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The Book Witch "Kathleen" (England)

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Lost in Language: The tragicomic memoir about how one man failed language class in Italy but found his voice
Lost in Language: The tragicomic memoir about how one man failed language class in Italy but found his voice
Price: £2.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very unusual Autobiography, 28 April 2015
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This is a very unusual autobiography. It's unflinchingly honest, which some may find disturbing, but I wish that more memoirs were so transparent. I like the way the author has structured it around his attempts to learn Italian and I also like the way he goes backwards and forwards through his life in a non-linear fashion. He doesn't hold back on the low points, or the high points. It's original, funny, moving, stimulating and shocking - sometimes all at once. But never boring.

A Funeral for an Owl
A Funeral for an Owl
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Would you have the courage to risk your career to save a child?, 20 Feb. 2015
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I read this book as part of Jane Davis' box set 'Second Chapter', which I've recently bought on Kindle. A Funeral for an Owl absolutely nails the moral dilemmas we live with in a modern society that is supposed to protect the most vulnerable. If you found a child shivering in the street, hungry, cold and afraid to go home, what would you do? At a time when putting a child 'in care' seems to be the absolute opposite of that, does our duty to protect mean sometimes we have to step over the line and risk our own reputations - even our jobs? This is what the two teachers in this wonderful novel eventually do. And I found myself wishing that I'd have the courage to do the same in the same circumstances.

by Pascale Petit
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unflinching, complex and compassionate, 12 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: Fauverie (Paperback)
I’ve just finished reading this collection by one of the UK’s most accomplished poets and Fauverie is definitely a must-read. Many poetry collections are uneven in quality and focus, but not this one.

The Fauverie is the big cat house in the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris - a city portrayed in these poems as ‘savage as the Amazon’. At the centre of the collection is the big Jaguar, Aramis, beautiful, wild and dangerous in every cell of his powerful body. And there is also the poet’s father, now weak and dying, but still able to arouse turbulent emotions and painful memories. There is ambivalence and ambiguity in everything - ‘ferocity and grace’ exist side by side - the wild can be both savage and seductive. Humans are also animals.

There is a direct reference, in the title of this collection, to Fauve painters who used raw colour straight from the tube and were regarded as 'the wild beasts of art'. Pascale Petit was also a visual artist and she is fascinated by the idea of ‘wild beast poetry’ that looks at the primitive and the spiritual at the same time. Fauverie follows, and references, her second collection, The Zoo Father, published 13 years ago. The poet is now less angry and more compassionate than she was when her father died, but still unflinching and much more complex.

Pascale’s father is also Paris - a city that is, for the poet, both full of pain and full of joy. This is transformative poetry which comes from what Les Murray called Pascale Petit’s ‘powerful mythic imagination’. The poems are informed by a deep knowledge of art, mythology and psychology, though you don’t need to understand any of the references in order to understand the poetry. The sub-text is exactly that. But there is a keen sense of danger. Every line is liminal - you walk precariously on the edge between worlds, on the thresholds of different visions. The dictionary defines liminality as: ‘the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.’

Here Liminality is the right word, because the great beauty of these poems is the power that they have to disturb and disorientate the reader. We feel the destructive strength of Aramis, marvel at his beauty; we are pierced by the poet’s grief for her dying father, revolted by the way human beings kill and consume other animals, by the way they treat each other. Who is the predator? Who is the prey? This is poetry that is going to change the way you look at things.

The collection tells a story - beginning with the arrival of a letter,

‘Never before has a letter been so heavy,
growing to two metres in my room,
the address, the phone number, then the numbness,
I know you must be surprised, it says,
but I will die soon and want to make contact.’

And then the meeting between estranged father and daughter, described in 'Kissing a Jaguar'

The first meeting was like I’d had
Virola snuff blown up my nostrils.
Alone with my father
in a room he called ‘la jungle’.

Back in her hotel room the poet ‘retches all night’, but next morning is up and walking the streets of Paris

All paths lead to the Fauverie
and this is where I come to, again and again,

to where Aramis has stars for a coat
and his mouth is a sky-gate
the jaguar shaman climbs through.

