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An absorbing read from a man you don't have to agree with.
on 11 August 2010
I chose this book as my holiday read. And what a good choice it was too. Hitchens is a man who usually polarizes people into one of two camps - you either love him or hate him. I try not to engage in such ideological flag waving, suffice to say, I would consider myself to be one of those who he seems to have left on 'the left' ....so to speak. His memoir takes us through his early years, with chapters devoted to his father and mother ( who i hadn't realised met with such a grizzly end). He treats us to his stint at Oxford, his experiences of the sixties, there are chapters devoted to other great loves in his life such as James Fenton, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and needless to say Edward Said.
Hitch elucidates upon how he first had misgivings about his ultra-socialist leanings, and he provides us with insight as to his dismay at the tendency of some 'comrades' to ignore the rather brutal underpinnings of the spread of the socialist revolution, and how the obvious warts were seen as beauty spots by 'the party faithful'. He has a chapter on his burgeoning love affair with all things American, which is a little rose tinted it has to be said. He seems to refuse point blank to consider that any behaviour of the USA might, in part, explain the attacks of 9/11, which for a man who easy fillets others for such naivety, is quite surprising. His chapter on Edward Said angered me a little, as the late great professor is no longer with us to defend himself to the charges Hitch lays at his door. But it is his memoir, so his rules. His attempt to defend his seeming volte face to the right, reads like the worlds longest excuse. He portrays it as if he was able to find that which Hans Blix wasn't and he refers to being a conscious part of history making as quite an 'intoxicating feeling'. Perhaps it is this which helps explain his apparent abandonment of his earlier principles. It seems to me that Hitch views himself in the same mold as George Orwell (who gets many a mention), as a chronicler of great and interesting times and an iconclast to long held fallacies in our world. The difference being that in Orwell's time, western civilization really was facing an existential crisis. It is this missing component in Hitch's world which explains his apparent desire to ratchet up the hyperbole of the 'threat of Islam' and odious regimes to the east of us, the need for 'civilized' nations to go about spreading civilized notions of 'democracy' and 'freedom'....all at the business of a gun of course.
Toward the end Hitch treats us to a detailed account of his awakening to his Jewish ancestry and how he never viewed zionism as a solution to 'the jewish question'. We see how he traced the footsteps of his jewish ancestors in Eastern Europe, which is tragic to read.
He has an unattractive tendency to ad hominen against those he dislikes, such as Clinton et al, the book would have been so much better if he had reined that in. All in all, I would recommend this book to his fans and opponents alike (of which I count myself as both). He had led a life the quarter of which would make most of us proud to recount, and no matter what his old friend Martin Amis might say, he has a great command of the language, all resulting in this wonderful book. To the man himself I forward him my best wishes and hope that he beats the big C, because like him or loathe him, Im sure we all hope theres a few glasses left in the old boy yet !