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A Little Electronic Dawn

James Francken: Perlman, Anderson​ and Heller

24 August 2000
The Reasons I Won't Be Coming 
by Elliot Perlman.
Faber, 314 pp., £9.99, July 2000, 0 571 19699 3
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Turn of the Century 
by Kurt Anderson.
Headline, 819 pp., £7.99, February 2000, 0 7472 6800 2
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Slab Rat 
by Ted Heller.
Abacus, 332 pp., £10.99, March 2000, 0 349 11264 9
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... to keep track of old correspondence: Emily saves all the e-mails she has sent and received in ‘the invisible bank’ of her computer. And a computer’s memory provides one of the focal points in Kurt Andersen’s novel, Turn of the Century, a fat compendium of contemporary attitudes to technology. The central character in the novel is George Mactier, a well-off, middle-aged New Yorker who is set ...

Everything Must Go!

Andrew O’Hagan: American Beauties

13 December 2001
The Corrections 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Fourth Estate, 568 pp., £17.99, November 2001, 1 84115 672 8
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Ghost World 
directed by Terry Zwigoff.
August 2001
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Storytelling 
directed by Todd Solondz.
November 2001
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... should not be mistaken for a badge of courage, but Franzen’s novel is a one-tome definition of what the American novel (for good or ill) so often seeks to be nowadays. David Foster Wallace and KurtAnderson step aside: today’s big novel is the type of book which aims at bigness with the notion that all other big books are folded inside. The example is not War and Peace but the World Wide Web ...

All together

Humphrey Carpenter

7 December 1989
The Safest Place in the World: A Personal History of British Rhythm and Blues 
by Dick Heckstall-Smith.
Quartet, 178 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 7043 2696 5
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Mama said there’d be days like these: My Life in the Jazz World 
by Val Wilmer.
Women’s Press, 336 pp., £16.95, September 1989, 0 7043 5040 8
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Lenya: A Life 
by Donald Spoto.
Viking, 371 pp., £15.95, September 1989, 0 670 81211 0
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... a masculine preserve – again, this is a subject Val Wilmer frequently touches, but never seems to grasp – and from Donald Spoto’s life of Lotte Lenya it seems that the music-theatre of Kurt Weill, for all the considerable prominence it gave to female performers, was run by the men too. The most surprising aspect of the biography is the discovery that Lenya, with her wonderful voice ...

The Myth of 1940

Angus Calder

16 October 1980
Collar the lot! How Britain Interned and Expelled its Wartime Refugees 
by Peter Gillman and Leni Gillman.
Quartet, 334 pp., £8.95, May 1980, 0 7043 2244 7
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A Bespattered Page? The Internment of ‘His Majesty’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens’ 
by Ronald Stent.
Deutsch, 282 pp., £7.95, July 1980, 0 233 97246 3
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... distinguished refugee intellectuals present, a rich cultural life was possible. ‘Universities’ sprang up. Musicians had time to practise, artists improvised paintings and sculptures. The Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, after years of neglect, relished his captive audience: ‘His pièces de résistance, beyond doubt, were sculptures fashioned out of state remnants of porridge, which he assiduously ...

Our Man

Perry Anderson: The Inglorious Career of Kofi Annan

10 May 2007
The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power 
by James Traub.
Bloomsbury, 442 pp., £20, November 2006, 0 7475 8087 1
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Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War 
by Stanley Meisler.
Wiley, 384 pp., £19.99, January 2007, 978 0 471 78744 0
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... that the fax informing him of what was in store did not reach the Security Council. Some eight hundred thousand Tutsi died in the ensuing massacre. Measured by consequences, the culpability of Kurt Waldheim, exposed for concealing his service as a German intelligence officer in the Balkans, was puny by comparison. Annan remained quite unmoved, until it became too impolitic to deny any remorse ...

John McEnroe plus Anyone

Edward Said: Tennis

1 July 1999
The Right Set: The Faber Book of Tennis 
edited by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 327 pp., £12.99, June 1999, 0 571 19540 7
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... players didn’t stay at the Ritz but at a club member’s house and when even Rod Laver shared a room. How can one give an adequate account of modern tennis without saying something about the Danes, Kurt Nielsen (a Wimbledon finalist) or Torben Ulrich? Nothing about the unheralded 1966 Wimbledon champion, Mañuel Santana, the Swedes, Sven Davidson and his predecessor (later Borg’s coach) the ...

The German Question

Perry Anderson: Goodbye to Bonn

7 January 1999
... Elections, Kohl achieved a remarkable concentration of power in the CDU, but even he could not stop bitter enemies in the Party from becoming important regional figures, like Biedenkopf (‘King Kurt’) in Saxony. The SPD has never allowed the same personalisation of authority. When it has been in power, the pattern has always been a diarchy – Brandt and Herbert Wehner, or Schmidt and Brandt ...

Just like Mother

Theo Tait: Richard Yates

6 February 2003
Collected Stories 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 474 pp., £17.99, January 2002, 0 413 77125 3
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Revolutionary Road 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 346 pp., £6.99, February 2001, 0 413 75710 2
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The Easter Parade 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 226 pp., £10, January 2003, 0 413 77202 0
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... the failure of this line as a resolution, give the definite sense of a writer fighting his own gifts and instincts. Yates’s expertise is in pain and humiliation. There are some early, Sherwood Anderson-inflected stories in which these feelings are sympathetically observed, but except for the occasional, isolated outbreak of mildness, the only alternatives the later work offers are agonising pain ...

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