"In my experience of writing – and of life – the frenzy of dreams and that of form always go together." Iosi Havilio
Contexts
All, nothing and everything in between

All, nothing and everything in between

As people travelled across Europe in the late 16th century, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, a word travelled with them – nada; a nothingness of prospects, a future where nothing remained and everything was lost, a universe where the centre of faith was being fiercely usurped by the massive, ponderous vacuum of doubt and agnosticism, of...
Unquiet spirits

Unquiet spirits

Even now, perhaps most especially today, understanding the events of the first half of the twentieth century has a significance that we cannot possibly afford to ignore. The way to the trauma, evil and pain, to the sociohistorical origins, causes, sociodynamics and pitfalls, and to the portents and lacunae we overlooked to our horrific detriment,...
Flowers in a jam jar

Flowers in a jam jar

In April 1961 Ernest Hemingway would distil, in almost oracular terms, the nature of the writing act as a way of capturing the world, as a way of relating to life, but also as a way of confronting the inexorable absence at the heart of much of existence: “In writing, there are many secrets. Nothing...
An absence full of presence

An absence full of presence

What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home by Mark Mazower is an eloquently written rhapsody on the art of remembering. It is rhapsodic both in the primary sense of the word, in that it is a chronicle exuding a certain air of poetry and exalted, almost epic feeling, and in...
The devil you know

The devil you know

Mirjana Novaković’s Fear and His Servant, set in 18th-century Serbia under Austrian rule, begins with the journey to Belgrade of the Devil in the guise of Count Otto von Habsburg, accompanied by his equally diabolical servant Novak. On the way to the city their carriage breaks down. In the thick fog at the crack of...
Written in my soul

Written in my soul

Like most avid readers, I was pleased to see British national treasure Kashuo Ishiguro win the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. Pleased, but a little disappointed. Ishiguro is worthy, to be sure, but in a way he was too worthy. After the lather the Nobel committee worked the literary world into last year by giving...
Having words in Manchester

Having words in Manchester

There’s an old quip: ‘What’s another word for a thesaurus?’ In fact, there is another word for a thesaurus and what’s more, there always has been: synonymicon. Next time someone rolls out that old line, you can respond by telling them that. It might not make you the most popular person at a party, but...
The truth of the lie

The truth of the lie

“The duty of art (or of thought) consists in showing us the complexity of existence in order to make us more complex, in examining the mechanics of evil, so that we may avoid it, and even the mechanics of good, perhaps so we may understand them”. This is Javier Cercas’ declaration of intent at the...
Us and them

Us and them

A year after my first novel Madame Mephisto, about a Polish drug dealer in London, was published in 2012, I was approached by The New York Times to write a piece in response to then Prime Minister David Cameron’s sharp rhetoric on immigration, which singled out Poland. Little did I know a few years later...
Boy wanderer

Boy wanderer

One of the most intense pleasures that can overcome any translator is the joy you feel when you take a book you’ve been hungering after for decades and run it through the mill of your imagination. That was my good fortune with The Evenings by Gerard Reve. Written back in 1947 and first published in...