Skip to content

Month: February 2012

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (with a brief meditation on Deadwood).

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick DeWitt.

The Booker Prize is usually controversial and last year was no exception with the appointment of the former MI5 Director General, as chairwoman of the judging panel.

There was the usual conjecture about the quality of the work, and why other titles did not make it to the short list. Reading the winning novel, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, I have to admit that I was disappointed in it because I had previously read Patrick de Witt’s rather wonderful story, The Sisters Brothers, and much preferred it.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son.

Michael Chabon

More than just  very satisfying, it is probably essential to have a good book to read in the hiatus between Christmas and New Year and even a little beyond, before we go back to our normal lives working or studying. Something that we can reflect upon while doing those other necessary things. At  year’s end I read the latest Peter Corris crime fiction, Torn Apart and  a nonfiction by PD James, Talking About Crime Fiction, which didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know about this particular genre and did not compare at all favourably with Kate Summerscale’s wonderful nonfiction, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (which I have also reviewed), that also gives us a history of the detective novel. But then I picked up something completely different in Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, and was  immediately charmed by the wisdom, the wit and the lucid writing style employed to display these qualities.

Manhood for Amateurs is a memoir of the masculine roles Chabon has played and continues to play in his life. It is offered as a series of essays – 39 of them – featuring many of the nagging little worries  we  have  all experienced – men and women – in our own roles as children, spouses and parents. The essays are divided into ten parts which have words like Techniques, Strategies, Exercises, Styles, Elements, Patterns, Studies, Elements, and Tactics in their headings, but feature completely personal and therefore identifiable conundrums which most of us have stumbled over but probably did not have the time to analyse as we struggled to get back on our feet. That’s why this book is so valuable. It is a kind of navigation marker to our own lives and attempts as parents, lovers, dutiful sons and daughters.

Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes

Waiting for Robert Capa

by Susana Fortes, translated by Adriana V. Lopez.

“Robert Capa” is the name and persona invented by Gerda Taro to successfully market photographs taken by herself and Endre Friedmann in Paris in 1935.

Gerda was born Gerta Pohorylle in Stuttgart, a Jewish citizen who fled the Nazis to Paris where she met Hungarian Endre Friedmann, also Jewish. He was taking photographs and developing them in the bathroom of his tiny flat with red cellophane wrapped around the light, as he had been shown by another emerging artist, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Gerta changed her name to “Gerda” because it sounded less Jewish, Endre became Robert Capa, Gerda’s creation of the successful American photographer who was rich, talented, and a womaniser. Gerda established herself as Capa’s agent, managing to get commissions for newspaper stories and  advertisements.

Robert Capa was sent to Spain to cover the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. While he was away, Gerda developed her own distinct style of photography, but sold her pictures as Capa’s work without ever getting acknowledgement for them.

Prior to conjuring Robert Capa from thin air, Gerta had been sharing an attic in the Latin Quarter with her friend, Ruth Cerf. Multilingual Gerta had easily been able to pick up poorly-paid work typing up scientific journals, but felt the need to do something more satisfying. Returning to her flat one evening, she found that the door had been forced, and stepping inside, that their living space and possessions had been trashed. Captain Flint, their pet parrot, was floating in a pot of boiling water, his neck broken. Racist slogans had been painted on the walls.

Shocked and frightened, Gerta briefly gave way to tears, but then, realising that she was reacting as her tormentors wanted her to respond, she took the Leica camera that she had slung over her shoulder on her way home from work, and started photographing. She had found her profession: she would become an important witness to the cowardice and brutality of such thuggish behaviour.