Paralian is an Ancient Greek word, meaning one who lives by the sea. Here, we follow the author’s journey through life, narrated by hisrelationship to water – the river he grew up near, the oceans he crosses, and the water that later becomes his place of work. A tumultuous journey, we follow the author in his quest to find authentic self and happiness, against an incredible array of adversities. At five months old, Liam was adopted from an orphanage – and thus began a journey to conquer childhood disability, issues with parents, marriages, divorces, and gender dysphoria.
The tragic life story had rather a renaissance in recent times – A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer, Ugly by Constance Briscoe, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (although that one was later to be found to be more fiction than fact), have all been part of a publishing phenomenon in the last 20 years. They all tended to be horribly upsetting, ending with a ray of hope but normally shaking the readers belief in humanity somewhat.
So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up Paralian – I did have some doubts that that this would be a traumatic and upsetting read. And, in part, I was right – there is trauma, and there is upset, and Liam Klenk goes through more than most will ever go through in their lives. But this isn’t a difficult or hard read at all, as the author has such an incredible will and personality that shine through the page. He’s not one to get defeated by life, and as such this turns from a tale of hardship and difficulty to a tale of learning how to overcome difficulty and the power of optimism. It also covers ground that isn’t readily written about – there is plenty of information in the media about transitioning from male to female, but those transitioning from female to male tend to receive less coverage – and it’s utterly fascinating to read about Klenk’s journey.
Refreshing, enlightening, and a darn good read, Paralian covers difficult life situations with an optimism and grace that will surprise the coldest of readers, and as such is a read I can heartily recommend to all – I imagine, like me, you’ll come out of the book uplifted and positive by the read. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy. For further reading I recommend Out of Bounds by Bruce Hugman – another portrait of a period in an incredible life, and one told with great dignity, grace, and optimism – much like Paralian.
A Catholic convert and a homosexual, a socialite party goer yet deeply lonely, a secretive spy and a public man of letters, Scott Moncrieff was an enigma. His translation of Proust’s A La Recherché du Temps Perdu was highly praised, and Moncrieff was also celebrated as a decorated hero of World War One. Here, his great-great niece Jean Findlay skilfully retells the life of an intriguing man – and one whom I was utterly charmed by.
Born into relative wealth, Scott Moncrieff had an enjoyable childhood – his Father a Scottish Sheriff, his mother a warm, creative and intelligent figure. Moncrieff was clearly an incredibly intelligent child – letters show that he was self-aware, charming, and hugely well read. Boarding school proved a relatively enjoyable experience for the young Moncrieff, and his poems show that, even from a very young age, he was a talented individual. Whilst on a scholarship at Winchester College there were struggles to reconcile his homosexual feelings with his fairly religious upbringing and Moncrieff also fell head over heels with countless fellow schoolboys, prompting him to publish a story (with mentions of homosexual love) in the school magazine, resulting in him ruining his chances for further education at Cambridge or Oxford.
Instead, Moncrieff headed back to Scotland, studying English and Law at Edinburgh University. The arrival of the First World War led to the beginnings of a military career, serving from 1914-1917, converting to Catholicism, and suffering a serious injury that discharged him from active service and plagued him throughout life. A brief infatuation with the poet Wilfred Owen followed, but ended with Owen’s untimely death.
Moncrieff then took up a post at The Times for several years, and it was shortly after this period that, after several smaller literary ventures, he began the colossal task of translating Proust. He also moved to Italy during this period, with ill health constantly plaguing the writer. The Proust translations were a huge success – celebrated globally, and for many years the definitive translation. He combined his work on these with a period spent spying for the British Government, and his letters show that despite frequent illness, this was a funny, charming man who loved his life and his work. Sadly, Stomach cancer killed him at the age of 40, dying before work on the final volume of Proust could be completed.
I had not heard of Moncrieff before – my knowledge of Proust is relatively limited, and I’ve yet to have the spare time in which to read the whole of A La Recherché du Temps Perdu! However, stumbling across the biography of a figure unknown to me, was an absolute delight. The author is the great great niece of Moncrieff, and so has a personal connection to her subject – and as such it makes for a wonderfully warm and enjoyable read. Of course, it is rather hard not to fall for Moncrieff – a poet and a spy, catholic and homosexual – he’s a man of great contrasts, and yet manages to be overwhelmingly lovely in his correspondence (apart from a long running squabble with Osbert Sitwell). It also helps that he’s distinctly dishy in the pictures that remain of him – and whilst the War affected his health greatly, Moncrieff kept a handsome charm throughout his short life.
It’s also a rather wonderful account of the time period – from the snowy Scotland of Moncrieff’s Victorian upbringing, through to the various wonderful and well known figures that he encountered throughout his life. Bursting with personality, and clearly crafted with a great deal of love, Chasing Lost Time is a read that made me long to know more about its subject. Whilst he may have been unknown to me, Jean Findlay has ensured that the memory of C.K Scott Moncrieff will live on a great deal longer.
