Friday High Five

We share five of our favourite links to news, reviews or articles that we’ve discovered over the past week.

1. Elliot Perlman on the Dachau liberation controversy

After The Street Sweeper was published, Elliot Perlman was contacted by a Melbourne reader with evidence that African-American soldiers were part of the force that liberated Dachau after World War II. He told the story in The Age on Wednesday.

She asked because she had grown up hearing her Polish-Jewish father tell the family about his liberation from Dachau and always an element of the story was his wonderment on seeing black troops there. I checked the woman’s story and interviewed her father, who also lives in Melbourne.

2. Maria Tumarkin on our obsession with food

In the lead essay from the latest Kill Your Darlings, now online, Maria Tumarkin reflects on our culture’s obsession with food and wonders – what does it all mean?

I am all for food being treated with the respect afforded to matters cultural. But it’s appropriate, I think, to be puzzled by one cultural form taking over so much of our public space, sucking that much oxygen out of our world.

3. Hatchet Job of the Year winner

The inaugural prize for Hatchet Job of the Year was won by Adam Mars-Jones, for his ‘killingly fair-minded and viciously funny’ review of Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall.

A sample:

By quoting on his first page the opening phrase of Ulysses (‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan…’) Cunningham aligns By Nightfall with Joyce, just as The Hours was aligned with Mrs Dalloway. It seems to be the prestige of the modernists he admires, rather than their stringency. If he had chosen softer models he would cut a better figure, the contrast being smaller. The sweet, engrossing, middlebrow braid of The Hours would have dismayed Virginia Woolf, its ostensible linchpin, as a serious venture in fiction, and Joyce would have begrudged By Nightfall the rationed reading time (failing eyes) he gave so willingly to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

4. French women don’t do motherhood (like we do)

For some reason, we’re obsessed with French women, who seemingly do everything better – at least, if you’re to believe snarmy book titles like French Women Don’t Get Fat. This month, there are two books out on how French women do motherhood.

The first is French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman, which got a very entertaining review in the New York Times:

When Ms. Druckerman has trouble being firm with her children, parents in all 50 states are indicted. When a French friend has more success than she has keeping her baby from pulling books off the shelf, this supposedly reveals an ‘enormous cultural gap’.

The other is Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict, in which she laments the way that the return to ‘natural’ motherhood is restricting women’s choices – and turning women off motherhood. Ruth Quibbell reviewed it on the weekend.

5. Spotlight on Alan Hollinghurst

We’re excited about having Alan Hollinghurst as a Wheeler Centre guest next month (Friday 2 March). Matthew Westwood interviewed him for The Australian this week, writing ‘Readers of the future wanting to open the closet on the late 20th century may find themselves turning to two trans-Atlantic chroniclers of gay life.’ Have a read to get you in the mood for his visit.

As with White, Hollinghurst’s prose is finely tuned and the sex is often explicit, but the slightly reserved British writer prefers the veil of fiction.