There is incredible cruelty in the poems - a darkness that reveals childhood traumas. For me one of the most horrific poems was Pate de Foie Gras, which describes the conditions where ducks and geese are force-fed, ‘broken beaks/torn throats, maggots in neck wounds’ and spend their lives waiting in fear, but also in hunger, for the moment when the ‘gavage’ will be thrust down their throats. But the whole is constructed as a metaphor for the childhood memory of being made to eat Pate de Foie ‘part cooked, a whole lobe’; when the farmer clasps the neck of the bird, it is the small girl who is being force-fed.

Much of the darkness in the poems is expressed in food - a milk fed piglet (cochon de lait) sawn in half and wrapped in cling-film for sale in the market, (Grenelle Market 1). In another, the child who has been locked in the cellar comes up for air in the food market where ‘The counters smelled of raw light/ of butchering and fiesta.’ One of the most horrific is ‘Ortolan’. Apparently Francois Mitterand’s last meal was an Ortolan and the poet imagines her father eating one before he dies, the small bird drowned in Armagnac, grilled and eaten whole. In the poem Blackbird, the poet, locked in the cellar as a punishment as a small child, is personified as a bird.

Pascale Petit was born in Paris, where her mother lived, but partly brought up by her grandmother in Wales. She has always been very open about her parent’s abusive treatment, which included being locked in a cellar regularly as a punishment. The suffering of animals becomes a metaphor for the suffering of the child. In Paris the plates are piled high with ‘lambs’ tongues’, but it’s only when the poet, older now, has come to the safety of Wales that she can allow herself to ‘hear their bleats’.

The connections between her childhood traumas and the preoccupation with the animals of the Fauverie, and particularly Aramis, are very clear. In Self-Portrait with King Vultures (N’Golo and Margot), there is comfort;

. . . I am the Vulture-Father,
I eat death, N’Golo whispers, I eat grief.

The connection is more explicit in the poem Le Sang des Betes, where the poet is in a train;

My carriage moves on, past the dangerous
work of the mind

as it sorts through memories -
those that must
and must not be remembered

except as flashes from the train-tracks
of history,

or only confronted in animal form.

Pascale admits the ‘element of the supernatural’ in her work, attributing it to her Welsh grandmother’s influence. This collection is further exploration of the way that childhood trauma can be transformed into art, which was so carefully probed in What the Water Gave Me - Pascale’s collection of poetry around the life and work of Frida Kahlo. Pascale, who studied at the Royal College of Art and was at first a sculptor, clearly identified with Frida’s ability to make great art out of suffering. But this is definitely not ‘art as therapy’, nor is it about taming savagery or the healing of wounds – it is the transformation of ugliness into beauty and vulnerability into power using words and images.

In a recent interview online Pascale talks about her work and in particular ‘writing the personal’.

‘It is very hard to write personal and painful subjects in poems ... I don’t feel that I have a choice... That’s what I need to write ... I don’t think my work is just about autobiography, what I’m really interested in is investigation’ particularly ‘exploration into what we call good and evil’. Her ‘difficult’ and abusive parents gave her intense material. Travelling to the Amazon as an adult artist gave her new ways of looking at it.

‘I want to take my parents into that rainforest place . . . and try to see what there is about them that’s good and what’s bad and why and to try to make them somehow beautiful - the amazon is beautiful as well as ‘a green hell’. ‘People have an extraordinary mythology .... Putting my parents in that kind of context ... gives them a new light.’

Price: £3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Something Different!, 10 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Harvest (Kindle Edition)
Amanya was a guest on Roz Morris's Undercover Soundtrack blog and I liked what she said about her book of short-short stories. I don't read much flash fiction - so much of it reads like cryptic jokes you might find in up-market Christmas crackers, or like prompts for a creative writing class. But the best Flash Fiction reads like prose poetry, which I do have a taste for.

I also fell in love with the cover of Harvest, the contrasting colours and the image - covers are very important for me - they have to attract and I often buy a book for its cover. In this case, the cover didn't lie.

