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Christopher deBellaigue: Getting married in Iran, 5 July 2001

... where it can do no mischief. But Mrs Ghezelayagh is in extravagant mood: ‘Bonjour, Monsieur de Bellaigue!’ Vous êtes tous les bienvenus à Téheran!’ she exclaims, and holds out her hand. My father takes it gratefully. Mrs Ghezelayagh’s French, learned thirty years ago when she was a student in Paris, returns elegantly. My father was English ...

Country Life

Christopher deBellaigue: How to Farm, 21 April 2022

English Pastoral: An Inheritance 
by James Rebanks.
Penguin, 304 pp., £9.99, September 2021, 978 0 14 198257 1
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Field Work: What Land Does to People and What People Do to Land 
by Bella Bathurst.
Profile, 236 pp., £9.99, April, 978 1 78816 214 2
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... Farmer’s​ Glory, the classic agrarian memoir by A.G. Street, was published in 1932. The traditional mixed farm where Arthur Street spent his boyhood in the first decade of the 20th century was the centre of a self-sufficient community, stout in defence of the four-course rotation and despising anything shop-bought. There was a ‘spaciousness and an aura of solid wellbeing’ in this intermission between agricultural slumps ...

A Bride for a Jackass

Christopher deBellaigue: Vita in Persia, 25 March 2010

Twelve Days in Persia 
by Vita Sackville-West.
Tauris Parke, 142 pp., £9.99, August 2009, 978 1 84511 933 1
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... Nineteen twenty-seven was a fine year to be Vita Sackville-West. She was 35, attaining what her son would call her ‘tumultuous maturity’, besieged by lovers. Her elegy to Kentish life, The Land, had won the Hawthornden Prize, and she was hesitantly revising her earlier, somewhat churlish opinions of her own talent. She was a muse to perhaps the greatest novelist of the age, Virginia Woolf, who was now setting out to immortalise her in the pages of Orlando ...


Christopher deBellaigue: ‘Mummy est morte’, 19 March 2020

... De Bellaigue?’ The voice belonged to one of the senior boys in the house, someone who had never spoken to me before. I looked up from my desk, where I was surveying my untouched homework. It was the afternoon of Sunday, 10 February 1985. ‘Jaques wants to see you.’ He turned and walked away.I had first seen Jaques’s private quarters on the day I entered Eton a few weeks earlier, a term later than most of the other members of the 1984 intake ...


Christopher deBellaigue: In Afghanistan, 7 October 2010

... Akram Osman’s immense novel Kuche-ye ma, which might be translated as ‘Our Street’, spans four decades of Kabul’s recent history, but stops before the worst bits.* I started it when I was in Afghanistan in July, and soon found that reading a few pages became vital to my after-work equilibrium, enabling me to feel optimistic again. Each morning, out of my hotel room, past the expats breakfasting on the lawn, through three steel-plated doors, each manned by armed guards, and into the crisis ...

Money as Weapon

Christopher deBellaigue, 14 April 2011

... preventable diseases such as measles and chronic diarrhoea is staggering,’ one ICRC doctor, Bart de Poorter, has said. ‘But what doctor or vaccinator is brave enough to venture into rural areas given the appalling lack of security?’ Aid in Afghanistan has rarely been simple. When the Taliban were in charge, opinions were divided over how far one should ...

The Martyrdom of Hossein Kharrazi

Christopher deBellaigue: In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, 2 January 2003

... There were 22 of us, in a column. As we set out, Hamid kissed me on both cheeks. He smelt of eau de cologne, and he’d put on clean clothes.’ If you’re going to meet God, there’s a protocol to be followed. ‘The Iraqis were on the heights above us. When we came under fire, we hit the deck, and Hamid was next to me. I noticed my leg was hot, and I ...


Dmitri Levitin: The Islamic Enlightenment, 22 November 2018

The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment 
by Alexander Bevilacqua.
Harvard, 340 pp., £25.95, February 2018, 978 0 674 97592 7
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The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle between Faith and Reason 
by Christopher deBellaigue.
Vintage, 404 pp., £10.99, February 2018, 978 0 09 957870 3
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... to be taught publicly in universities.’ The book in which these words appear – Dissertatio de Principibus Muhammedanis qui aut eruditione aut ab amore literarum et literatorum claruerunt (‘Dissertation on Islamic princes who shone for their erudition or for their love of letters and lettered men’) – was short, widely available and accessible to ...

Why weren’t they grateful?

Pankaj Mishra: Mossadegh, 21 June 2012

Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup 
by Christopher deBellaigue.
Bodley Head, 310 pp., £20, February 2012, 978 1 84792 108 6
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... restless compatriots with a coherent ideology and politics of anticolonial nationalism. In Christopher deBellaigue’s politically astute biography, Mossadegh is not the ‘dizzy old wizard’ and ‘tantrum-throwing Scheherazade’ of countless Anglo-American memoirs and press reports, but a member of ‘that ...

How powerful was the Kaiser?

Christopher Clark: Wilhelm II, 23 April 2015

Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile, 1900-41 
by John Röhl, translated by Sheila de Bellaigue and Roy Bridge.
Cambridge, 1562 pp., £45, February 2014, 978 0 521 84431 4
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... his findings in eloquent and sometimes passionate prose, superbly translated this time by Sheila de Bellaigue and Roy Bridge. Beyond the biography, Röhl has illuminated the people and structures of the imperial court in dozens of books and essays; his first book, Germany without Bismarck (1967), a pioneering work of archival reconstruction, remains the ...

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