This review was originally posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Chasing_Lost_Time_by_Jean_Findlay
Drawing on letters, diaries, and unpublished material, Stephen Parker offers a rich and detailed account of Brecht’s life and work, and paints a new picture of one of the twentieth century’s most controversial cultural icons – a man whose plays are performed more in Germany than Shakespeare’s. Examining Brecht’s beginnings in Bavaria, through the First World War and onto the beginnings of a career. Then, Brecht’s journey through Weimar Germany where he became a political artist, struggling with the fascists who would eventually drive him to exile in Denmark, and onto life in the US – suspected of being a Soviet agent, before the eventual return to Germany, and a later life plagued with illness. This is a fascinating book about the man, his work, and the climates in which he wrote and influenced his work, as well as providing insights into the thought processes, health, and women who filled the world of Brecht.
I first encountered Brecht when I was sixteen, playing the role of Mr Peachum in a school production of The Threepenny Opera. Rather a leftfield choice for a school play, I was excited about the large amount of grime that existed in Brecht’s world – no jazz hands here, but prostitutes, murderers, and thoroughly immoral characters. I had no idea what was going on, but it was certainly different – and I then progressed to studying Brecht throughout my final two years at school. I found the plays hugely challenging, but also very, very enjoyable – and whilst I can’t deny that some of the concepts went straight over my head, I try to see performances of Brecht whenever they crop up in my vicinity.
Stephen Parker’s book is, to put it mildly, detailed. Even in paperback it’s a weighty tome, and there are very few areas of Brecht’s life or work that are left uncovered – and I’ve no doubt that this book will prove one of the definitive books on Brecht, and a must read for students and scholars in the area. The people Brecht surrounded himself with where such strong characters that they make for fascinating reading – from the overlooked Elisabeth Hauptmann to the talented and celebrated Helene Weigel.
Praise aside – this isn’t an easy read – making no secret of the fact that this is a book designed for use in academia, rather than for a straightforward read through. As a result, the book doesn’t have much of a flow to it, and the academically dry nature can be a tad much at times. As a reference book on the life and work of Bertolt Brecht though? This book is superb, and I wish it had been around when I was studying Brecht all those years ago. Thanks to the publishers for the copy.
For further reading, I would recommend a book vastly different to Bertolt Brecht – A Literary Life, in Diaries Volume 1 by Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood is a very different person to Brecht – gay, English, and thoroughly opposite in terms of writing styles, Isherwood’s diaries reflect the turbulent times that Brecht was living through, but through another set of eyes – reflecting life in America during and after the Second World War.
This Review was first posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Bertolt_Brecht_-_A_Literary_Life_by_Stephen_Parker
Christopher Isherwood is a writer whose work was often (in fact nearly always) biographical, and one who was always very open about his personal life. Interest in the life of Isherwood seems to have been rife recently, with a film about Isherwood and Bachardy released in 2008, an adaptation of Isherwood’s book ‘A Single Man’ released in 2009, and a BBC adaptation of ‘Christopher and his Kind’ released in 2011, as well as the seemingly countless revivals of ‘Cabaret’.
This book capitalises on the popularity, but does not cheapen Isherwood in the slightest. In fact, it serves as a touching and moving account of two lives that became completely entwined.
Bachardy and Isherwood met in 1952 – Isherwood a man of 48, and Bachardy just 18. The two fell in love, and this book charts their relationship through affairs, rows, huge amounts of time spent apart, and ends in 1970, sixteen years before Isherwood’s death.
This isn’t a rose tinted look at the romance by any means. Both Isherwood and Bachardy had affairs, and the men often spent months on end at the other end of the world from each other. A deep affection is clear in every letter though, and whilst the pet names the men have for each other are fairly saccharin (Dobbin and Kitty), the letters themselves tend to avoid plunging too deep into sentimentality.
Isherwood and Bachardy mixed in fascinating circles too – Cecil Beaton, David Hockney, John Gielgud, Gore Vidal, E.M Forster, Tenessee Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Somerset Maugham, Truman Capote are all mentioned, as of course is W.H Auden – an old friend of Isherwood’s. It paints a fascinating picture of life in Hollywood at that time, and the letters pull no punches – gossip and bitching occur frequently, and with a biting wit too.
Anyone who has enjoyed Isherwood should read this – his writing is just as brilliant in letter form. And Bachardy, a wonderfully talented artist, also writes exceptionally well. Above all that though, this is a book for romantics. Isherwood and Bachardy make for a fantastic love story – if you want proof that love can be long lasting and endure through pretty much anything, then read ‘The Animals’.
(This Review was originally posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Animals_by_Christopher_Isherwood_and_Don_Bachardy)