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Not nobody

Gabriele Annan, 24 October 1991

Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia 
by Marion Countess Dönhoff.
Knopf, 204 pp., $22.95, November 1990, 0 394 58255 1
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... The Red Countess’ – die rote Gräfin – is well-known in Germany. More green than red now, and never any redder than the SPD, she is 81, still an active political journalist and still publishing Die Zeit, her country’s most prestigious political weekly, which she edited from 1968 to 1973. At one time she was asked to stand for Bundespräsident ...

Count Waller’s Story

Gabriele Annan, 24 November 1994

Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz 
by Irene Dische.
Bloomsbury, 147 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 7475 0835 6
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... The hero of Irene Dische’s first novel was Adolf Hitler, alive and well and living in New Jersey. The hero of her second is Benedikt August Anton Cecil August Count Waller von Wallerstein. As a boy, he was obsessed with drawing. He always drew the same thing: stick figures battling each other with swords, spears, truncheons, whips. He held the pencil in his fist, and pressed so hard that the point pierced through the paper ...

Some Kind of Remedy

Gabriele Annan: Jhumpa Lahiri, 20 July 2000

Interpreter of Maladies 
by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Flamingo, 198 pp., £6.99, June 2000, 0 00 655179 3
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... Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book is a collection of short stories. It has already won several prizes: the Pulitzer 2000 for fiction, the New Yorker for best first book and the PEN/Hemingway award. Praise from Amy Tan is quoted on the cover, as it was on the cover of Gish Jen’s Who’s lrish? Tan and Jen both write about first and second-generation Chinese Americans, and are upbeat on the whole, sometimes relentlessly so ...

Flights of the Enchanter

Noël Annan, 4 April 1991

A Traveller’s Alphabet: Partial Memoirs 
by Steven Runciman.
Thames and Hudson, 214 pp., £16.95, February 1991, 9780500015049
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... At the end of the First World War a schoolboy at Eton had come to the conclusion that people could be divided into the stupids (the hearties) or the sillies (the clever trendies). Nor did his teachers escape censure. He thought them ill-informed, and one wrote wistfully in his end-of-term report: ‘I wish this boy were kinder to me.’ Steven Runciman was already beginning to see history in a different perspective from his mentors ...

The Trouble with Trott

Gabriele Annan, 22 February 1990

A Good German: Adam von Trott zu Solz 
by Giles MacDonogh.
Quartet, 358 pp., £17.95, January 1990, 0 7043 2730 9
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... In England, Adam von Trott has always been the best-known of the plotters against Hitler who were shot or hanged after the abortive coup of 20 July 1944 – better even than Claus von Stauffenberg who carried the bomb in his briefcase to the Führer’s headquarters in East Prussia and detonated it. This is because from 1931 to 1933 Trott was a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College and made a tremendous impression on his contemporaries and seniors at Oxford ...

Diary

Noël Annan: On Ralph Dahrendorf, 27 September 1990

... I see that Ralph Dahrendorf has given us his reflections on the revolution in Eastern Europe.* Burke wrote his on the French Revolution to ‘a very young gentleman in Paris’ in order to damp his enthusiasm and instil some doubts in his mind; Dahrendorf his to a considerably older gentleman in Warsaw to dispel some fashionable muddles about the future in our minds as well as in his ...

Poor Jack

Noël Annan, 5 December 1985

Leaves from a Victorian Diary 
by Edward Leeves and John Sparrow.
Alison Press/Secker, 126 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 436 24370 9
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... In the Berlin restaurant Baron Kuno von Pregnitz, ignoring Mr Norris, suddenly asked the young Englishman: ‘And, excuse me, how are the Horse Guards?’ ‘Still sitting there.’ ‘Yes? I am glad to hear this. Ho! Ho! Ho! ... Excuse me, I can remember them very well.’ They had in fact been sitting there for longer perhaps than Christopher Isherwood knew ...

A Resonance for William Styron

Gabriele Annan, 7 November 1985

Savage Grace 
by Natalie Robins and Steven Aronson.
Gollancz, 473 pp., £10.95, October 1985, 0 575 03738 5
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... In 1972 a 26-year-old American schizophrenic, Anthony Baekeland, killed his mother Barbara with a kitchen knife. They had been sleeping together. It was her idea: she thought it would cure his homosexuality. An earlier cure by means of a French girl had not been completely successful; Tony’s father, Brooks Baekeland, had gone off with the girl he married after Barbara’s death ...

