Aharon Appelfeld’s new novel, All Whom I Have Loved is indeed a riveting, if ominous tale, a story we learn from the near-desperate utterances of a child facing not only his own developmental and family struggles, but the turmoil of an unwelcoming world, that of the East Europe of a prospering Nazi party in the late 1930s!
Considering how “casual” the work is in its approach, you could, I suppose, call it a mere glimpse into the turmoil and tragedies that overcame Naples. Yet, in some ways, this technique proves far more vibrant than the traditional presentations of historical events which most of us have experienced in the course of our schooling. Not to say Taylor hasn’t studied his subject or done his extensive research.
Rosamond’s very early experiences with the great and famous were connected with her father’s love for music. Because he headed the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra, she went often to rehearsals and concerts as a child, and when conductors and soloists were invited to Sunday luncheons at the Rosenbaum’s regularly, she was enthralled by their artistic talk and liberated manners. Among those she encountered and admired then were Otto Klemperer. Nathan Milstein, Jose Iturbi, Eugene Ormandy among others. So collecting her anecdotal tales of their eccentricities and foibles began even then. She even speaks of the Philadelphia Orchestra as “her extended family.”
In his new history of the borough’s development you can virtually trace the emergence of America most talented writers, among them figures like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe, Bernard Malamud, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller. They, among many other notables, were residents in that “outlandish place,” and, it would seem, most often by choice!
If anything can be said with certainty about our fickle reading public, it is that they will warmly welcome a finely-wrought family tale. It would seem that we all relish revelations of the darkest secrets in the early histories of our kinfolk. So it came as little surprise in 2006 when a young unknown, Kim Edwards, swept us up altogether with her debut family novel.
Yet another of his discoveries turns out to be a lost watercolor by one of America’s greatest 19th century artists, Winslow Homer — a painting which had literally appeared out of nowhere one day in Southern Ireland, abandoned next to a dump heap! The work had been miraculously rescued by a local fisherman.
A startling achievement in a first novel, the work seems to have already touched a chord since it has taken Italy and Europe by storm and sold copies in the millions. It was undertaken by a young Italian physicist at age 27, who tells a haunting story. Better yet, he’s a natural, adept with characterization, knowing how to captivate and hold his readers.
And Johnson reminds us of the memorable words he spoke after France capitulated: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” Here the biographer also observes, “So the first true victory Britain won in the war was the victory of oratory and symbolism. Churchill was responsible for both.”
She introduces a woman who may have upset those around her by her promiscuity, even nymphomania, drug use; but also gives us access to a fearless beauty with gifts of intelligence, wit, and extraordinary powers to attract the opposite sex. Then too, she reveals that her antics as combined with her endowments were nevertheless insufficient in her hunt for love and lasting affection.
For me, it was the people themselves, their intellectual inclinations, their sophisticated speech, their crisp wit in delivery which touched every aspect of my days and later still, my evenings as well. They themselves attracted, fascinated even more than daily procedures of the research itself. I had hardly met an assembly of such varied sorts in my Bronx world before. Among them were not just New Yorkers but some who’d come from other sections of our vast country. Several already lived Bohemian lives in trendy Greenwich Village. They knew a city that I had had no real hint of, had not yet encountered.
How might we doubt that any long dead, wholly forgotten writer, who has re-emerged and within a few short years risen to a second round of best-sellerdom with three newly-discovered novels is a truly remarkable craftsman? Irene Nemirovsky first came to our attention in 2004, sixty years after her demise at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz, when a novel of hers was found “buried” within her journal entries.
Such a pity Mary Ann Shaffer is not around to enjoy her celebrity! Shaffer died in February of this year and thus missed her own miracle—best-sellerdom for a first book written by an already “mature” librarian, former bookseller, and unpublished, aspiring writer. The good news, however, is that her opus is engaging, ingenious and ahead of the publishing game.
Readers of faint heart beware when embarking upon this superb work of history. So many stories of suffering are here collected, so utterly specific in their brutal details, a strong stomach will be required. Yet, it is worth the pain since one cannot emerge doubting: the epoch is surely one of history’s most vicious; and its revelation of the Twentieth Century’s brutality is dumbfounding.
By the end of that lecture, Roget had concluded that one of the causes of “the slow progress of human knowledge” was “the imperfections of language, both as an instrument of thought and a medium of communication.” It was on that June morning that Dugald Stewart implanted in his disciple a mission which was to occupy him for the rest of his life.
Jane Austen, whose sharp tongue barely left her cheek during her short lifetime, and, whose caustic satire survived the intervening centuries of industrialization, through revolution and war, as well as the whirligig of literary fashions (whose onslaught took down others as great) may finally be deflated or drowned in the crazy waves of idiot’s delights!