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Howitzers on the Hill

Neal Ascherson: ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’

8 March 2018
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh 
by Franz Werfel, translated by Geoffrey Dunlop, revised by James Reidel.
Penguin, 912 pp., £10.99, January 2018, 978 0 241 33286 3
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... forgotten by everyone except the Armenians, it was taken up by the poet, playwright and novelist Franz Werfel. He transformed it into The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, the enormous, grand-manner novel which many considered his finest work. Werfel, who died in Californian exile in 1945, is now in the ‘almost forgotten’ league himself, in spite of being one of ...

What kind of funny is he?

Rivka Galchen: Under Kafka’s Spell

4 December 2014
Kafka: The Years of Insight 
by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch.
Princeton, 682 pp., £24.95, June 2013, 978 0 691 14751 2
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Kafka: The Decisive Years 
by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch.
Princeton, 552 pp., £16.25, June 2013, 978 0 691 14741 3
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... those who have spent next to no time thinking.) My own such amateur conviction is that the life of Franz Kafka reads like a truly great comedy. I mean this (of course) in large part because of the tragedies in and around his life, and I mean it in the tradition of comedies like the final episode of Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, which, after ...
9 July 1987
The Age of Terrorism 
by Walter Laqueur.
Weidenfeld, 385 pp., £17.95, March 1987, 9780297791157
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The Baader-Meinhof Group: The Inside Story of a Phenomenon 
by Stefan Aust, translated by Anthea Bell.
Bodley Head, 552 pp., £12.95, June 1987, 0 370 31031 4
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... In the first few pages of Walter Laqueur’s The Age of Terrorism (largely a reworking and updating of his 1977 work, Terrorism), the author attempts to confront the old adage that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ Laqueur will have none of it: Of all the observations on terrorism this is surely one of the tritest ...


John Bayley

2 February 1989
The Lost Voices of World War One: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights 
edited by Tim Cross.
Bloomsbury, 406 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 7475 0276 5
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by Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger.
Anvil, 350 pp., £15.95, January 1989, 0 85646 198 9
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Flights of Passage: Reflections of a World War Two Aviator 
by Samuel Hynes.
Bloomsbury, 270 pp., £13.95, November 1988, 0 7475 0333 8
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... flu just before the Armistice, Apollinaire would have sailed effortlessly into Modernism like Franz Marc or Gaudier-Brzeska, shrugging off the immediate trauma of the conflict and utilising it in the space of their genius, as the non-combatants Picasso or T.S. Eliot were to do. In a very different way Edward Thomas, who found his true voice in the war but ...

I am not a world improver

Christopher Turner: Building Seagram

6 February 2014
Building Seagram 
by Phyllis Lambert.
Yale, 306 pp., £45, January 2013, 978 0 300 16767 2
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Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography 
by Franz Schulze and Edward Windhorst.
Chicago, 493 pp., £25, April 2013, 978 0 226 15145 8
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... into Alcoholics Anonymous. The revised Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography, an expansion of Franz Schulze’s definitive 1985 study, co-authored with the architect Edward Windhorst, includes new interviews with Marx. ‘I was hungover most of the time,’ she said of their early years. ‘Mies was fascinated by the fact that I stopped as suddenly as I ...
19 December 1991
... the Kwazulu cabinet room is studded with photographs of Buthelezi with Thatcher, with Reagan, with Franz-Josef Strauss, with the Pope. The same logic drives the IFP into the crazy situation where they value the presence of Treurnicht’s CP at their conference. In his pre-circulated speech, Buthelezi studiously avoided all mention of the funding ...


Karl Miller: Football Tribes

1 June 1989
... Rowse (after Fraser’s book came out) as the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. The ballads collected by Walter Scott contain wonderful praise – together with much that is more wonderful – of reiver exploits, of their boldness. But Fraser is sharp with Scott’s worshipful view of his ancestors. Scott and his minstrels forgot to stress that reiver practice was ...
22 March 1990
First Diasporist Manifesto 
by R.B. Kitaj.
Thames and Hudson, 128 pp., £7.95, May 1989, 0 500 27543 2
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Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles, 1957-1987 
by John Ashbery, edited by David Bergman.
Carcanet, 417 pp., £25, February 1990, 9780856358074
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... the tape-recorder cries just before the last curtain of Les Séquestrés d’Altona, ‘I Franz von Gerlach ... have taken this century upon my shoulders and have said I will answer for it. This day and forever. What do you say?’ This is Kitaj’s tone. It’s preposterous – or it would be if it were not clear that he is the first target of his ...


