By Andrew Donaldson for The Times:
IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK
Hope: A Tragedy, by Shalom Auslander (Picador), R225
Depressive Solomon Kugel wishes to be nowhere in a place with no history. Then he finds an elderly Anne Frank living in his loft. A novel about Jewish identity, it is profound, moving and wise – and also darkly hilarious, iconoclastic, irreverent, provocative and quite offensive. Brilliant. Like Philip Roth on crack.
The novelist and critic Clive James has revealed he is losing his battle with leukaemia. He told the BBC last week: “I’m getting near the end; I’m a man who is approaching his terminus. I’ve been really ill for two and-a-half years. I almost died four times and I swore to myself if I can just get through this winter, I’d feel better. And I got through the winter and here it is a lovely sunny day and guess what, I don’t feel better.”
According to The Guardian, James, 72, is the author of at least 34 novels, long poems, collections of essays and criticism, five volumes of autobiography – and counting. A spokesman later told the newspaper the interview had “sounded much less doom-laden than it does when transcribed”, and added, “Clive is in fact in reasonable shape and is looking forward to years of working.”
Denis Avey’s 2011 memoir, The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz, was an incredible account of bravery and sacrifice. In the summer of 1944, Avey was a British soldier held in a POW labour camp near Auschwitz III. Disturbed by rumours about the place, he swapped places with a Jewish inmate and was able to experience and witness how prisoners in Auschwitz were being worked to death by the Nazis.
Now comes an even more extraordinary tale, The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery, by Witold Pilecki (Aquila Polonica). A member of the Polish underground, Pilecki deliberately walked into a German round-up of Warsaw civilians in September 1940 so he could send back intelligence on the newly built Auschwitz.
He smuggled out brief reports on the horrors there in 1940, 1941 and 1942. He escaped in 1943, and the long report that constitutes this book was written in 1945.
After the war, Poland fell under Soviet rule. Pilecki was arrested as a Western spy, given a show trial and executed by the communists. He was then expunged from history and his story suppressed until now. It’s been speculated that, if heeded, Pilecki’s early warnings might have changed history. And he might have gone on to enjoy old age.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“To sacrifice health, love and leisure to a mere bundle of paper, what could be sillier than that?” How Much is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life, by Ribert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky.
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