Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is no poetry after Auschwitz, as Theodore Adorno almost said. There is nothing: no poetry; no music; no love, no joy, no life. Late to the party once again I’ve only recently got around to reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz. But I'm very glad I did. 

Everyone who has any curiosity about the world they inhabit and its history already knows about the horrors, the degradations, the sheer inhumanity of what happened in the Holocaust although it’s always a shock to be brought up against some sinister fact you hadn’t heard before, like the fact that there was a punishment block in Auschwitz - a deeper circle of the hell the prisoners were already in, being punished daily for being who they were. But... but... I don’t think that’s the takeaway of this book; not for me. 

Strangely, after the inevitable horrors, after the stomach-churning tension and the deep, aching, existential sadness, there’s the smallest glimmer of hope, a pinprick silver star of light in a cold, black sky. But that pinprick of light, of hope, is bigger than the earth, bigger than the sun, biggest than the biggest of our neighbour stars. And it hasn’t been extinguished; it hasn’t been destroyed. Because even in the depths of the worst despair, amid the depravity of the worst man-on-man evil ever, even in such a seemingly hopeless situation, there is kindness. There is the small act of anonymous kindness that saves the eponymous Tätowierer, Lale, from an early death; the kindness of a French prisoner who decides to enlist him as his assistant in the grim (but relatively safe) job of inking numbers on the new prisoners. The kindness of the local builders, smuggling small amounts of food in for him, even as they build the crematoria. 

Then there is the kindness shown in return: to those who need it, and to those he loves. These small, almost incidental acts of kindness and humanity build and grow like flakes of snow so that slowly, gradually and eventually, they beat the bullets and evade the gas chambers. Because above all, this is a story of hope in the midst of the utmost adversity, of a huge triumph against all the odds. It's difficult at times, in the middle of a global pandemic, amid such relentlessly depressing daily news, to see even a glimmer of hope for humanity. But there is poetry after Auschwitz after all, and this book proves it. That tiny, distant star in the coldest sky is still up there, shining brightly.

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Saturday, 23 January 2021

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré

Agent Running in the FieldAgent Running in the Field by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've come late to le Carré, the late le Carré, prompted by the eulogies that accompanied his death to dig out some of the books I knew of but had never read (Tinker, Tailor; all the 'Smiley' novels) together with some of his more recent offerings about espionage in a post-cold war, privatised age. So far, the hype seems justified; the praise deserved. The craftsmanship of a plot that reveals just enough to set the mind (and, occasionally, pulse) racing is, of course, taken as read. And the prose is no more that its servant: the vehicle for the characters and the story, not a character, not a story in itself. In that, they're easy reading. But strangely compelling. And minutely observed. And although le Carré takes the literary high ground as omniscient narrator, showing just as much of his hand as he knows is necessary to keep the reader going, the voice - at least in this book - seems also to inhabit the characters in a manner that hides the former spy-cum-author perfectly, as he obviously intended. Agent Running in the Field is full of these acts of authorly ventriloquism: Nat, the urbane ex-field agent out to grass in an intelligence cul-de-sac back home, Ed the oddball whose path crosses Nat's on the badminton court and whose unpredictable, but ultimately honourable, activities almost bring about Nat's downfall. Each character speaks and the voice is perfect; we share each characters inner thoughts as if from their own point-of-view; and yet behind it all, le Carré the puppet-master pulls all the strings. And pulls them expertly.

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Monday, 18 January 2021

Blue Monday

It's either a load of old rubbish or a day to dread (more than any other day these last few months) but whatever you think, however you feel, it's cold and dark and this might, just make you feel a little bit better.

You're welcome!

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Best Foot Forward!

If you're like me, you probably don't think much about it. Walking. Putting one foot in front of the other. Which is a pity, really, as there's so much more to it than that. 

Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara has called it "our hidden superpower" and a new book by Yamuna Zake (author of The Ultimate Body Rolling Workout) published this week and called The Foot Fix encourages us to give it the respect a superpower deserves.  

Healthy feet are fundamental to our health and wellbeing and The Foot Fix offers a simple 4 week program of quick and easy exercises to help get them back into shape. An initial walking test allows you to assess functionality in the four areas of your feet (heel, arch, ball and toes) and this is followed by exercises to help restore posture by aligning your feet correctly and strengthening your arches, all of which can help prevent problems later in life. Because Yamuna’s philosophy is "prevention". Most people wait until they’re in pain before they pay attention to their feet, but since you only get one pair and they’re meant to carry you through life, why not start taking care of them now? Just 15 minutes a day for four weeks can get your feet fully functional, says the author. And that means you're far less likely to develop foot or other associated problems such as back or hip pain and poor posture later on. 

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