Amanya's stories centre around food and appetite and they have quite a bite! 'We are what we eat' and so much of our lives revolves round food and its rituals. The stories are written in lyrical prose (the author is also a poet), sometimes with an edge, sharp observation and memorable lines. "The sizzle of beignets frying in the back of the outdoor cafe has more timbre and raw emotion than any note to come out of Christopher Breaux's larynx. The shake of powder sugar over the nearly square pillows of dough is sweeter than any kiss wrapped in foil or on lips." [Beignets and Trumpets]

Coffee becomes a series of associations and character changes. "A cup of coffee, skidding tires of an airbus, and the frigid temperatures of a window seat, shift me into someone I don't know, someone fragile, someone that terrifies and kills me, exposing me to all my possible selves and all of yours. . . . What does the coffee in Tokyo taste like? Bali? Accra? And why doesn't the coffee I brew in my place, whereever it is, always taste like s***, flat and fundamentally lacking?"

Amanya is an American whose family originally came from Kenya, but she has also lived in Europe - these stories have a global reach and are full of colour, with characters like Mango, Persimmon and Lime and titles like 'Pancakes at the 2893 World's Fair', 'The Watermelon Man', 'Habanero Lips', 'Cookie Woman', and 'George Washington's Black-Eyed Peas'. One of my favourite stories concerns the Avocado Whisperer. 'I squish and mash them into bowls of black beans, onions, and corn, throw the whole lot in tortillas for the kind of meal that sits at the bottom of your stomach like the coked-out kids on the Red Line at four a.m... I'm an avocado racehorse - a thoroughbred sure bet. . . nothing short of what God binged on when She got the munchies on the seventh day'.

I loved 'Termites' - the story of a childhood visit to Nairobi to visit relatives, but one story in particular continued to haunt me. 'Dinner is served (Karibu)', which is narrated by the animal on the plate. 'I am consumable. I do not belong to myself. I am designed solely for your gratification. You can stuff your greedy minds with my words and lick my tears off your dry hands . . . I exist only for your gluttonous pleasure. . . I will kill you with every bite you take, but you will continue to eat because I am the finest cuisine you've ever had. I will be your last meal. Dinner is served.'

If you like to try something different, then Harvest is definitely one to read.

Water  Paper  Stone: Letters from a Mill in France
Water Paper Stone: Letters from a Mill in France
by Judy O'Shea
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Living the Dream, 8 July 2014
In 1991 Judy left her job as a senior executive in the USA for a sabbatical year with her husband Mike, who had taken early retirement at 51 to fulfill a lifelong dream to become an artist. They made a bucket list and one of the items on it was to spend time in Europe and learn another language. After several false starts, they found themselves in the south of France in the Haut Languedoc on a touring holiday and fell in love with a village on the Tarn river.

Back in the states and ready to go back to work, Judy discovered that her sister Linda was critically ill following a cardiac arrest. She had sustained significant brain damage. ‘Linda’s courage and struggle to recover gave me the guts to get off the treadmill of my high-pressure career,’ Judy writes. The book is written as a series of letters and emails to Linda as well as extracts from Judy’s personal journal.

Driven by a new sense that time was running out, Judy and her husband retired to France and bought a derelict water mill on the Tarn river - totally uninhabitable - and began to restore it and live their dream.

The memoir reminds me a little of ‘A Year in Provence’ - I could taste the cheese and the wine and share the drama of every catastrophe. Living without mod-cons stretched Judy to the limit - ‘I learned I can pee in positions unknown to womanhood’. They had a backhoe in the living room, no bathroom, rising and falling damp, rats, and incompetent builders, but they were reassured by their neighbour that ‘Avec l’argent tout est possible’ (with money anything is possible). And so it proves.

I got involved with the fortunes of the Blanc family, where Judy goes to learn how to kill a sheep and make duck au confit. I learned about the process of making Roquefort, the marital difficulties of the local restaurateur, and the plight of Christelle - a mail-order bride from Madagascar imported by one of their workmen - who consults Judy about his lack of personal hygiene (how do you tell a large Frenchman that he needs a bath?)

Judy learns carpentry, stone masonry and the art of paper-making and discovers her own creativity as well as her husbands. Before long she is being asked to take part in exhibitions in France and the United States and setting up fascinating installations. It’s an amazing achievement. How much personal creativity is wasted in corporate culture?

