Neal Ascherson is the author of The Struggles for Poland, Black Sea, and Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland. He is an Honorary Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
(February 2016)


Jews: Ambivalent and Admirable

Rabbi Erwin Zimet singing with the twelve Jewish children whom Ian Buruma’s grandparents rescued from Nazi Germany in early 1939, at the hostel they set up for the children in Highgate, North London

Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War

by Ian Buruma
Some eighteen years ago, Ian Buruma wrote a wise but melancholy review about Anne Frank—or rather about the merciless vendetta that had settled over the dramatized version of her diary.* In it, he suggested that no side in that controversy was exclusively right, neither those led by her father, …

Love, Lies, and War

Andrew O’Hagan at Christie’s auction house, London, 2010

The Illuminations

by Andrew O’Hagan
There are many illuminations in Andrew O’Hagan’s ambitious light show of a novel. It’s set partly in Scotland and partly in Afghanistan. But in every part of the British Isles “the Illuminations” is a reference to Blackpool, that old proletarian seaside resort in northwest England that switches on its multicolored …

In Love with the Judge

Ian McEwan, Berlin, October 2013

The Children Act

by Ian McEwan
This is Ian McEwan’s sixteenth book of fiction, by my count, and among the best and most accomplished novels he has ever written. His particular thread of success, it seems to me, has been to compose passages that burn a scar into memory, like star-shells on a flinching retina. In …

How Could They?

The Zone of Interest

by Martin Amis
Martin Amis has set a love story in Auschwitz. More precisely, among the SS staff of the camp and their wives. He makes no apology for doing this—who would expect it of him, and why should he?—but neither does he explain his choice. This leaves the reader to do his …

The Resurging Dubliners

A cemetery of stolen cars in the Darndale Housing Estate, Dublin, 1993

The Guts

by Roddy Doyle
Jimmy Rabbitte learns that he has cancer. He is middle-aged now and trying not to turn into his father, Jimmy Senior. But this is the same Jimmy Rabbitte who, as a grand and brilliant lad twenty years earlier, put together a Dublin soul band called the Commitments—the band that exploded …

Pamuk on the Eve

An anonymous photograph from Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, which displays his vast collection of images, objects, and ephemera that relate to his novel of the same name. A catalog of the museum’s collection, The Innocence of Objects, has just been published by Abrams.

Silent House

by Orhan Pamuk, translated from the Turkish by Robert Finn
What does it mean to write “on the eve” fiction? In the first place, it means situating a novel’s characters in a wider landscape that is in social and political movement. There is, usually, nothing they can do to arrest or reverse these changes. They stand as outlines against a …

They Ate Their Sleep

Herta Müller in Frankfurt, Germany, shortly after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, October 2009

The Hunger Angel

by Herta Müller, translated from the German by Philip Boehm
On their way back to the labor camp, the women would scour the heaps of rubble for edible weeds. Their favorite was orach, a spiky-leaved plant sometimes called mountain spinach. Picked in spring when the leaves were still tender, it could be boiled into soup or eaten as a soft …

How Millions Have Been Dying in the Congo

A poster of President Joseph Kabila on a campaign car two days before the run-off election that returned him to office, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 27, 2006

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa

by Jason K. Stearns
Jason Stearns does not believe in the glory of monsters. Neither does he accept a “Heart of Darkness” view of the Congo as a zone of hopeless, endemic monstrosity. This is a country he knows well (if it is possible to know well a place so enormous and so roadless). Stearns led the 2008 UN mission to study violence there, and worked on conflict and human rights in the Congo with a series of agencies and charities.