An Immigrant's Love Letter to the West
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Her previous work H is for Hawk established Macdonald as a brilliant practitioner of nature-memoir; this new book cautions against viewing the natural world as a ‘mirror of ourselves, reflecting our own world-view and our own needs, thoughts and hopes’. Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard: A Life (Faber, October) will come out while Stoppard’s latest play, Leopoldstadt, is still stalled by Covid-19. I started with a vision of empty streets in Manhattan …” Covid-19 casts extra resonance on this slim disquisition on catastrophe, in which a group gathers in a New York apartment to watch the 2022 Super Bowl – and then the world goes dark.
JFK: Volume 1: 1917-1956 by Fredrik Logevall (Viking) draws on original material, including Oval Office tapes and interviews with Jackie Kennedy. It journeys from ancient Mesopotamia to Nazi bonfires and the deletion of Trump’s tweets, identifying repositories of knowledge destroyed by those who set out to “deny the truth and eradicate the past”. The stories are meaningful and often delivered with Kisin’s signature humor: “My mum would pick apples in the university gardens and cook them with rice, which was a typical family meal.A successful physicist, he lost his career (and his wife’s career, and his son’s place at university) after making statements in opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (although the actual crime for which he was arrested was the possession of a radio).
Another form of “invisible labour” is uncovered in Nick Duerden’s Dishing the Dirt: The Hidden Lives of House Cleaners (Canbury, September). Born in Moscow in 1982, he grew up in the Soviet Union before moving to Britain with his family at the age of 13. As he says at one point in a plea to journalists, “The media … is not yours to co-opt or use to spread propaganda.Meanwhile, Australian Laura Jean McKay gets her first UK publication with The Animals in That Country (Scribe, September), a powerful, uncanny tale of a flu pandemic that allows humans to understand the language of animals.
There are shining passages in the book, particularly in each and every family story Kisin tells, as well as his exploration of how media in the West are actively undermining confidence in themselves. Political correctness,” he notes, “first appeared in Marxist-Leninist vocabulary following the Russian Revolution and was used to describe adherence to the policies and principles of the Communist Party. Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill(Scribner) is a stylish examination of far right culture and the roots of our contemporary chaos.Kisin gives examples of the heroes of modern journalism, not least Anna Politkovskaya, murdered by the Russians in 2006 for exposing what Putin and his cronies did not want the world to know. Rupert Everett’s first two volumes of memoir had a gossipy, bittersweet brilliance, so the latest, To The End of the World: Travels with Oscar Wilde (Little Brown, October), about his decade making the film The Happy Prince, is eagerly awaited.