Tag: World War II

Le Monde diplomatique podcast – “Blame the Grand Mufti”

Arabs and Holocaust coverAfter a gap of a couple of months, the Le Monde diplomatique podcast is back. This month I talk to Gilbert Achcar, a Lebanese academic who is professor of development studies and international relations at SOAS in London and author most recently of The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, published this month.

His subject in the article – and in this podcast – is Israel’s propaganda war with the Palestinians and the Arab world in general, and the intensification it has undergone in recent years.

In the interview we talk about the propaganda use to which the “abject” wartime behaviour of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem has been put by Israel and how Holocaust denial in the Arab world differs from that in the West.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

Books of the Decade – Rebecca Carter

Rebecca CarterRebecca Carter is an editor of fiction and non-fiction at the Random House imprint Harvill Secker, a list that aims to continue the tradition, once announced in an advertisement for Secker, of publishing “international quality literature with a wayward streak”. She has a particular love of unusual narrative history, and novels that explore hidden corners of the past (or present). Of her ‘books of the decade’ only Némirovsky’s Suite Française is published by her.

Other books she has edited include Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Atiq Rahimi’s Earth and Ashes, Gerard Woodward’s August trilogy, Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, Javier Marías’s Your Face Tomorrow, Diana Evans’s 26a, Tom Reiss’s The Orientalist, Faïza Guène’s Just Like Tomorrow, Tim Butcher’s Blood River and Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese–English Dictionary for Lovers.

Saira Shah – The Storyteller’s Daughter: one woman’s return to her lost homeland (2003)

Saira Shah Storyteller's DaughterEarly on in the decade, post 9/11, there was a scramble among publishers to find books that would illuminate for readers the situation in Afghanistan. One of the first, and a book that taught me so much I didn’t know but should have done, was journalist Saira Shah’s intelligent and moving memoir, which intertwined the story of her own adventures in Afghanistan (familial, personal and journalistic) with a heart-felt history of the region.

Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (2006)

Nemirovsky Suite FrancaiseWhen the French publisher of this remarkable, previously undiscovered novel about occupied France sent me a copy, I had no idea that I was about to embark on an extraordinary journey of discovery into the life and work of Irène Némirovsky. Through reading her novels, most of them published in France during the thirties and early forties, I have come to understand so much more about the Russian pogroms of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, and what it was like to sink or swim in the high capitalist society of early twentieth-century Europe. Many lessons for our own era. And such wonderful storytelling too.

Kamila Shamsie – Burnt Shadows (2009)

Shamsie Burnt ShadowsTowards the end of the decade, Kamila Shamsie’s supremely accomplished and gripping fifth novel reveals what a different place the Afghan/Pakistan border is post 9/11 to that crossed by Saira Shah in the eighties and nineties. Through Shamsie’s clever, interlocking narratives, which follow characters from India, just pre-partition, to Nagasaki in 1945 and contemporary New York, she shows how the past is always embroiled in the present.

38. Poland – a country in the moon

Polish Winter by Michael MoranMy guest on this week’s programme is Michael Moran, author of A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland.

Michael first visited Poland in the early 1990s after the collapse of Communism as leader of an ill-assorted crew of British teachers charged with introducing the Poles to the delights of market capitalism. As a pianist, he was attracted by the music of Chopin, but confesses that he knew little about the country. He little suspected that he would fall in love with the country and end up making it his home.

A Country in the Moon – the description is Edmund Burke’s and dates from 1795, but might still stand for a country which is very little known and all too often reduced to cliché in the West – achieves something very rare for a travel book: it manages to be genuinely funny and entertaining, and also deeply thought-provoking about the many terrible chapters in Poland’s history.

Moran: A Country in the MoonThe book has been widely praised; the Guardian called it “the best contemporary travel book on Poland, reminiscent in its finest moments of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s masterful Time of Gifts” and said “No thinking traveller interested in Poland should overlook this essential book”. The Observer admired how it  “triumphantly balanc[ed] humour with scholarship”, while the Spectator called it “well-researched and hugely entertaining…  a three-star feast”.

Click on the podcast player above to find out what Michael finds so attractive about Poland – and what it is like to tour the country in a venerable old Rolls-Royce.

36. Berlin – city of “eternal becoming”

Berlin crossing sign This week’s podcast features an interview with Heather Reyes, co-founder of Oxygen Books, and co-editor of the latest addition to their City-Lit series, which appropriately enough in the week which marks the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, paints a portrait in words of Berlin.

Although there are plenty of old favourites such as Christopher Isherwood, Alfred Döblin and Len Deighton, the emphasis of the book is on unexpected vantage points and new, less familiar voices. So there is no dutiful trot through the city’s history “from earliest times to the present day”, but instead themed sections which try to get under the skin of the city.

City-Lit BerlinOff the beaten track, some of the highlights of the book for me were: Rolf Schneider on the disappearing Berlin pub or Kneipe (it used to be said that every street crossing in Berlin had four corners and five corner pubs – but not any more); Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom‘s reflections on a city every inch of which is “steeped in history”, from the opening of his novel All Souls’ Day; Chloe Aridjis in Book of Clouds on the “ghost stations” on the underground – the deserted, embalmed stations which although on West Berlin lines, happened to lie beneath East Berlin’s territory.

Book of Clouds coverThere’s also an excellent piece by Iain Bamforth about Berlin’s sense of itself as expressed in its architecture (he coins the memorable phrase “hyperthyroid neoclassicism” for Hitler’s default style). He mentions Stephen Spender’s visit to Hitler’s Chancellery in 1945 and writes:

“Spender noted the reams of building manuals above the Führer’s bed. Hitler didn’t believe in much but he believed in architecture.”

And Berlin, it seems to me, is hard to better as an expression of what a city’s people – or its leaders – believed throughout its history rendered in stone, glass, brick and steel. One of my own favourite books on the city (not included in the City-Lit anthology) is Brian Ladd’s Ghosts of Berlin, which looks at how the city has come to terms with its past through the built environment. That may sound rather dry and specialist – it’s not, since the past that Berlin has had to come to terms with has so often been so raw and painful.

Finally, I wanted to mention Heather’s co-editor on this volume, Katy Derbyshire. Katy has contributed many new translations to the book, which adds considerably to its appeal. You can find Katy’s blog on German books (Love German Books) here. It’s well worth checking out.

To listen to the podcast, click on the link above, or go to Podularity’s iTunes page using the link in the right-hand column.

To see my photo essay on Berlin, click on the “more” link below.

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Giles Foden: Turbulence

Giles Foden Turbulence coverClick below to hear Giles Foden reading extracts from his new book:

Reading 1

Reading 2

Reading 3

Reading 4

And click here to listen to an interview with Giles Foden in which he discusses his new novel.

Faber July 2009 podcast is here, featuring interviews with Giles Foden and Sarah Hall.

A visit to the archives – click here to find out what Faber was publishing on in the 1930s – from James Joyce to Al Capone!

Revealing the Resistance

Cobb: The Resistance jacketLast week I interviewed Matthew Cobb about his new book, The Resistance: The French Fight against the Nazis, which surprisingly is the first popular book to examine the Resistance in a quarter of a century.

Matthew, who lived for many years in Paris, told me before the interview that it was seeing images of Paris draped in swastikas in wartime which made him want to find out more about the French men and women who resisted the invaders.

You can here my interview with him on the Blackwell Online site here.

And you’ll find all my podcasts for Blackwell Online here.

“I’m a novelist moonlighting as a short story writer”

Pale View of Hills coverLast month I recorded an extensive interview with Kazuo Ishiguro, to mark the publication of his first collection of short stories. It also forms part of Faber’s 80th birthday celebrations.

The first part of what we’ve decided to present as a two-part podcast is now available here on Faber’s site and on iTunes.

It focuses on the new book, Nocturnes, while the second part, which I’ve just finished editing, looks back at some of his earlier books including his first, A Pale View of Hills, now available in a new cover as part of the Faber Firsts series.

Part II of the podcast will be available later this month.

Meanwhile there are several interviews from this week to edit – with Sarah Hall, Giles Foden, and PD James. They’ll all be available in the course of the next few weeks.

23. Exploring the haunted city

Neil Gregor: Haunted City – Nuremberg and the Nazi Past

“By the end of the war, Nuremberg had a reputation second to none as a Nazi town.”

map showing nuremberg, bavariaIn this week’s podcast I talk to historian Neil Gregor about Germany’s often difficult process of coming to terms with the second world war in the decades that followed its defeat.

To bring sharper focus to his book, Neil decided to concentrate on how one city in particular – Nuremberg in Bavaria – reached its accommodation with the past. Neil’s own father grew up in the city and one of Neil’s earliest memories of learning about history was hearing his German godparents describe RAF bombing raids on Nuremberg. Read More

10. Fleeing Hitler – the story of the Paris exodus

Hanna Diamond On 14 June 1940 German tanks swept into Paris. That the city would fall to the Nazis was by then a foregone conclusion; it had been declared an ‘open city’ the day before. In other words, it would put up no resistance against the invaders. The government had already packed up and left.

By 14 June, four-fifths of Parisians had also fled the city, leaving it looking as though it had been stricken by some medieval disaster such as a great plague. Little more than a week later Hitler would make a propaganda visit to Paris and have his picture taken beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Yet, despite the magnitude of the exodus in which literally millions of people took to the roads in any form of transport they could find, including push-carts and bicycles, it has been little written about by professional historians, as though it has been crowded out by the attention given to the Vichy regime, the resistance, and the occupation.

Fleeing Hitler jacketHanna Diamond‘s new book, Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 (OUP) sets out to redress the balance by providing a detailed account of those hot June days when Parisians sought to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the advancing German army. Though most set out with little idea of where they were going, and many spoke later of the ‘holiday mood’ of their adventure, 100,000 citizens were to die as they fled.

In my interview with Hanna Diamond we talk about the events on the road, and also the way in which the Vichy regime quickly created its own myths around the exodus.