The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City
by Iain Sinclair
The best view of London is to be had from the north. Tourists and natives, elderly dog walkers, young kite-flyers, plump uncles anxious to walk off the effects of roast beef lunches: the people who make their way across Hampstead Heath to the top of Parliament Hill have been much the same mixture for as long as I remember, but the city they have come to look at has been dramatically transformed. Fifty years ago, the London skyline had very few verticals. As you looked south from Parliament Hill you saw the Post Office Tower to the west, Centre Point, a newly completed office block, to the east of it, and then, further east again, the familiar seventeenth-century dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Other than those protuberances and a few power station chimneys and new housing blocks, the great city stretched flat and indistinct all the way from the western suburbs to the Essex marshes. Today, towers have sprung up everywhere, many of them oddly shaped and attention-seeking.
Nicholas Rankin’s sprawling book Defending the Rock: How Gibraltar Defeated Hitler spreads itself far and wide in trying to reconcile the details of Gibraltar’s own peculiar history with the world events in which it was frequently caught up. Describing the bloody progress of World War II from the vantage point of a tiny British colony is like trying to watch a battle from a badly placed rabbit hole, and to get closer to the action, Rankin often has to park his local narrative and make long detours to places such as Abyssinia and Berchtesgaden. The book frequently seems out of control. And yet for all its waywardness—not least in its deceitful subtitle—Rankin’s account is rewardingly informative and often delightful in the telling.
Around lunchtime on Friday, September 19, an advocate of a united Britain could have looked at a political map of Scotland and, like the Queen (if David Cameron’s account to Michael Bloomberg can be believed), purred with pleasure that a disaster had been averted and all would now be well.
The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work Across the India-Pakistan Divide
by Ayesha Jalal
by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad
Out of the twentieth century’s great calamities have come some of our most memorable satires: Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk from World War I and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 from World War II. Their equivalent in the Indian subcontinent is a short story titled “Toba Tek Singh” by the Urdu …
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo
What do we know of the poor? The question is connected to how we—by which I mean the relatively rich—write about them. Poverty first became a focus for literary investigation in the industrial cities of the nineteenth century, when its sights, sounds, and smells moved too close to middle-class houses …
Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger
by Fintan O'Toole
In his Memoir published in 2005, the year before he died, the writer John McGahern began by describing the physical geography of the Irish county he was born in and to which he eventually returned. “The soil in Leitrim is poor, in places no more than an inch deep,” is …
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar
by Paul Theroux
Sometime during the mid-nineteenth century, writers discovered that traveling could be a lark. Disease might prevail in the tropics, but many of travel’s other hazards had disappeared: reliable marine engines protected ships against currents and capricious winds, railway companies built sanitary hotels, rooms could be booked by wire, banditry was …