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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Telling it as it Is

I ought to be working on the global crisis and the Scottish referendum but, as usual, have been distracted – this time by two stunning autobiographies; by some thrillers and by a delightful take on contemporary Turkey. Such is the problem of having a library which is rapidly getting out of hand. Dennis Healey – whose 1989 autobiography I had so enjoyed on a second reading earlier in the year - bears part of the blame. Intrigued by his praise of Leonard Woolf’s autobiography (issued in the 1960s and still available) I bought 3 of its 5 volumes and was gripped from the beginning by their honesty and style. 

Leonard Woolf is nowadays perhaps better known as the husband of Virginia Woolf and member of the (in?)famous “Bloomsbury set” of more than a century ago – but he was an important “Fabian”, founder of the journal Political Quarterly and publishing firm and   
at nearly eighty, began to publish an autobiography that was immediately hailed by reviewers, won an important literary prize, and, in the almost half century since the first volume appeared, has seldom been out of print.
I’m “savouring” it at the moment – its prose is so exquisite and the volume describing his early experience as a young civil servant in the British Imperial civil service (in Ceylon) so vividly capturing (50 years on!) characters and incidents that I want to postpone the pleasure of the later volumes.

So, in the meantime, I take up Robert Hughes’ 2007 autobiography Things I Didn’t Know whose acerbic tone reminded so much of his compatriot Clive James who indeed wrote a powerful vignette of Hughes 
I first came across Hughes as the author of a book on Barcelona but he was apparently better known as one of the best art critics around and operated for almost as a decade as such with Time magazine. His autobiography is quite spell-binding and I’m amazed he wasn’t hit with a lot of libel suits!

Allan Massie is an underrated novelist with a strong set of European themes who has recently turned his hand to detective novels set in Bordeaux during the second world war. Three so far and well worth the read – and the format which Quintet books have used for the trilogy has done him proud.

Finally an engrossing read with Turkish Awakening – a personal discovery of modern Turkey  – part of a package of books on that country and on Istanbul which arrived recently.
Getting under the skin of a country is, for me, an underrated skill and Alev Scott seems to have achieved it with remarkable facility
It’s a bit like reading a travel book of your hometown; reassuringly familiar, with extra titbits of seasoned observations. On arrival, no one really acknowledges the stray, docile dogs of Istanbul that sleep unflinching in the middle of a thoroughfare, the high-pitched girly hubbub of fashionable Turkish women drinking in Nişantaşı, or why overly personal questions are the norm from perfect strangers. Scott explores all of this and more, with superb style. 
She is refreshingly candid about her impressions of her countrymen and more, importantly, its women — especially a certain husband-hunting cohort. “Somehow, rightly or wrongly, Turkish women have decided that men like them to act like little girls, and they are playing that part as best they can.” But Scott addresses feminism in Turkey head-on and goes well beyond the much discussed headscarf debate, exploring the treatment of women in the workplace (in liberal Istanbul), female entrepreneurs and trailblazers in the poorer and more conservative South East as well as the government’s contentious curbing of a woman’s right to choose. But beyond political observation, Scott’s book is a truly personal discovery of modern Turkey. Her experience of modern Turkey is infused by both her mother’s memory of Turkey and Scott’s own comparisons to British culture, producing a highly entertaining tapestry, backed by sharp observations and a witty pen. 
You can read more of her take on Turkey on her blog 

Revenons, cependant, aux moutons. With the referendum only 2 weeks away, here is a good post on how to make some sort of sense of all the words with which Scottish citizens have been drenched in the past 2 years.

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