Communist system who ever seemed to enjoy genuine popularity, and whose cult depended on something more than terror and propaganda, although it certainly depended on them as well. Years after his death, his photograph was still everywhere: taped to the cash register of a pasticceria in a Dalmatian resort; stuck beside a plastic Orthodox cross on the dashboard of a Belgrade bus; in a plastic wood frame over the mantelpiece of a tin-roofed cottage in central Bosnia…”

 That said, Aleksa Djilas, reviewing for Foreign Affairs, was much more struck by that ‘ruin’ to which Ignatieff referred:

“On May 4, 1995, the 15th anniversary of Tito’s death, there were no official commemorations in any part of the former Yugoslavia. The media made few comments, almost all of which were negative and sarcastic. Up to 1990, around 14 million people had visited Tito’s mausoleum. But for the anniversary only family members, representatives of the small and politically marginal League of Communists, and a few others came to his grave, which is no longer protected by the presidential guard of honor. The myth of Tito had vanished…”

Did Tito foster a system of government that at least tried to encourage Yugoslavs to bury their historical nationalist antagonisms? Or was it more the case that he barred a gate which was torn down and trampled underfoot once he was gone? Richard West’s contribution to the argument is clearly still of considerable interest.


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Anne Sebba

The recent success of Finds’ reissue of Virginia Cowles’ Looking for Trouble gives us a chance to spotlight another of Anne Sebba’s titles that we are fortunate to have on our list and which should be read in tandem with Cowles – that book is Battling for News: Women Reporters from the Risorgimento to Tiananmen Square. Originally published in 1994, it offers a terrific history of the gendered division of labour in the business of reporting from frontlines and battlefields – from the age when a female war correspondent was rated no better than an ill-equipped hindrance, to the slow grudging tolerance of women writers as exponents of ‘human interest’ in wartime, to our present day, when female war reporters have proved their fortitude and perspicacity under all kinds of fire. Virginia Cowles is seen by Anne as a mould-breaker in this regard, alongside other such luminaries as Clare Hollingworth and Martha Gellhorn. In a good piece about her time at Reuters available at Anne’s own website, she writes of how Maggie O’Kane of the Guardian told her “that the reporters she worked with in Bosnia were far too busy staying alive to worry about what gender their colleagues were. O’Kane’s brilliant style of war reporting, echoing Martha Gellhorn before her, may focus on children in orphanages, young girls satisfying soldiers as prostitutes or women scavenging for food – stories once demeaningly referred to as ‘soft news’ are now not simply regarded as the norm, but often as the only news that really matters…”
I asked Anne what she thought the passage of time since the book’s original appearance had shown us about how the woman war reporter is now perceived. She answered me thus:
“‘Battling for News’ was published just as the war in former Yugoslavia was changing the way we thought about women reporters – because the nature of warfare itself was changing so dramatically. Today more women than men graduate from media courses, and just as many women as men want to report wars. But there are still certain taboos about where to send a woman, especially if she’s a mother. Is that sensible or mad? Is it to protect the woman reporter or to protect the soldiers she is writing about? This is more relevant than ever in Afghanistan, since one of the key issues around the war is about allowing Afghan women to be treated fairly and, at the very least, given an education. Do women have a greater interest in reporting these issues than men?”
Readers interested in exploring more about this subject are recommended to look at the work of Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad, who offers some unnerving stories about her working days in this online piece (scroll down). Anne Sebba’s Battling for News is available to order from Finds, and comes highly recommended.

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Gerald Finzi

Music, musicology and the lives of the composers are subjects dear to Faber Finds, and among our growing list of first-rate titles is Stephen Banfield’s splendid biography of Gerald Finzi. For an informed appreciation of what Banfield achieved in his study of Finzi’s life and works I’m delighted to welcome a guest poster to this blog: Andrew Burn, Head of Education and Ensembles of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and a writer and speaker whose specialist area of interest is 20th century British music (in particular the works of Finzi and Arthur Bliss) as well as British contemporary composers. Andrew is also a member of the Gerald Finzi Trust, the excellent website of which may be found here. What follows are his thoughts on the Banfield tome:

