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Author: Writer1

A New York Winter’s Tale

A New York Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Picador, 748pp

A magical realist fable set in an imaginary New York. In what seems to be the nineteenth century, Peter Lake, an orphan brought up by the primitive Baymen and now a burglar, burgles a grand mansion which he believes to be empty. However he encounters Beverly, the consumptive daughter of newspaper magnate Isaac Penn, and the two fall in love. Peter Lake is pursued by the Short Tails gang, led by Pearly Gates, who has vowed to kill him.

The book is rife with strange symbols. In the opening scene, a white horse escapes and gallops through the frozen streets of New York. A white cloud threatens to engulf parts of the city. Some scenes take place at the Lake of the Coheeries, an entirely mythical upstate lake. A generation or two later, the city is threatened and Peter Lake reappears. Wonderful stuff. You should read it.

Witch’s Box IV release

“Half an Empire” the fourth book in the “Witch’s Box” series, was released on 9 Nov 2023 and is now available for purchase.

Maihara has now achieved her ambition of becoming Empress, but her reign is beset with problems. The Imperial Treasure is missing, and her efforts to fix the Empire’s finances alienate the nobility. Threatening letters arrive. Her most trusted adviser suddenly becomes unavailable, and her new lover becomes embroiled in a diplomatic scandal. Can anything else go wrong? Yes, it can. Contains references to transgender issues.

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This Slavery -EC Holdsworth

 This Slavery by Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (Trent Editions).
First published in 1925, this is a radical polemical novel and a key intervention in the history of British working-class writing. Carnie Holdsworth, originally a mill worker, became a full-time writer in the 1920’s.
The action follows two sisters, Hester and Rachel Martin, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when a fire at the mill leaves them unemployed. As the material poverty of their home-life deepens and the young women are forced to confront the difficulties of their economic circumstances, Hester and Rachel make romantic and political choices that will place them on opposite sides of the great class divide.
Initially slow-moving, the novel clearly demonstrates the oppression and unfairness of the workers’ situation, with grinding poverty, and the police and authorities on the side of the mill owners. The story gathers pace in the second part, with the workers demanding a raise while the owners are desperate to complete large orders.
Well worth reading if you are interested in working-class history.

Asylum (review)

Asylum by Moriz Scheyer,translated by P.N. Singer, Profile Books, 306pp.

This memoir was written while Scheyer, an Austrian Jew, was fleeing persecution in Austria and hiding in France. Scheyer was a significant literary journalist in prewar Vienna. Shortly after the Anschluss, he fled to Paris, only to make a failed attempt to flee the city when the Germans invaded. Subsequently he escaped to unoccupied France, only to find himself and his people in increasing danger from German advance and the Vichy round-up of Jews. A failed attempt to escape to Switzerland, incarceration in French concentration camps and contact with the Resistance followed. He survived solely because of the kindness of strangers who hid him, and he eventually found refuge in a mental asylum run by Franciscan nuns.

The manuscript was found only by chance long after the war. It seems Scheyer may have made some attempt to publish, but the top copy was destroyed by the family, who thought it excessively anti-German in the post-war climate.

The book blazes with white-hot anger against the Germans and against French collaborators, and expresses fears that the sufferings of the Jews would be forgotten. This publication (2016) should help ensure that they will not be.

This menoir is well worth reading if you have any interest in the history of the period. Since Scheyer was a professional writer, it is eloquently written.

Travel blog

For many years I have kept a travel blog recording places I have visited in the UK, and also some foreign holidays. Most of the posts are accompanied by photographs. I have now decided to link it here for your interest and edification. Days Out Blog

Travellers in the Third Reich

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd, Elliott and Thompson ltd, 488pp.
“The rise of fascism through the eyes of everyday people.”
This remarkable book depicts the rise of the German Nazis through the first-hand accounts of visitors to Germany through the 1930s.
Many visitors were impressed by German modernity and progress and made repeated visits to Germany to enjoy the beautiful countryside and the historic towns and cities. Many visitors saw nothing of the dark side of the regime, or were willing to overlook excesses which they hoped would diminish with time. Other visitors had extreme right-wing sympathies and saw little to criticise in the treatment of the Jews and other minorities.
Today we prefer to forget how many prominent Britons admired Hitler and the Nazis, but there were too many of them to list here. Also not much mentioned nowadays is how the Nazis appeared to be inventing a pagan religion of Teutonic symbols to supplant Christianity. The Nazis made a point of presenting themselves as a bulwark against Communism, but if one compares the National Socialist and Communist programs it is hard to discern any difference.
This book is quite an eye-opener, but before condemning our predecessors one should perhaps reflect on how many people today are happy to holiday in countries with unpleasant regimes, or to trade with them.

Winters in the World

Winters in the World by Eleanor Parker, 266pp, hardback.
I became aware of this book via a local literary festival. I missed the author’s talk but bought the book anyway as the subject ‘a journey through the Anglo-Saxon year’ seemed interesting.
The book draws on a wide variety of sources including poetry, histories and religious literature, to investigate how the Anglo-Saxons felt about the annual passing of the seasons and their relationship with nature. Some festivals from the Anglo-Saxon period are still celebrated today while others are long forgotten. Even the names of months and seasons have changed.
If you are interested in the period, or want to encounter some Anglo-Saxon poetry, this book should prove of interest.