Friday, 05 December 2014

Book Reviews: 5 December

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


Books-Dec05-White-Nile-Diaries-176THE WHITE NILE DIARIES by John Hopkins (IB Tauris, £15.99; offer price, £14.39)
Publishers IB Tauris make it their business to unearth gems of travel literature, and The White Nile Diaries is a rare treasure indeed – an account not only of an enthralling adventure, but also of a young man who unexpectedly finds both a voice and a vocation in travel writing.

In 1961, Princeton graduates John Hopkins and Joe McPhillips eschew the prescribed life of white-collar jobs, mortgages and marriage in favour of a summer ‘helling about’ from Italy to Kenya on a beautiful BMW motorcycle christened The White Nile in honour of their African itinerary. What a time it was to be young and travelling! You could climb the Great Pyramid, camp out on the Roman streets of Leptis Magna and ride a motorcycle between elephants on the East African plains.

The pair frequently found their lives at risk – escaping Tunisian vigilantes, running the Libyan border post (which earned Joe a bullet in the shoulder), traversing broiling deserts – but also found time to refl ect on classical history, great literary works and the last days of empire. Hopkins’s experience was transformative, and it is a privilege, even this belatedly, to share his journey of selfdiscovery.
Richard Tarrant

Books-Dec05-Duveen-176DUVEEN: The Story Of The Most Spectacular Art Dealer Of All Time by SN Behrman (Daunt Books, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
A surprising number of Old Masters in American museums are there thanks to the shrewdness of art dealer Joseph Duveen. Lord Duveen, as he became, helped build the collections of some of the richest men in the US, including William Randolph Hearst and John D Rockefeller.

This biography traces Duveen’s spectacular career, from peddling delft to selling priceless Rembrandts, Titians and Turners. The eldest son of Jewish-Dutch immigrants, he opened art galleries in New York, Paris and London (he lived at Claridge’s, in a suite transformed into a small art gallery).

An excellent if somewhat uncritical account of art dealing and collecting in the first half of the 20th century, it gives little away about Duveen’s personal life, or how his clients (who included Nazis) made their millions. But it reveals the secret of his success: realising that wealthy Americans were hungry to buy art and refi nement from declining European aristocrats, he encouraged them to bequeath their masterpieces to museums – thus off ering them immortality. A mustread for art lovers.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

Books-Dec05-Written-In-the-Present-Tense-176THIS SHOULD BE WRITTEN IN THE PRESENT TENSE by Helle Helle (Harvill Secker, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
The first novel to be translated into English from one of Denmark’s most popular authors follows the life of Dorte, a student in a sleepy town who is trying to ‘figure it all out’.

Dorte’s vagueness is problematic, as many landmark events in her life are alluded to but pass the reader by – the author’s whimsical style means they are never confi rmed. While some may find this kind of storytelling intriguing, I felt disconnected from the protagonist, unable to empathise with her. A good concept that falls short of reaching its full potential.
Lilly Cox


Books-Dec05-Harraga-176A burning rage
HARRAGA by Boualem Sansal (Bloomsbury, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Emotions run high in Algerian award-winning author Boualem Sansal’s work. Writing fearlessly and often controversially about his country, his books have been banned there.

The title of his fourth novel is an Arabic term for those who attempt to emigrate illegally to Europe (‘those who burn’ their papers before they are captured). Thirty-five-year-old Lamia lives alone in an old Algiers mansion, having lost almost all of her family apart from her beloved brother, who has become a harraga.

Anger dominates the text at first, as Lamia rails against the injustice surrounding her, in a society where fear rules and women are targeted. But as the story unfolds, what begins as a fraught social commentary blossoms into a fervent statement. Lamia’s capacity for love is as intense as her rage.

She steers us around the city, to which she feels an instinctive bond in spite of everything, and it is Chérifa, a young pregnant girl – wild yet wholly vulnerable – who changes Lamia’s life forever. Through the two women, and through Lamia’s absent brother, we grasp the true meaning of the novel’s title.

Boualem Sansal knows no bounds in his eloquent reasoning and passioante de ance. Lamia’s voice is a shout from the darkness, but it is an unwavering one.
Philippa Williams


VELAZQUEZ: The Complete Works by José López-Rey and Odile Delenda (Taschen, £99.99; offer price, £79.99)
He was the painter’s painter: his most famous masterpiece, Las Meninas, inspired Picasso to create 44 variations on it, and Manet called him ‘the greatest of them all’. From royalty and popes to a housewife in her kitchen, Velázquez’s close attention to human detail and dazzling technical skill made his subjects come to life on the canvas.


This luxury edition showcases his work with stunning, extra-largeformat reproductions, including new photography of recently restored paintings – a unique chance to admire his entire oeuvre in the privacy of your own home, with commentary from leading experts.
Juanita Coulson


CUPIDS WAR by Martin Laurie (Mereo Books, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
During the First World War almost one million horses served with the British Army and only about 60,000 returned. Laurie has recreated the tale of his grandfather Vernon and his hunting mare Cupid, who served in France and the Near East.

Taking the voice of a horse without lapsing into sentimentality can be difficult, and the author doesn’t always succeed, but this tale will touch anyone who has known the comfort and challenge of working horses. It’s a sad reminder of Britain’s betrayal of the animals who served in both world wars.
Stephen Coulson

ASUNDER by Chloe Aridjis (Vintage, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Marie, narrator of this strangely meditative novel, has found her perfect job: warden at The National Gallery. While minding the priceless works, she is lost in her own interior world. Philosophical thoughts about the past give way to rich observational detail about the visitors. Set against London’s rain-soaked streets, it is an astute portrait of the alienation of urban life.
Anna Savva


Books-Dec05-Forgotten-Fitzgerald-176FORGOTTEN FITZGERALD: Echoes Of A Lost America edited and introduced by Sarah Churchwell (Abacus, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Twelve little-known but sparkling stories from throughout Fitzgerald’s career, on his usual themes of self-delusion, aspiration and the pitfalls of society. These hidden diamonds will delight lovers of jazz-age America.


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