Crying on the train

Martin recently had a post on hating the London Review of Books, and then having one's faith restored. As a subscriber, I know exactly how he feels. You have the overwhelming sense of this cliquey in-group of wealthy North London bobos reviewing each other's books, feeling smug about their cultural superiority and secure in their utterly monolithic view of the world (i.e. America/Israel=bad). There's Eric Hobsbawm's appalling apologetics for Stalinism, Patrick Cockburn's Iraq dispatches, seemingly endless Jacqueline Rose.

But the standard of writing is consistently good. I have no interest or knowledge of science, but I read articles on science in the LRB, because they are so well written. And there is stuff like RW Johnson on Zimbabwe, which is worth the price alone. And their bookshop and cafe is wonderful.

Recently, though, I had an extreme LRB moment when reading this review by Jeremy Harding., illustrated by Andre Zucca's extraordinary images of everyday life in Occupied Paris. The first half is of Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 by Hanna Diamond [Buy this book], and covers the sort of ground that Irene Nemirovsky's wonderful (and controversial) Suite Francaise addresses.

The second half, though, is of Journal 1942-44 by Hélène Berr. Reading it standing on a crowded morning rush hour commuter train into Waterloo, I found tears seeping down my cheeks - something that has never happened to me before.

As far as I can see, Berr's diary of war-time Paris is not available in the UK or US, which is shocking. For information, see Ha'aretz, Der Speigel, USA Today, The Observer, and extracts in the Herald Tribune.
Previous: The European Resistance Archive, Alternative histories, Gay Paree etc, Extraordinary women, Self-hating Jews and secular culture.

P.S. the Der Speigel review is blogged at Atlas Shrugged. I found this, however, very distateful:
She begins to work for an organization that takes care of Jewish children and at one stage many of her colleagues there are rounded up. In the last entry in her diary on Feb. 15, 1944, Helene has a conversation with a deportee who describes how Jews are taken across France. "The Germans have one aim, to exterminate," she writes. A student of English literature her final words in the diary are a quote in English from Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness:" "Horror! Horror! Horror!"
Sounds like Islam. One aim.

To compare Islam - Islam in general, mind, not Islamic fundametantalism - to the Nazis is, to my mind, obscene and offensive. It is offensive to Muslims. (Was Rumi's "one aim" to exterminate? Was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's "one aim" to exterminate?) And it is offensive to the memory of those murdered by the Nazis.


. said…
I came across this recently - about the Bal Tabarin nightclub in Paris in World War Two. It was both a place of recreation for Nazis and a centre of resistance, which made me ponder that sometimes it's not alway clear where collaboration ends and subterfuge/subversion beings. Anyway we must track down this film and watch it sometime soon
Anonymous said…
Have you seen Persepolis? My wife said it was the first animated feature which ever made her cry.

She hasn't seen this:

Grave of the Fireflies

Which is an incredibly tragic story about the life of a brother and sister in Kobe after the U.S. firebombed the city. Highly recommended.
bob said…
Glad I'm not the only crier. Dancing Lessons and Grave of the Fireflies both look really interesting (I'd be up for a viewing Transpontine). I still have not seen Persepolis, which I really want to. I'm a big fan of graphic novels, and have had my eye on Persepolis as a book for a while.

Kind of related, if you haven't read it already, I'd strongly recommend The Rabbi's Cat, a graphic novel of North African Jews in Paris.
Graeme said…
I know that everyone raves about Grave of the Fireflies but it didn't do much for me. I remember finding it boring when I watched it a few years ago. I think I watched it immediately after watching The Vanishing (the original version, not the Yank remake) so who knows how that coloured my viewing of it.

I haven't seen Persepolis, but I liked the comic quite a bit. It's a good read.

I recently read a really good Israeli graphic novel called Exit Wounds that is worth seeking out, especially in light of some of the discussions on this blog as of late. The classism and racism in Israeli society play a big role in it.

And though I suspect that everyone interested in the medium is familiar with him, Joe Sacco's works are essential. Palestine and his books on Bosnia are some of the best reportage to have come out of those regions.
Anonymous said…
I haven't seen "Grave of the Fireflies" for a long time. It may have less impact now then when I first saw it as a teen. Sort of like Joe Sacco's "Palestine". Good at 19. Today, not so much.
Anonymous said…
I recently read your post about Irène Némirovsky and wanted to let you know about an exciting new exhibition about her life, work, and legacy that will open on September 23, 2008 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage —A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky and Suite Française, which will run through the middle of March, will include powerful rare artifacts — the actual handwritten manuscript for Suite Française, the valise in which it was found, and many personal papers and family photos. The majority of these documents and artifacts have never been outside of France. For fans of her work, this exhibition is an opportunity to really “get to know” Irene. And for those who can’t visit, there will be a special website that will live on the Museum’s site
The Museum will host several public programs over the course of the exhibition’s run that will put Némirovsky’s work and life into historical and literary context. Book clubs and groups are invited to the Museum for tours and discussions in the exhibition’s adjacent Salon (by appointment). It is the Museum’s hope that the exhibit will engage visitors and promote dialogue about this extraordinary writer and the complex time in which she lived and died. Please visit our website at for up-to-date information about upcoming public programs or to join our e-bulletin list.

Thanks for sharing this info with your readers. Let me know if you need any more.

-Liz Sinnreich (

Popular Posts