I enjoyed the glimpse into someone else’s life - the book is honest and well-written. But it is also, for someone whose views are well to the left, an illustration of what has happened all over Spain, Italy and France, where wealthy colonisers have moved in from outside - Russians, Germans, Scandinavians, English, Americans - and driven prices up beyond the threshold for the local population. It’s a dilemma - ruinous buildings are rescued and restored, but it often has a negative impact on the local community. There are both pros and cons. Judy’s book gave me much food for thought.

The Girl in Room Fourteen (Kindle Single)
The Girl in Room Fourteen (Kindle Single)
Price: £1.15

3.0 out of 5 stars An 'old fashioned' romantic story, 8 July 2014
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This is an ‘old-fashioned’ romantic story that will please a lot of readers - a bit of escapism set in the idyllic countryside around Cannes and Menton.

Cecile is a beautiful woman who sells lemons in the marketplace in Cannes, but there’s a mystery surrounding her. She appears to have no private life and even her daughter doesn’t know her story. But Cecile has been waiting for someone for more than 16 years.

To say more would be a plot spoiler. It’s beautifully written and I enjoyed the read - I just didn’t believe the story.

Swimming Home
Swimming Home
Price: £6.40

5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and fascinating, 8 July 2014
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This review is from: Swimming Home (Kindle Edition)
The Jacobs family arrive at their holiday villa in the south of France. Joe, the poet, Isabel the war correspondent, their 14 year old daughter, and their two friends, Laura and Mitchell. They find a naked woman floating in their swimming pool - a red haired beauty, very much alive - called Kitty Finch. She is mysterious, apparently homeless, and Isabel allows her to stay on in the villa’s spare bedroom. None of their lives are ever going to be the same again.

We see Kitty and the group of friends from several different angles - the creepy caretaker Jurgen who lusts after Kitty, the elderly doctor Madeleine Sheridan who warns them against her destructive personality. But Kitty is allowed to stay.

The daughter, Nina, is the innocent observer as layer after layer of respectability and identity are peeled back - no-one is who they first appeared to be. The ending is inevitable. ‘Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we’ll all get home safely,’ says Kitty Finch. One character loses hope - it kept me guessing until the very last page.

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Country
Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Country
Price: £1.74

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Would it smell the same with another name?, 14 May 2014
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I love roses, particular the old varieties with names that suggest a long history - who was Madame Albert Carriere? Does Paul’s Himalayan Musk really come from northern India? And I love the Chinese species roses like Rosa Moyesii imported by travellers hundreds of years ago – and the Persian roses mentioned in the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam.

‘Look to the blowing Rose about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw." ‘

So I was immediately intrigued by this Kindle single.

Andrea di Robilant had an ancestor, Alvise Mocenigo, who lived at the end of the 18th century and who had a wife called Lucia who became a friend of Empress Josephine after Napoleon had divorced her. Lucia caught Josephine’s obsession with roses - the rarer the better - and carried many of them back from Paris to the family estate at Alvisipoli in the hills between Trieste and Slovenia in what used to be the Venetian Republic.

The family estate has long since dissolved into ruin, but on a nostalgic visit to the village, Andrea is taken into the gardens - now returned to wilderness - and shown a shrub rose covered in silvery pink flowers. It smells of peaches and raspberries.
‘Although I did not know much about roses, everything about it, the delicate color, the sweet fragrance, the way it carried itself - suggested this was an old rose of some importance that had been growing wild in these woods for a very long time’.

Locally it’s known as Rosa Moceniga, but no one knows it’s true name. Andrea plants a cutting in his garden and thinks nothing more of it until one day, researching family history in the Venetian archives, he finds the diaries of Lucia Mocenigo, written while she was in Paris and in the grip of her passion for roses - what was called ‘rosemanie’, an affliction that gave rise to a worldwide rose smuggling operation and a lot of rose snobbery - rivalling ‘tulip fever’ in Holland.

It’s the beginning of a long journey for Andrea, as he becomes obsessed with finding a name for the rose that is the only remnant of Lucia’s love affair with the species. It takes him to France, Slovenia and Umbria, where he meets some of the characters who collect roses. This includes Eleanor and Valentino (a retired Italian bus driver) who - although both old and without money - maintain a rose garden that has become famous for its beauty and the number of forgotten species that bloom there. Eleanor even has an ‘orphan’ section’ for roses whose names have been lost, and it’s there that Andrea finds another Rosa Moceniga.

