Thursday, 2 July 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ July 2015

Military historians will enjoy The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East 1914-1920 by Eugene Rogan.

It includes detailed descriptions of the battles in the desert during the First World War when the Ottoman Empire (or what remained of it) decided to ally with Germany. I skipped most of this. I wanted to know how England and France decided what was to become of the end of the Empire – Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine. While both England and France trod carefully during the war, for fear of Islamic uprisings in their colonies in India and North Africa, they did have territorial ambitions as well as wanting access to oil. I didn’t really find out. It is in the Middle East more than any other part of the world that legacies of the Great War continue to be felt to this day. Eugene Rogan is a Fellow of St. Antony’s College at Oxford and author of the bestselling The Arabs: A History which charts the route from Ottomanism to Arabism to Islamism.

On the back page of Sascha Arango’s thriller The Truth and Other Lies, Text Publishing offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t love it. I don’t think you will be applying for a refund as it keeps you guessing all the way through. Anti-hero Henry is a famous author as well as a man with an unsavoury past and lots of secrets. One of those secrets is it is his wife who actually writes the books. Then his editor and lover unfortunately becomes pregnant to him! Misfortune all around. I was thinking it would make a terrific film – and I now notice Sascha Arango is best known as a scriptwriter in his German homeland. Enjoy it.

I suspect many of you will already have the fascinating memoir-cum-handbook written by long-time New Yorker staffer Mary NorrisIt is called Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, (although some co-workers prefer to be called a Word Goddess). I now feel very anxious about the hyphen in the line at the start of this paragraph. So very many difficulties! Who was brave enough to proofread the proofreader’s book? Here is the start of one paragraph: ‘Are we losing the apostrophe? Is it just too much trouble? This little squiggle, so like a comma except it has been hoisted up above the letters instead of hooked below the baseline...’ This is some very serious fun. There is a good chapter on using the pencil which reminds me of another quirky book by James Ward. It is called Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case. If you enjoy poking around in a good stationery store this is for you. It is indeed just about stationery unlike an earlier book called The Pencil by Henry Petroski which was a most elegant and philosophical book about design.

Have you seen Helen Mirren’s latest movie The Woman in GoldPerhaps you would like another story about a Klimt portrait? One which took place right here in Sydney. If so I recommend the memoir by Professor Tim Bonyhady called Good Living Street: The Fortunes of my Viennese Family. At the beginning of the century his family was very involved in the artistic life of Vienna and when they left in 1938 for Australia they brought with them a fabulous private art collection, including a Klimt portrait of his great grandmother, which was housed in a tiny flat in Potts Point.

Amitav Ghosh is a Bengali writer - a historical writer writing from the Asian perspective. His Ibis Trilogy is following Anglo-Asian history in a most meticulous way. The first volume was Sea of Poppies, followed by River of Smoke and now, just arrived, the third and final volume is here – Flood of Fire. His characters are battling their way through Asian history. They are only just up to the end of the end of the first Opium War. Because it has taken so long, and so many pages, (each volume is over 600 pages) Ghosh fears he will never come to the end. You will believe this when you look at the endless bibliography of books, papers and articles which he lists at the end of Flood of Fire.

I first read Ghosh as the author of In An Antique Land, stories written while he lived in an Egyptian village for more than ten years. Then I found The Glass Palace, about Britain in Burma and India, covering the events right up to the Fall of Singapore and after. This is my favourite. It is a cross between family saga and historical novel and is in great favour with Asian readers. When I read the first volume of the Ibis saga I was rather overcome and was most interested in the attention paid to the use of Anglo-Asian words, which were explained as treasures taken from the archives of Neel Rattan Halder. The archives had been smuggled out of China by his grandsons etc. Now, I fear I have been too naive. It seems to me that Neel Rattan Halder is a fictitious character (perhaps Ghosh himself). If you google Ibis Chrestomathy you will find this glossary of fantastic words used in the Ibis trilogy. You will also have become part of an enormous community of people, searching on the Internet, with something to say about Ghosh and the many, many characters in his books.  Read the books and perhaps you will join them? I asked Abbey’s bookseller Lindy Jones to see if there was a glossary in the first volume and she suggested to me that perhaps I needed a Hobson-Jobson. Just so! Hobson-Jobson is the short name for A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive. An absolute treasure for Word Nuts. I have just discovered that there is access to Hobson-Jobson online! You might need access to a special font for some of the words. And, I have also just discovered that chrestomathy is defined as ‘a collection of literary passages used in the study of language’.



Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers