Friday, November 24, 2006

Andre Schwarz-Bart 1928-2006

"At times, it is true, one's heart could break in sorrow. But often too, preferably in the evening, I cannot help thinking that Ernie Levy, dead six million times, is still alive, somewhere, I don't know where. Yesterday, as I stood in the street trembling in despair, rooted to the spot, a drop of pity fell from above my face; but there was no breeze in the air, no cloud in the sky. ... there was only a presence."

Andre Schwarz-Bart, The Last of the Just.

I first read it when I was about fifteen, and read it again last year. Still as powerful as ever. He didn't write a lot after this book.

Independent obituary.

Andre Schwarz-Bart

Author of 'The Last of the Just'

Published: 05 October 2006

André Schwarz-Bart, writer: born Metz, France 23 May 1928; married (one son); died Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe 30 September 2006.

André Schwarz-Bart was an exceptional human being and the author of one popular and memorable novel, Le Dernier des Justes, which won the Prix Goncourt in 1959. It had taken him 11 years to compose this supreme work of fiction based on a knowledge of centuries of human suffering endured by the Jewish people at the hands of rival religionists, in particular Christians.

He was born in 1928 at Metz, into a modest Polish-Jewish family who all perished in Nazi extermination camps - mother, father and two brothers all victims of the Holocaust. André, however, had a miraculous escape: he was never deported, and was able to join the Resistance fighters. With a passion for reading, he was overwhelmed by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, a great novel that he regarded as a kind of psychological thriller.

The novel's central theme of a man torn between his perception of the existence of evil and the search for an all-powerful divinity became the basic philosophical structure of Schwarz-Bart's work, a novel that was to make him world-famous - Le Dernier des Justes. It became an unexpectedly triumphal success, and was to be translated immediately into English - as The Last of the Just (1960) - and a dozen other languages. It brought him the highest distinction in French literary life, the Prix Goncourt, awarded every November by the Académie Française.

Schwarz-Bart's publishers, the leading firm of Seuil, had craftily "jumped the gun", giving news of this grand prize three whole weeks before the official announcement. Thus were eliminated the ladies of the all-female Prix Fémina - a procedure that considerably flustered their dovecote. The Last of the Just took off in a shrill climate of literary disputation and jealous backbiting, which Seuil ably exploited, resulting in sales of over a million copies.

Overwhelmed by this luck, André Schwarz-Bart discreetly retired from the literary scene with its jealous uproar and remorseless publicity machinery, and slipped into semi-retirement. But his great work had become a living legend in a period that was to become the century of the Shoah.

The novel, mixing history and fiction, spans the centuries of Jewish martyrdom until the day in 1943 on which the hero, Ernie Lévy, is arrested and locked up in the concentration camp of Drancy in northern France - one of the last of "the Just" who were slaughtered in their millions, and finally met their abominable fate at the hands of the Nazis all over Europe.

Mercifully, this harrowing story is not without a searingly ironical sense of humour - one of the ultimate proofs of a man's humanity and his respect for his fellow human beings, friends or foes:

If our God is split up into fragments, what meaning is there left in being a Jew? What place does Jewish blood have now in the universe?

Ironically, the theme of the Shoah in all its barbarity is one attracting great publicity now in France, with Jonathan Littell's immense novel Les Bienveillantes the firm favourite for this year's Prix Goncourt. Its theme of Nazi barbarism is a salutary reminder of the horrors so vividly described in Schwarz-Bart's novel.

André Schwarz-Bart married a woman from the Antilles, Simone. They soon left France for Simone's native island, Guadeloupe, where her own literary career began, and prospered to such an extent that it has almost completely submerged her husband's work, though in 1972 he published a second novel, La Mulâtresse solitude (A Woman Named Solitude, 1973).

With Simone, he wrote Un Plat de porc aux bananes vertes ("A Dish of Pork with Green Bananas", 1967). They also collaborated on a six-volume encyclopaedia, Hommage à la femme noire (1988; In Praise of Black Women, 2001). Simone went on from one literary success to another, while André seems to have fallen silent.

It is significant that in The Harper-Collins World Reader (1994), which gives pride of place to writers from the Antilles, Simone Schwarz-Bart occupies a dozen of the large pages - including an account of her life and an extensive excerpt from her autobiography, Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle (1972; The Bridge of Beyond, 1974), while André is fleetingly mentioned as her husband in a brief footnote.

Nevertheless, a very moving 75th-birthday tribute was paid to André Schwarz-Bart three years ago, in May 2003, at the great Musée d'Art Juif in Paris. The fine classical actor of the Comédie-Française Denis Podalydès read vibrant excerpts from Le Dernier des Justes and two friends of the author, the cinéaste Robert Bober and the psychoanalyst Marie Moscovici, made their hommages.

James Kirkup

The Golden Age Of Steam

We live down a long lane, with a single telephone line straggling along many poles, between the branches of many trees. A few years back we lost the line after squirrels chewed through the insulation.

The night before last we lost our 512K broadband - the fastest the line will support - and the dial tone sounds like it's on a short-wave radio from Post Stanley - lots of crackles and fizzes. If the 80-mile an hour winds forecast for tonight materialise we may not have a line at all by tomorrow.

Currently the best connection I can get is 24K dialup.

Blogging, needless to say, may be light, until BT and the tree surgeon have each performed their respective magics.


Rain falls and the wind roars
All the folks are indoors
We came through a ford
Riding over the moors

I love the moorland between Denholme, Cullingworth and Haworth. Not enough rain in the photo, of Castlestead Ring, so you'll just have to imagine the rain and the distant moors vanishing in low cloud.

Words by Lal Waterson.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Barrister Speaks

"Who is the Roman king, mate, me. I am a face and a half."

Going To The Dogs

Ross Parker (no relation) hears Peter Hitchens in prophetic mood.

Hitchens spread the Sunday Mail gospel of fear: if there is no real alternative to Blair the country will go to the dogs (again, presumably); if there are no good right-wingers, the BNP will take over; and if the BNP are going to take over, the other parties will turn us into a police state sooner than letting it happen.

Clash of the Tory Titans - Churchill vs Toynbee

Brilliant piece of Cameronian triangulation ? Political suicide ?

We'll let you be the judge.

(Mr Eugenides I think we can call a 'Noe')

Today's Early Release Murderer (Unconfirmed)

Gary Chester-Nash had denied stabbing 59-year-old Jean Bowditch nine times as she cleaned a bungalow in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, in October 2005.

The 28-year-old, of no fixed address, will serve a minimum of 30 years. The court heard he killed Mrs Bowditch just a week after being released from jail.

A week. I'll be very surprised if this isn't another triumph for the Probation 'Service'.

PS - I note that 'Public Protection' is emblazoned over just about every Home Office website at the moment. I suppose we can have the slogan if we can't have the reality. I also note that neither the Probation 'Service' nor the Prison 'Service' have email contact details. Just an oversight I'm sure.

Anyone Know ?

Around the time the MacPherson enquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence delivered its report, Trevor Phillips wrote a strange double-page piece in the Observer, whose burden was 'we don't care any more if you're racist in your hearts, would you please just stop killing us ?'.

Is it on the Web ?

Early Release - Psychiatric Division

The case of John Barrett, who despite 'a long history of mental illness and violence' - including stabbing his fellow mental patients - was released from a loony bin to stab Dennis Finnegan to death the following day, is only the latest in a long and dishonourable line of early releases from mental institutions.

Thallium's much in the news at the moment. Let's turn back the clock to those swinging sixties. There's a blogging connection, too.

"Young was arrested on 23 May 1962. He confessed to the attempted murders of his father, sister, and friend. The remains of his stepmother could not be analysed, as she had been cremated.

Young was sentenced to 15 years in Broadmoor Hospital, an institution for mentally unstable criminals. He was released after nine years, when he was deemed "fully recovered." During his years in the hospital, however, Young had studied medical texts, improving his knowledge of the effects of poisons on the human body, and had continued his experiments, using fellow inmates and hospital staff as guinea pigs.

After his release from prison in 1971, he worked at a photographic supply store not far from his sister's home in Hemel Hempstead in nearby Bovingdon, Hertfordshire. His new employers received references from Broadmoor hospital, but were inexplicably not informed of his past as a convicted poisoner. Soon after he began work, his foreman, Bob Egle, grew violently ill ..."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Government in immigration 'crackdown'

John Reid is the greatest comedian since David Blunkett.

Four hundred and forty police officers are being seconded to help tackle illegal immigration in the UK.

They will be among 800 new immigration staff - a 25% increase in total - unveiled by Home Secretary John Reid.

"We are very clear that we do not want this to have an impact on police officers' frontline work," a Home Office spokeswoman insisted.

"There won't be any police officers taken off the front line," she said.

That's right. They'll be taken from under a magic goosegog bush !