Since the late 1960s the music of the English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) has enjoyed increasing attention, partly through recordings, but gradually also from performances, leading devotees clamouring for an in-depth exploration of the composer’s life and music. To address this omission, the Finzi Trust commissioned Stephen Banfield (Stanley Hugh Badock Professor of Music at Bristol University and an acknowledged authority on 20th century British music) to write this first full-length study. With reference to the composer’s copious correspondence and other primary source documents (such as the journal of Finzi’s wife Joy), and consistently complemented by generous music examples and photographs, Banfield succeeds in writing a book that appeals equally to the reader who wishes to learn about Finzi the man, as well as to one seeking analysis of the music.
When the book was first published in 1997, to universally warm critical praise, some critics nevertheless posed the question whether a composer of comparatively small output and of modest stature warranted this attention. Their affirmative response that Finzi is indeed worthy of such study is due to the quality of the masterly musicology and impartial scrutiny that Professor Banfield brings to bear in analysing the composer’s legacy. In particular he examines Finzi’s Jewish background in depth, a racial and cultural heritage upon which Finzi consciously turned his back, preferring to create for himself the persona of the archetypal minor English poet, composer or man of letters.
Banfield explores Finzi’s lifelong passions: his identification with the poetry of Thomas Hardy and the metaphysical poets, primarily Thomas Traherne; his building of a remarkable library of rare editions, especially poetry, from the 17th to 20th century; his active promotion of neglected composers – Boyce and Mudge of the 18th century, Parry (unfashionable in the first decades of the 20th century) and Gurney, whose cause Finzi espoused with a single-minded ruthlessness; and, not least, Finzi’s dedication in saving from extinction the rare varieties of English apples he planted in his orchard. Friendships with composers – including Vaughan Williams (whom he revered), Howard Ferguson (his closest friend), Robin Milford, William Busch, Edmund Rubbra, Herbert Howells and Arthur Bliss, as well as the poet Edmund Blunden – are all celebrated. Finzi’s marriage to the remarkable, charismatic sculptor Joyce Black (who became a foil and driving presence behind the blossoming of his career in a similar way to Elgar’s wife) is charted, together with the tragedy of his final years struggling against terminal disease.
Finzi’s life and music are explored in tandem in each chapter, so that his journey from a raw yet gifted composer of the 1920s struggling to find techniques that would enable him to express his emerging individual voice, to that of a confident mature artist who at the end of his life was contemplating a symphony, is analysed in sequence as the works appeared. Banfield’s research breaks new ground in revealing how in his twenties Finzi was strongly influenced by the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, while the musical analysis (invariably revealed through Banfield’s illuminating turns of phrase) is particularly engrossing in discussion of Finzi’s Hardy song settings, arguably the composer’s most important legacy to 20th century British song.
This superb book, with its outstanding scholarship will appeal not only to admirers of Finzi, but to anyone interested in the history of British music in the first half of the 20th century.