Eric Hobsbawm: Memories of Weimar

24 January 2008
... but intellectual and cultural. The word today suggests the Bauhaus, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Walter Benjamin, the great photographer August Sander and a number of remarkable movies. Weitz picks out six names: Thomas Mann, Brecht, Kurt Weill, Heidegger and the less familiar theorist Siegfried Kracauer and the artist Hannah Höch. One could as easily ...

Am I intruding?

Peter Campbell: Open Windows

3 November 2011
Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century 
by Sabine Rewald.
Yale, 190 pp., £20, March 2011, 978 0 300 16977 5
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... you are denied full information – bringing to mind the scene in The Woman in White in which Walter Hartright first sees Marian Halcombe: I looked from the table to the window farthest from me, and saw a lady standing at it, with her back turned towards me. The instant my eyes rested on her, I was struck by the rare beauty of her form, and by the ...

Perfect and Serene Oddity

Michael Hofmann: The Strangeness of Robert Walser

16 November 2006
Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912-32 
by Robert Walser, translated and edited by Christopher Middleton.
Nebraska, 128 pp., £9.99, November 2005, 0 8032 9833 1
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... age or any condition – for his perfect and serene oddity’. Start over. This is the essayist Franz Blei’s recollection of his first meeting with Walser, in 1898: A few days later, he stood in my room and said I am Walser. A tall rather lanky fellow with ruddy, bony features, under a thick blond thatch that fought off the comb, dreamy blue-grey eyes ...
19 September 1996
The Nietzsche Canon: A Publication History and Bibliography 
by William Schaberg.
Chicago, 297 pp., £29.95, March 1996, 0 226 73575 3
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... thinks ‘Unconventional Observations’ would be a better translation than Walter Kaufmann’s Untimely Meditations because indicative of his ‘aggressive intent’. I prefer Kaufmann’s rendition.) The definitive turn from classicist to philosopher-psychologist-prophet came with Human, All Too Human, published in 1878, with a ...

Yes, die

Gerald Hammond

23 May 1996
The Five Books of Moses 
translated by Everett Fox.
Harvill, 1024 pp., £25, March 1996, 1 86046 142 5
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... of Bible translation as anything else in English I know, cites as his precursors Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig. Their German Bible was produced between 1925 and 1962 (it was largely Buber’s: Rosenzweig died in 1929), and its guiding idea was to ‘mimic the particular rhetoric of the Hebrew whenever possible, preserving such devices as ...

Mann v. Mann

Colm Tóibín: The Brother Problem

3 November 2011
House of Exile: War, Love and Literature, from Berlin to Los Angeles 
by Evelyn Juers.
Allen Lane, 400 pp., £25, May 2011, 978 1 84614 461 5
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... Reich-Ranicki wrote, ‘would go to concerts in the company of their neighbour the conductor Bruno Walter in a court equipage with a coachman and groom, both in blue livery.’ When their first child, Erika, was born in 1905, Thomas wrote to Heinrich to say that while he would have preferred a boy, ‘perhaps the daughter will offer me a closer relationship to ...
22 June 2000
American Pimpernel: The Man who Saved the Artists on Hitler’s Death List 
by Andy Marino.
Hutchinson, 416 pp., £16.99, November 1999, 0 09 180053 6
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... Casals is probably worth 100,000. Picasso 50,000. Your trio [Feuchtwanger, Heinrich Mann and Franz Werfel] brought in 35,000. Since their arrival we have had nothing good to offer the public and they are pretty shopworn by this time. See if you can dig up something big. Marino gives most space to the Manns and the Werfels. For the crossing into ...

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