File in the same drawer as PM to stage immigration summit. "Blair takes control of immigrant crisis". Blair calls immigration summit etc etc

Meanwhile ...

Passports forged on 'industrial scale'

Britain is facing a growing crime wave linked to Nigeria and based largely on financial scams and immigration and identity frauds, according to a report published today. It claims that Nigerians are forging passports and cheques on an “industrial scale” and that huge numbers of false documents are passing through provincial British airports.

Ursula Moray Williams 1911-2006

Author of 'The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse', which my darling enjoyed so much as a bedtime story. If only I'd known, she lived just up at the top end of Glarstershire, in the charming Bredon Hill village of Beckford. We could have gone to say thanks.

The Little Wooden Horse has won the race for the Princess

Wikipedia entry.

Telegraph obituary.

Guardian obituary

Indie Obituary

Ursula Moray Williams, children's writer and illustrator: born Petersfield, Hampshire 19 April 1911; married 1935 Peter John (died 1974; four sons); died 17 October 2006.

The author and illustrator of over 70 books for children, Ursula Moray Williams brought style, pace and humour to her work, plus an occasional touch of melancholy more in the tradition of Hans Andersen. She was one of the few children's authors who defeated the national paper scarcity and continued to be published throughout the Second World War, and her books left an indelible mark on many young readers at the time and since.

Born in Petersfield, Ursula was one of identical twins to teacher parents, with her father responsible for tuition in Latin and Greek at the progressive boarding school Bedales. Her sister, who arrived 10 minutes earlier, later became a distinguished wood engraver and sculptor under the name Barbara Arnason. Brought up by governesses and soon becoming keen riders, by the age of nine both children had written and illustrated their own books for home consumption.

After spending time in France at a lycée when they were 16, they each enrolled at Winchester College of Art. But while Barbara flourished there, later going to the Royal College of Art, Ursula left after a year in order to write. With encouragement from her eminent publishing uncle Sir Stanley Unwin, her first book, Jean Pierre, came out when she was just 20, in 1931. Set in the Haute-Savoie region of France, which she had come to know so well, it describes the adventures of a small boy and his pet goat. Her next book had a distinctly home-grown flavour: For Brownies: stories and games for the pack and everybody else (1932) reflected the skills that had already led to Ursula's speedy elevation to Brown Owl for her own local group.

In 1935 she married Peter John, great-grandson of the poet Robert Southey. While pregnant with the first of her four sons, she wrote her most famous story, The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse (1938). This epic tale, divided into 19 short chapters, describes how the initially "gay fellow" of the title follows his own private Calvary after becoming separated from his beloved adopted Uncle Peder, the toymaker who brought him into life. Changing shape as often as Toad in The Wind in the Willows, the little horse, although pictured as rigid and trundling along on wooden wheels, is still capable of unscrewing his own head and kicking his legs into the air.

His astounding strength enables him to survive many a dangerous encounter, whether with jealous pit ponies, wicked farmers, out-of-control children or a fearsomely piratical sailor. Constantly giving way to tears, and frequently convinced of his imminent demise, the wooden horse finally makes his surreal way to a happy ending. The book's many fans include Nick Parks, creator of the cartoon pair Wallace and Gromit, who has described this story, which he read aged seven, as "so unputdownable".

Nineteen forty-two saw the arrival of Williams's other best-loved title, Gobbolino the Witch's Cat. Written in the tradition of the reversed viewpoint, where familiar literary stereotypes are turned on their heads, this tells the story of a black kitten born this time most unwillingly into a witch's household. Longing instead for an ordinary feline existence, Gobbolino, whose name is taken from the Italian word for little hunchback, sets out on his travels after discovering one morning that he has been abandoned by his evil family as a hopeless case.

Surviving an orphanage, hobgoblins, a malignant sea witch and a cat-hating mayoress, Gobbolino finally makes it to the obscurity he has always longed for. Saint-like in his patience before adversity, he is sometimes upstaged by his sly sister Sootica, still perfectly content to "ride a broomstick and turn mice into frogs and frogs into guinea pigs" all in the tradition of their sleekly dangerous mother Grimalkin. But Gobbolino's uncomplaining example proved very acceptable at a time for national stoicism all round, with his story remaining in print up to this day.

All this time Williams was also working as an illustrator, with her own The Good Little Christmas Tree (1943), a fine example of boldly coloured scissor cuts alternating with her more usual preference for pen-and-ink drawings. In The House of Happiness (1946), she further experimented with bright paper shapes. Around half of the books she wrote were illustrated by herself; at other times, as in Jockin the Jester (1951) she provided the text while her sister Barbara supplied the pictures.