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“Everything can be found at sea, according to the spirit of your quest—strife, peace, romance, naturalism of the most pronounced kind, ideals, boredom, disgust, inspiration—and every conceivable opportunity, including the opportunity to make a fool of yourself, exactly as in the pursuit of literature. But the quarter-deck criticism is somewhat different from literary criticism. This much they have in common, that before the one and the other the answering back, as a general rule, does not pay…”
Yes, that will just about do the trick, I’d say, as a sample of the consummate high style and questing thematic bent that we call ‘Conradian.’
Joseph Conrad’s standing among the greatest of modern novelists has never been under serious threat, as far as I’m aware. Even FR Leavis had him marked up as one of Literature’s A-team. Faber novelist Giles Foden, in an essay marking the 150th anniversary of the great man’s birth, did worry that contemporary readers might find him a tad opaque, but this only an aside to the task of reaffirming Conrad’s ‘genius.’ Newfound admirers can join in the deliberations of more hardcore Conradians at the Joseph Conrad Society. For me the youthful discovery of his novels was revelatory in many ways, one little shock being that a Pole (in the manner of certain Russians, Irish and Americans I’d already read) could write English so much better than the mass of writers born in England.
Conrad is represented in Faber Finds by his 1912 memoir A Personal Record: Some Reminiscences, a work that is considered somewhat sketchy as autobiography (inasmuch as it is reticent and digressive by turns) but which is nonetheless, per the above quotation, a ravishing read. I’m not sure it even does the job of explaining why Conrad opted finally for the writing life. “The greatest of my gifts being a consummate capacity for doing nothing”, he says at one point, “I cannot even point to boredom as a rational stimulus for taking up a pen.” And yet he lets us know that he did indeed have “a pen rolling about somewhere”… and in due course turned himself into “a writer of tales.” (Indeed a mighty one: I think I once heard Martin Amis relate a hearsay legend that Conrad could quite vexed by visitors to his home who were not interested in inspecting for themselves the very pen with which the master wrote Nostromo.)
Conrad was hard to pin down as a writer and a man. ‘I have been called romantic’, he remarks in A Personal Record. ‘Well, that can’t be helped…’ If you were to describe for some uninitiated reader the basic plots of Nostromo or The Secret Agent, or even Heart of Darkness – said reader might assume this was an essentially political novelist, a dramatist too, but with a strong attachment to realism. Of course, that wouldn’t begin to do Conrad justice. (Leavis, who scorned the art of cinema, nonetheless thought Conrad made a good match for the movies: he was wrong, Conrad among the most striking proofs of Hitchcock’s law that the best books don’t make good films.)
For Leavis good books were also moral books, and he gave Conrad a distinguished pass on that score. But A Personal Record shows Conrad’s very mixed feelings on the matter. The following passage, which starts out with lecture-hall sobriety only to take flight spectacularly, is worth quoting at length.
“The ethical view of the universe involves us at last in so many cruel and absurd contradictions, where the last vestiges of faith, hope, charity, and even of reason itself, seem ready to perish, that I have come to suspect that the aim of creation cannot be ethical at all. I would fondly believe that its object is purely spectacular: a spectacle for awe, love, adoration, or hate, if you like, but in this view—and in this view alone—never for despair! Those visions, delicious or poignant, are a moral end in themselves. The rest is our affair—the laughter, the tears, the tenderness, the indignation, the high tranquillity of a steeled heart, the detached curiosity of a subtle mind—that’s our affair! And the unwearied self-forgetful attention to every phase of the living universe reflected in our consciousness may be our appointed task on this earth—a task in which fate has perhaps engaged nothing of us except our conscience, gifted with a voice in order to bear true testimony to the visible wonder, the haunting terror, the infinite passion, and the illimitable serenity; to the supreme law and the abiding mystery of the sublime spectacle…”

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Faber Finds is delighted to boast among its current authors Anne Sebba: biographer, lecturer, journalist and former Reuters foreign correspondent, whose latest work, That Woman, a biography of Wallis Simpson, is forthcoming from Weidenfeld and Nicolson in August 2011. Anne keeps up an excellent author-website and also blogs here.
Earlier this year Finds returned to print Anne’s 1994 book Battling For News: The Rise of the Woman Reporter (of which more later.) Newly reissued is her Laura Ashley: A Life By Design (1990), which was the first biography of this phenomenal woman, born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1925, who became one of the outstanding influences on British design and marketing in the twentieth century. The Sunday Telegraph hailed the book as ‘moving… a vivid, true story.’
On one level the classic brand-iconography of Laura Ashley will never age, and Anne’s portrait is of a canny businesswoman with a highly discerning eye who wanted to create for consumers ‘a kind of scrubbed, simple beauty.’ Nonetheless, as Anne told me recently, the Ashley success-story evokes quite a specific era:
“I think it’s fascinating now to look at the phenomenon of Laura Ashley in the 1970s as a very significant time in English social history, just before women had to go out of the house to work. It was a moment when we all wanted to dress like country milkmaids… And the interior decoration side was a reaction against urbanisation too. Laura Ashley herself understood that instinctively, and she was the first person to create lifestyle shops – a place where clothes and interiors tapped into an English rural idyll.”
Anne began work on the book only months after Laura Ashley’s untimely death in 1985, and at the request of her subject’s bereaved husband Bernard, with whom Laura had first entered into business printing textiles back in 1953. The Ashley marriage was in every sense a fascinating combination, both parties highly creative and driven by ambition that brought them considerable wealth. As Anne recalls:
“At first I thought I was writing about Laura, but what was really intriguing was the partnership between Bernard and her. They were so different, and had an occasionally explosive but creatively sparky relationship. Of course it was all rather raw still as Laura had died so suddenly. But the family and the workforce were amazingly open and wanted to talk as part of the healing process.”
Two months after Laura’s death a flotation of shares in Laura Ashley Holdings plc had been massively oversubscribed: a resounding confirmation of corporate success. Since the early 1990s the company has had to weather the vicissitudes of an ever-changing market, but weather them it has. Anne feels in retrospect that the opportunity for her to tell the extraordinary story of Laura Ashley came along at just the right point:
‘I am so lucky I caught that moment in time – just before the company went public – and was able to pin it down in my book. But by the 1990s and the economic need for women to engage with the world of work, the ‘Laura Ashley’ company myth was no longer valid. They had to find a new path. And – amazingly – they are still on the High Street…’
You can order Faber Finds’ edition of Laura Ashley: A Life by Design here.

