Jane Kramer writes for The New Yorker. Her books include Europeans, The Politics of Memory, and most recently, The Reporter’s Kitchen. (July 2018)


House of the Dead

Colm Tóibín, New York City, 2010

House of Names

by Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín’s reinvention of the Atreus story, House of Names, slipped quietly into print last year. The response was cautious (call it insecure) but deferential. Nothing in Tóibín’s previous work seems to have prepared his readers for the shock of such a bold and evocative tampering with some of Western literature’s most canonic texts or for the twilight of the gods with which his story ends, signaled by the first cries of a young woman in the throes of childbirth, and with those cries the strange but indisputably Christian suggestion of reconciliation and salvation. Believe it but don’t count on it, he seems to be saying. Resolution belongs to fiction; it keeps us faithful.

An Unlikely Family Romance

Alexander Stille’s parents, Elizabeth and Misha, in Europe, 1950s

The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace

by Alexander Stille
One night in the early 1980s, the protean and immensely learned Italian journalist known to readers as Ugo Stille arrived at my door in Paris, followed by a stream of Portuguese curses echoing down the courtyard from the window of the concierge’s lodge. Misha, as Stille’s friends called him (though, …

The Eighth Gothic Tale

Out of Africa

a film by Sydney Pollack, screenplay by Kurt Luedtke

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass

by Isak Dinesen
Maybe Sydney Pollack was right in his movie Out of Africa. Isak Dinesen wanted to marry Denys Finch Hatton and Denys Finch Hatton didn’t want to marry Isak Dinesen, and the rest of the biography, or, rather, the rest of the industry. Isak Dinesen has become, is an exercise in …

In the Garrison

Waiting for the Barbarians

by J.M. Coetzee

A Chain of Voices

by André Brink
These two South African novels came out in France at about the same time they were published here, and it was instructive (at least for me) to read what the French had to say about them because the French are shameless enthusiasts when they are insecure. The French cannot resist …

Timely Griefs

A Dangerous Place

by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, with Suzanne Weaver
A story for the Easter season: Daniel Patrick “I don’t suppose there is any point in being Irish if you don’t know the world is going to break your heart eventually” Moynihan had his staunch, freedom-loving heart broken at a dangerous place called the United Nations, and only a seat …