Further books were illustrated by, among others, Edward Ardizzone, Faith Jaques and Shirley Hughes, whose pictures for The Toymaker's Daughter (1968) proved especially successful. This story about a doll who runs away from her evil toymaker in an attempt to become a real girl, marked a return to previous themes, with despair and fulfilment once again walking hand in hand until the arrival of a joyous resolution in the nick of time.

During the 1960s Williams moved from the more mannered literary style found in her earlier stories to a more demotic approach. Spid (1985) illustrated by David McKee, sees her in fine form in a story about a talking black spider who becomes best friends with the boy of an otherwise arachnophobic family. Also contributing stories to the television programme Jackanory, she produced The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse in 1984. Two years later came her lively Grandma and the Ghowlies (1986).

Involved with local life in the village of Beckford in Gloucestershire, where she had lived since 1945, she served as a magistrate on the Evesham bench for over 20 years, finally becoming chairman of its juvenile division. Ever hospitable to numerous children, family and otherwise, she continued to garden and give talks in schools whenever possible. She leaves behind a fine legacy of storytelling that manages to remain essentially moralistic but also fun at the same time.

Nicholas Tucker

I Merely Report ...

Sunday People :

By Nigel Nelson

TAXPAYERS face a £20,000 bill for flattening a prison chapel - to build an extension to its mosque.

Church of England lags at Britain's biggest jail, Wandsworth, have been told they must make way for the expansion and move into the Catholic chapel.

Prisons minister Gerry Sutcliffe said: "There's more Muslim prisoners so we need a bigger mosque.

"The Catholic and C of E facilities are both larger than the attendance merited and the mosque is too small."

But Tory prisons spokesman Edward Garnier argued: "The Government needs to be extremely careful before it downgrades one religion and appears to give undue weight to another.

"We're talking about public money.

"Spending their taxes on one religion to the exclusion of another needs a great deal of justification."

Builders are due to move into the London jail in the New Year and finish the new mosque by April.

It currently holds 265 Muslims compared to 672 Christians.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The work reflects changes in the make-up of the prison population and the need to represent all the different faiths within prisons."

Church of England moving into a Catholic building ? Wouldn't be the first time, would it ?

It sounds as if the new extension is needed for all the mobiles and wraps.

Britain’s largest prison has become the scene of a "potentially explosive" stand-off between two rival groups of Muslims, a report from an independent watchdog has warned.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Wandsworth jail in South London said that there was a schism among Muslim prisoners over the prison’s newly-appointed imam, with evidence that some inmates were applying pressure on fellow prisoners to "adopt more militant lifestyles and belief systems".

Its annual report said: "There is a schism existing amongst Muslims in the prison about the imam. There have been petitions from two opposing sides on this subject to the governor.

"We are concerned that unless sensitively managed this issue could become even more emotional and potentially explosive."

It added: "The issues surrounding the current imam should be resolved as quickly as possible."

David Jamieson, chairman of the IMB, said: "It is an issue of how the current imam interprets the Koran. "There is a difference of views between the Asian Muslims and the North African and Afro-Caribbean Muslims."

There were also "very worrying" implications of rocketing use of illegal mobile phones by prisoners, the report said, warning that the number of inmates using mobile phones was "widespread and growing".

The study reflected recent press reports that attendance at religious services had increased because inmates were using them as venues for drug dealing and trading in illegal mobile phones.

Board members had raised a series of concerns about a "major influx" of drugs and mobiles in Wandsworth, which holds 1,456 inmates. "We believe it is essential that there are adequate numbers of officers present at all religious services to discourage illegal activities," the study said.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Different World

How hasn't Mark Holland found this first ?

"On Wednesday 18th May we made it to Nottingham , most of the way sitting on the back of an empty lorry, and enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air. We went out into Nottingham in the evening and enjoyed ourselves. Leaving Nottingham early on Thursday around 8 am we walked for about 4 miles and a car driven by a gentleman and his wife as passenger stopped and asked where we were heading for. We told them, "To London for the Coronation Procession", and they were delighted to give us a lift to Stratford on Avon. We went out in the evening and visited Ann Hathaway's Cottage and other places connected with William Shakespeare. We stayed overnight in the Youth Hostel in Stratford on Avon. We had a lovely evening and enjoyed the beer in two of the nice pubs in the famous town. "

Two Scots hitch to London for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Wonderful photos of a vanished world.

From the excellent Brechin City site.