Lament for the members of a class of masters

Gabriele Annan, 6 December 1990

The Snows of Yesteryear: Portraits for an Autobiography 
by Gregor von Rezzori, translated by H.F. Broch de Rothermann.
Chatto, 290 pp., £16.99, November 1990, 0 7011 3666 9
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... Gregor von Rezzori was born on his mother’s estate in Bukovina in 1914. Bukovina was Austrian in those days, Romanian after the First World War, and Russian after the second. The Rezzoris were minor Austrian gentry administering the outposts of empire, more like the British in India than like the magnates who entertained Patrick Leigh-Fermor when he passed through the Balkans ...

Blair-Speak

Gabriele Annan: Gish Jen’s Jokes, 6 January 2000

Who's Irish 
by Gish Jen.
Granta, 209 pp., £9.99, July 1999, 1 86207 276 0
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... Ever since her first novel Typical American appeared in 1991, the Chinese American writer Gish Jen has been acclaimed as the new Amy Tan. Amy Tan herself acclaims her on the cover of Mona in the Promised Land (1996), Jen’s second novel; and again on this collection of short stories. Jen has a lot going for her: she is witty, perceptive, penetrating, sharp on motives and a great mimic ...

Not Sex, but Sexy

Gabriele Annan: Alma Mahler-Werfel, 10 December 1998

Alma Mahler-Werfel: The Diaries 1898-1902 
translated by Antony Beaumont.
Faber, 512 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 571 19340 4
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... You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication.’ This is Cicely in The Importance of Being Earnest refusing to let Algernon look at her diary. But it could easily be her flesh-and-blood contemporary Alma Mahler protecting hers. In fact, the exchange preceding Cicely’s remark crops up in several variations in Alma’s pages, each with a different male in the role of Algernon ...

Forbidden to Grow up

Gabriele Annan: Ahdaf Soueif, 15 July 1999

The Map of Love 
by Ahdaf Soueif.
Bloomsbury, 529 pp., £18.99, June 1999, 0 7475 4367 4
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... When Tolstoy died in November 1910, one of the principal characters in Ahdaf Soueif’s new novel felt bereaved: ‘I have derived more enjoyment from Anna Karenina and War and Peace,’ Lady Anna Winterbourne notes in her diary, ‘than from any other novels that I have read.’ The Map of Love suggests that Soueif herself may have Tolstoyan aspirations ...

Self-Hatred

Gabriele Annan, 5 November 1992

Death in Rome 
by Wolfgang Koeppen, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Hamish Hamilton, 192 pp., £9.99, November 1992, 9780241132388
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... This German novel has waited nearly forty years for its English translator. Michael Hofmann fell in love the moment the Good Fairy told him about it, and set out to liberate it from the thorn hedge of neglect. The Good Fairy, in this case, was a Berlin bookseller ‘who First recommended Koeppen’. Wolfgang Koeppen is 86. He wrote a couple of novels before the war, but his fame (now in abeyance, even in Germany where he was once classed with Böll and Grass), rests on the three he published in quick succession in the early Fifties ...

Good Form

Gabriele Annan, 25 June 1992

From the Ballroom to Hell: Grace and Folly in 19th-Century Dance 
by Elizabeth Aldrich.
Northwestern, 255 pp., $42.95, February 1992, 0 8101 0912 3
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... In the simple mechanic movements of address, the foot takes the second position, the other the third, then the body gently falls forward, keeping the head in direct line with the body. The bend is made by a motion at the union of the inferior limbs with the body, and a little flexing at the limbs.’ These instructions for a gentleman’s bow are not too difficult to follow ...

Outfits to die for

Gabriele Annan, 10 February 1994

A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-60 
by Jeanine Basinger.
Chatto, 528 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 7011 6093 4
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... You could call this a post-feminist work – ‘post’ even the new-wave feminism-with-a-smile of writers like Naomi Wolf. Jeanine Basinger seems out not so much to deconstruct Hollywood as to defuse the horror myth of its patriarchal Weltanschauung. The patriarchalism is there all right, but riddled with subversion. Her attitude is most clearly seen when she deals with Shirley Temple ...

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