Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell

It takes decades for the man called Austerlitz to decide to uncover what he has been avoiding all this time: at the age of four, he was sent away from his home in Prague on the Kindertransport and given a new identity in “the little country town of Bala in Wales.”

Clearly, this is a very special book. It made me think and will make me continue to think. The introduction by James Wood (which I read at the end; otherwise it would have spoilt the novel for me) clarified some of its features for me. I can see reasons for the intentional randomness, the continuous prose, the perpetual distance of the main character, the anonymity of the narrator. I can discern parallels I didn’t notice at first. It’s quite possible this book deserves to be read a second time.

So it ticks a lot of boxes, but I found the format made it difficult to read and I’m not sure that it’s justified. The lack of chapters and for the most part even paragraphs meant that I didn’t know where to stop. I ended up making a rule for myself: I stopped at the first full stop after turning a page. This gave me too many possible stopping places. It also confused me, as I didn’t remember what came just before my starting place.

I’ve never read a book in one sitting, but I think that’s what this one needs.

Moving a little in a southerly direction, I’m visiting Sue Barnard, author of The Ghostly Father and Nice Girls Don’t. I have read both novels and heartily recommend them.

This time, I’m talking about place in writing. What do you think? Who writes about place?

Here’s the new schedule:

18 June Catriona King My Route to Publication
20 June Cathie Dunn The Background to my Novel
22 June Sarah Louise Smith Arranged Marriage
22 June Jeff Gardiner Life-changing Decisions
6 July Nancy Jardine Closed Communities
11 July K B Walker On Emigration from Britain
22 July Sue Barnard Who Writes about Place?
T.E.Taylor Writing about the place you live in and places you haven’t been to



With vultures of our own overhead, I was happy to let Jo Carroll transport me to a place I’ve never been to and might never see. Even if I do go there, this book won’t reflect my experience. Jo makes this very clear. The book describes her journey around Cuba as a lone traveller in January 2014. Another visitor, travelling at a different time, in a group or even with one other, hiring a car, staying at different places, meeting different people, will experience something completely different.

Having read two of Jo’s previous travel books, I expected to be entertained, captivated and enthralled. I wasn’t disappointed. I was taken for rides on old buses, a horse and a bicitaxi. I met a wide variety of people – Cubans and tourists. With her usual perception, Jo paints a vivid picture of all she saw, peppering it with the thoughts and feelings of a brave, sincere and articulate woman.

You can find out more about this book here.

I’m in Yorkshire today (I wish) at the home of K B Walker, author of Once Removed, a novel I definitely want to read.

You can read what I have to say on emigrating from Britain, here.

Here’s the whole schedule:

18 June Catriona King My Route to Publication
20 June Cathie Dunn The Background to my Novel
22 June Sarah Louise Smith Arranged Marriage
22 June Jeff Gardiner Life-changing Decisions
6 July Nancy Jardine Closed Communities
11 July K B Walker On Emigration from Britain
Sue Barnard Who Writes about Place?

You have to laugh to keep sane.

You have to laugh to offset all the pain.

You have to laugh to stop yourself from creating a poem by mistake!

Whatever the reason, you have to laugh sometimes.

So I was reading through my Facebook feed the other day. Missiles landing here. Missiles being deflected there. Buildings destroyed by falling missiles. Then I saw this:

It’s raining. The wet sort.

And I thought: good thing he qualified that.

We went to the Jerusalem Theatre to see a play that took place around the time of the Yom Kippur War. A notice went up before the play started:

Siren At TheatreDuring the performance, sounds of explosions and sirens will be heard.

Good thing they warned us.

Benji Lovitt wrote:

To my friends around the word: thank you so much for your concern. We are hanging in there. It’s not easy but we know what we’re doing. We’ve been through this before and we know it will pass soon. All we can do is say a prayer that someday, Tel Aviv will not be so humid.

Benji is a comedian who has been doing a lot to keep us laughing. And sane.

Jest as well.

So this is my Facebook home page at 9:30 this morning:

1. Pictures of people in Tel-Aviv trying to shelter from a falling missile.

2. Pictures of people in Tel-Aviv trying to shelter from a falling missile.

3. Something about a car alarm that sounds like a siren.

4. An article about break-ups in the orthodox world.

5. A link to a blog post about the “situation”.

6. A link to a blog post by an Israeli comedian who manages to continue laughing despite everything.

7. Someone who asks, “How do you fight with people who have no regard for human life but plat the humanitarian card with social media?”

8. A link to a blog post about using Twitter.

9. A link to a blog post about a wedding held under the threat of missiles.

10. Something about security and rockets.

11. What Israeli schoolchildren sing to deal with rockets.

12. Breast cancer awareness: some people with the worst pasts end up creating the best futures.

13. Tel-Aviv is a target….

14. Posts about Corsica.

15. About sirens in Tel-Aviv.

16. About sirens in Binyamina.

17. Football.

18. Kids playing chess, despite everything.

19. George R. R. Martin, whoever he is.

20. What high school stereotype are you?

9:30 is only 7:30 in the UK. Later the posts will be more even. Pictures of pets and babies, posts about writing between talk of missiles.

I know that life continues as normal in other parts of the world, but I feel torn apart – wanting to keep in touch with what’s going on in my country, wanting to react to light comments with light answers and needing to keep up to date with writing colleagues. It’s hard to continue like that for days on end.

So if you “see” a bit less of me on social media, I hope you’ll understand why.

This blog isn’t and was never meant to be political. The things that happen in this part of the world are way too complicated for me to grasp. I don’t know enough to be able to write about them.

But last week I wote about the three boys when their bodies were found. So today I need to write about the other boy because we have now discovered that he was probably murdered by Jews.

Last week I explained why the three boys and their families feel like our family. This boy doesn’t feel like family. BUT he was an innocent human being who shouldn’t have died. His family shouldn’t be suffering now.

Every single comment I’ve read about this today has said the same thing. We Israelis are devastated by this news. Because a young life has been lost. Because we feel compassion for his family. And because we thought this wouldn’t happen in Israeli society.

We are not taught to hate our neighbours. We’re taught to fight terrorists, but not ordinary human beings. If there is any part of our society that is promoting hatred, it needs to be rooted out. We need to stop these elements now.

That is what I think and it echoes all the comments I’ve seen today.


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