Altogether only two or three plants on a Parisian list of roses imported from China as the ancestors of modern roses, can still be identified by their original names. We know only a handful of species. Why are names so important? ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, as Shakespeare put it - so he already knew about the business of naming of roses. All its history is in its name - where it came from, the family it belongs to, the person who first cultivated it in Europe. Without a name it has no identity. And that is so with the temporarily christened Rosa Moceniga. But, at the end of Andrea’s journey, he is successful in naming his rose.

I found this book absolutely fascinating and heartily recommend it to readers who are interested in travel, gardening and roses!

The Death Game: A Kirsty Campbell Novel (Kirsty Campbell Novels Book 1)
The Death Game: A Kirsty Campbell Novel (Kirsty Campbell Novels Book 1)
Price: £3.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read - well recommended, 30 April 2014
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Missing children, black magic in a graveyard, and an orphan’s refuge that is anything but . . . The beginning of Chris Longmuir’s new novel promises a compelling plot. Add in a fascinating historical setting and you know you’re in for a good read.

The Death Game is set in Scotland just after the first world war. The police force is a male enclave, handling matters deemed unsuitable for a decent woman to know about. It was still a period when women were treated like children, to be protected and kept innocent and naive - in reality rendered helpless and ignorant. But at the end of the war a new women’s police force was set up - called the Women’s Police Patrols, drawing its recruits from the Women’s Police Volunteers and the Voluntary Women Patrols. Many of the women in these groups were suffragettes. The Women’s Police Patrols were more formal, wearing a uniform designed by Harrods. Soon its trained members were being deployed to regional forces, although not without a considerable amount of resistance. They were usually given the job of escorting lost children and dogs, controlling prostitutes and taking statements from women.

Chris’s heroine (I will use that word dammit!), Kirsty Campbell, is sent to Dundee, where she encounters not just the hostility of the men she’s supposed to be working with, but also has to confront one of the most traumatic episodes from her past. We soon see why she had to leave Dundee and why she chose the police service as a career.

I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about how the first police-women worked and the barriers they had to break down to be accepted (though modern police-women might suggest that some are still there). The historical setting is authentic and well-researched. Kirsty Campbell is a fascinating character and I’m glad that there are going to be more novels featuring her as one of the first female detectives. Kirsty’s personal situation is suitably complicated too - another hook to draw the reader into the next book.

A good read and well-recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2014 8:50 PM BST

Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt
Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt
Price: £11.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading this book will make you think about your own life, 24 April 2014
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‘This is the story of my thinking journey with Hannah, a tale at once political and personal, singular and common. Diving below the surface of her writing, the narrative arches and bends, assembling vignettes about Hannah and me into a collage of life stories, a kind of intellectual and emotional scrapbook.’

That is how Kathleen B. Jones describes her unusual biography. I read it with great interest because I've followed the progress of the book on the internet for a couple of years, particularly the fraught process of publication.

Kathleen B. Jones is trained in political theory and a Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at San Diego University, California. But these days not even the phrase ‘leading academic’ means that you can get your work published by university presses, and the unusual structure of this book didn’t meet any of the academic norms. Increasingly, ‘leading academics’ are turning to self-publishing to get their work in front of the public and it’s something to be grateful for. An academically published book can typically cost about £56.00 - you can buy Diving for Pearls for a mere £7.97.

The book had its beginning in personal memoir. Everyone wants to make sense of their lives, Kathleen B. Jones begins. ‘Some of us do that by telling a story’, but for Jones it was different. ‘In the dusk of middle age, I chose a peculiar path. Surprising myself by reversing directions, I took a road I’d abandoned, and found myself exploring again the thinking and life of Hannah Arendt’.

As a young woman, Hannah Arendt (1906-75) was a disciple (and lover) of the pro-Nazi German philosopher Martin Heidegger. She was a Jewish woman who fled Nazi Germany to live in America, where she established herself as an eminent contemporary philosopher. It was a title she often denied, choosing to describe herself instead as a ‘political theorist’. She became the first female lecturer at Princeton and a fellow at Yale and was the subject of a 2012 film in Germany.

