The ‘land of smiles’ was what they called Prague under German occupation during World War II – at least the Germans did. Few locals. Fresh vegetables and meat were available (to Germans) in quantities unknown back in Germany. Until close to the end, there were more than a hundred cinemas operating in the city, as well as theatres, concert halls, and numerous other places of entertainment. After all, Goebbels was not only passionate about culture in general, but keen, he said, to initiate a ‘lively cultural exchange’ with Czechoslovakia in particular.... (read more)
In the garden of a hotel twenty minutes from Yogyakarta, a group of hopeful, middle-aged Westerners gyrate anxiously to the strains of LaBelle’s greatest hit. Unlike their young Balinese instructor, they are fighting a losing battle. Why bother? Robert Dessaix wonders. Next morning, his travelling companion answers in her husky smoker’s growl, ‘It’s death they’re afraid of – or at least dying.’... (read more)
In the last however many years, we have seen the rise of a kind of faction in this country which has enabled people like Drusilla Modjeska and Brian Matthews to show what scintillation and what fireworks may follow when the life of the mind (with whatever attendant discursive zigzagging) allows itself to imagine a world ...... (read more)
Who is, or rather who was, André Gide? I ask this because a distinguished editor warned me, on hearing that I was about to review Robert Dessaix’s enticing new book, that nowadays nobody would remember who Gide was. Ah, the years, the years! It was another story in the time of my youth ...... (read more)
There is something oddly Jesuitical about this arresting, if not quite thrilling, collection of essays in defence of Modernism (and so modernity). It may be Krishna that Amit Chaudhuri champions, rather than Catholic doctrine, or at least Krishna’s delight in ‘the infinitely tantalizing play, chicanery, and ...... (read more)
‘Nothing matters very much,’ says Hilary Spinster, one of the main characters in Philip Hensher’s mammoth mêlée of a novel, ‘and most things don’t matter at all’. How true, we think to ourselves, how liberating! Is this the aphorism (borrowed from Lord Salisbury) that will finally pinpoint the Big Idea underlying ...... (read more)
House of Names is a grim book, as any retelling of Aeschylus’s Oresteia is bound to be. It is a tale to harrow up your soul, to make your two eyes start from their spheres – or at least, it is until ten pages before the end, when Elektra cracks the book’s first joke and the tone becomes a touch mellower.... (read more)
The Last Resort (1986), a photobook by Martin Parr, includes a photograph of a woman sunbaking in the English seaside resort of New Brighton. The woman is lying, facedown and topless, on a concrete ramp, directly in front of the caterpillar tracks of a gigantic excavator ...... (read more)
On the day that Robert Dessaix first came face to face with his birth mother, he was already in his mid-forties. Adopted as a newborn baby in 1944 by a couple who loved and cared for him through his childhood and adolescence, he had grown up in Sydney, had invented his own imaginary land with its own language, had been married for twelve years, divorced, negotiated ...
Robert Dessaix is a writer, broadcaster, essayist, and memoirist. His best-known books are the autobiography A Mother's Disgrace (1994), the novels Night Letters (1996) and Corfu (2001), and the travel ...