Knopf

A tantalising ‘what if?’ emerges from the opening chapters of Hermione Lee’s immense, intricately researched life of Tom Stoppard. On the day in 1939 when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, the future playwright’s assimilated Jewish parents were obliged to flee the Moravian town where they lived. They made it to Singapore, only to endure Japanese invasion soon afterward. Stoppard’s mother, Martha, had to move again, and swiftly, with her two sons while her beloved husband, Eugen, a doctor, remained behind to aid with civilian defence. His evacuation ship was destroyed, and he was lost, presumably drowned, a little later. But when Stoppard’s mother boarded her own ship, earlier in 1941, she thought it was headed for Australia. Only later did she learn that India was their destination.

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The Living Sea of Waking Dreams begins, self-consciously, at the limits of language. Its opening pages are rendered in a prose style that is fragmented and contorted. Sentences break down, run into each other. Syntax is twisted into odd shapes that call into question the very possibility of meaning. Words seem to arrive pre-estranged by semantic satiation in a way that evokes Gertrude Stein or Samuel Beckett at their most opaque: ‘As if they too were already then falling apart, so much ash and soot soon to fall, so much smoke to suck down. As if all that can be said is we say you and if that then. Them us were we you?’

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After his success in forcing the British Natural History Museum to return skulls and bones of Tasmanian Aboriginals, the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson was asked by the Greek minister of foreign affairs to ascertain whether international law could be used to induce the British to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Although the project found favour with a succession of Greek prime ministers, the Tsipras government decided not to act on Robertson’s recommendations. This book is a revised version of his report, along with a discussion of demands for the repatriation of other cultural treasures.

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Germaine by Elizabeth Kleinhenz & Unfettered and Alive by Anne Summers

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December 2018, no. 407

When Anne Summers first met Germaine Greer at a raucous house party in Balmain in the early 1970s, she threw up in front of her after too many glasses of Jim Beam. Almost fifty years later, she muses that perhaps that early encounter was one of the reasons why they ‘never really connected’ ...

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To complement our 2017 ‘Books of the Year’, we invited several senior publishers to nominate their favourite books – all published by other companies.

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For no one were Dryden’s partitions thinner than for Robert Lowell, as Kay Redfield Jamison’s exploration of the links between his work and the manic depressive illness which dogged him for most of his life makes clear. Previous biographers have, with varying degrees of compassion and opprobrium, chronicled the chaos and hurt caused by his manic outbursts.

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Collected Poems by by Mark Strand

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March 2015, no. 369

It is tempting to say that when Mark Strand died last November American poetry lost one of its most distinctive voices. But it isn’t quite true. First, Strand had already retired from poetry several years earlier (before Philip Roth and Alice Munro caused a stir by doing so from fiction). Strand returned to his first career as an artist (a very talented one, according to his teachers at Yale’s Art and Architecture School), constructing a series of collages that were shown in galleries in New York. Second, Strand’s voice is of course very much present in the poems he leaves behind, collected in this handsome edition, which came out a month before he died. Though it is a voice of loss, it is not lost to us.

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In appraising the poet Peter Porter, David Malouf writes that ‘the world we inhabit is a vast museum – call it History, or Art, or the History of Art. For Porter, the exhibits were still alive and active.’ So it is with Malouf himself: his world includes Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the awful and bloody twentieth century, a Brisbane childhood, and much more – including an abiding intellectual embrace of great writers and great writing.

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My Story by Julia Gillard

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December 2014, no. 367

Much like her government, Julia Gillard’s memoir resembles the proverbial curate’s egg. Where her passions are involved, as with education (‘Our Children’) or the fair work laws, we are provided with a compelling policy read. Where they are not, as in large slabs of foreign policy, the insightful competes with the pedestrian, enlivened admittedly with her personal talents in handling the great and the good – handballing a football with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, for instance. A chapter on ‘Our Queen’ and the republic is rather jejune, though Gillard has a nice line on changes in the royal succession as providing ‘equal rights for sheilas’. The fact that ‘every prediction the departments of Treasury and Finance ever made about government revenue turned out to be wrong’ makes for dispiriting reading on fiscal matters.

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The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan edited by Albert J. Devlin with Marlene J. Devlin

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October 2014, no. 365

‘I get awful intense about these movies I do. I become, in fact, obsessed with them.’ So Elia Kazan (1909–2003) wrote to his daughter in 1957. A workaholic, Kazan was both extremely self-assured and plagued by self-doubt, terrified he would produce mediocrity. He rarely did. As a stage and screen director he achieved remarkable success. Kazan was an egotist, and the confidence he exhibited publicly, and in these letters, is at once impressive and repugnant.

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