Her views were often controversial - Arendt wrote a book on the Eichmann trial subtitled ‘A Report on the Banality of Evil’ which criticised Jewish leaders for their actions during the Holocaust and appeared to suggest that the Nazis were not necessarily the monsters of popular thought - they were ordinary people who acquired power and did evil things because they didn’t think enough about what they were doing, and neither did the people who put them in power. Evil can arise from mere thoughtlessness, unthinking conformity and obedience. According to Arendt ‘it was “ordinary people,” neither stupid nor necessarily ideologically motivated, who committed the great atrocities of the Holocaust’.

Defining herself as both a German and a Jew, Arendt wrote about identity and human rights. She was very clear-sighted and pragmatic. ‘The right to have rights, or the right of every individual to belong to humanity, should be guaranteed by humanity itself. It is by no means certain whether this is possible’. But Arendt’s insistence on retaining her German identity, the events of her own life, and particularly her relationship with Heidegger, gave her critics a great deal of fuel for their opposition. Arendt described love as ‘perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces’.

Arendt was, as Jones points out - ‘A brilliant political philosopher, who refused to call herself a philosopher, a woman who never considered her sex an obstacle in her life, a Jew who was called anti-Semitic, and a rigorous thinker who wrote passionately about hatred and love’. As a feminist and a writer, Jones found herself fascinated by the apparent contradictions in Arendt’s writing ‘no matter how much I argued against her, I had to admit I admired her writing . . . I found myself circling around and then diving deeper into Arendt’s writing , each time retrieving some pearl of insight, which shifted my understanding and made me reassess my position’. Hannah Arendt’s voice became particularly insistent when Jones began to write a memoir of her own unusual and complex life. ‘She wouldn’t leave me alone. Every time I penned a line bordering on an all too confident assertion, I’d hear her voice in my head. “Dive deeper, you’re not really thinking,” it said.’

The form of both Jones’ biography of Arendt and her own memoir changed as they merged into one - ‘a disquieting dialogue between two women one long ago dead, about what and how the heart knows yet prefers to keep to itself. I let my imagination go visiting, entering her life and her work, and began to see the world and my own place in it from an altogether different perspective’.

The result is an unusual book - a thoughtful, penetrating (and sometimes painful) account of a life lived that uses the insights of this life to illuminate that of another. ‘I began to retrieve anecdotes from her life and mine, finding meanings in them I believe are more universal than applied only to my particular case’. What Jones learns from her experience informs her view of Hannah Arendt both as a woman and a philosopher and what Arendt wrote about herself teaches Jones how to think about her own.

One of the things that Jones learned was that the past is not necessarily ‘a set of events determining my present, as if one’s life was fully fashioned at its beginning, as if only time and circumstance were needed to create the equation that produced a person as its inevitable result.’ She abandoned the idea of Fatalism and accepted that a human being must admit their own limitations and ‘accept responsibility’ for what is theirs to control. Human beings are much more than ‘a leaf in the whirlwind of time’.

When Jones re-read Arendt’s book on Eichmann, it made her think ‘about monsters and the hold I’d let them have in my life’. Reading about Jones’ monsters made me think about mine too and some of the terrible relationships and bad decisions I have had to take responsibility for. That’s one of the things about this book - it makes you think, as both Jones and Arendt intended.

Jones is also interesting on the bias of the biographer - how we interpret the lives of the people we study according to events in our own. Someone called Elzbieta Ettinger had previously written about Arendt’s life and used her subject’s relationship with Heidegger to provide the biographer herself ‘with a thinly veiled means of self-laceration, a confession, never made public of ever having become such a man’s prey’. Ettinger had had a similar relationship. As biographers we bring our own lives, our own judgements and prejudices to the text.

But there is more - Arendt’s position as an exiled German Jew makes Jones think about our own precarious position in an increasingly unstable world. ‘We have all become refugees, wandering far from some imagined promised land of our ancestors, searching for a new way to be at home in a world where we might connect with and live with others with whom we have no evident or common ties binding us together as a people, except the shared fact of having been born.’

This book is indeed a thinking journey, written in beautiful prose, bringing together two women whose lives have made me think again about my own. But beware, as Arendt warned, ‘There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is a dangerous activity’.

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