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The courtroom of the Nuremberg Trial

November just gone by saw the 65th anniversary of the start of proceedings at Nuremberg in what was the world’s first international war crimes trial – a landmark in legal history. For the first time a nation’s highest-ranked officials (those, at least, who survived the war) were tried before an international court: 21 defendants collectively accused of conspiring to wage war, committing crimes against peace, ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ including genocide. Thus in the dock, inter alia, were Gestapo founder Hermann Göring, Wehrmacht head Wilhelm Keitel, racial theorist Alfred Rosenberg, foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, and armaments minister Albert Speer.
Nuremberg was undoubtedly a trial of vanquished by victors, and the scope needed for its fullest and most proper functioning was, on paper, perhaps unobtainable. But as Gitta Sereny, who attended the Trial, later put it, Hitler and his regime had ‘deliberately and in full awareness offended against every conceivable rule of war and morality.’ And while Winston Churchill might at first have favoured summary executions for the Nazi leaders, it was clearly for the better (as Churchill eventually agreed) that Nuremberg permitted a watching world to see and hear the enormity of the evidence against the Third Reich.
Finds is pleased to republish what was the first of the many books written about Nuremberg, originally brought out by Penguin just a few months after the conclusion of proceedings. Written by the Times’ distinguished war correspondent Robert W. Cooper, The Nuremberg Trial is still regarded as one of the best descriptive accounts available.
Though hundreds of journalists from newspapers all over the world reported on Nuremberg, most papers were content to cover only the most newsworthy moments, such as Göring’s appearance in the dock. The Times, however, decided it had a public duty to keep record of each day’s events, and the task was given to ‘Bob’ Cooper who was then in Germany having led the Times’ reporting team from the Normandy landings through to the fall of Berlin. Cooper’s single-handed coverage of the trial – he had no assistance – is one of the most remarkable feats in modern journalism, a distillation of a mountain of evidence into an objective, intelligent account of the complex hearings, which he put to further good use by authoring his book.
Although Cooper reported some of the most momentous events in modern history, his name never once appeared in the Times because he wrote in an era when all of that paper’s journalists were anonymously known as “Our Own Correspondent”. Cooper died in April 1992, aged 87 and the Telegraph wrote in his obituary, “There is no doubt that Cooper’s reporting would have won him fame if he had worked for a more modern newspaper.” That same notice commented that “Cooper was well-equipped for the job of foreign correspondent. He was a linguist, a good reporter who hated official cant and obfuscation, had a superb shorthand note and was a fine writer”. Finds is pleased and proud to have Robert Cooper, under his rightful name, on our list.

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Adán Buenosayres by Leopoldo Marechal (sadly not in Faber Finds, yet...)

This blog warmly welcomes comments, questions, feedback of all kinds, and is most keen to forge links with bibliophiles the world (and blogosphere) over. In this respect we are very glad of this recent mention from Club de Traductores Literarios de Buenos Aires, which is most complimentary about Faber Finds’ commitment to the ‘grandes libros del pasado’ (name-checking inter alia John Carey, Joyce Cary, Angus Wilson and A.L. Lloyd) and rates our endeavour in general as ‘una excelente iniciativa.’ We send fraternal regards back to Buenos Aires, literary city of Marechal, Borges, Cortazar, Manuel Puig and so many more; and we look forward to making more electronic friends in the year ahead.

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