Sunday, 7 August 2011

Chain reaction

It can be interesting - well, OK, only marginally interesting, to come across stray connections in books. I've just read Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes. I'd dissent somewhat from the 100% glowing reviews, though I'm glad I read the book. The lives of the swinish rich rarely appeal, and the Ephrussi banking dynasty, whose story this covered, behaved badly at times. The next book I read (yes, I have been on holiday) was the Complete Works of Isaac Babel, which included a short piece about when Babel was bounced as a child in pre-Revolution Russia when only 5% of the Jewish children in his school could go on to the next level of education because of anti-Semitic quotas. There were forty Jewish children and Babel was determined and successful in becoming one of the top two. He succeeded, but lost his place when an Ephrussi bribed some official to ensure that his child was promoted instead of Babel. No doubt this is a useful model for Conservative policies in higher education. Moving on, the next book was Stalin Ate My Homework, an autobiographical memoir of Alexei Sayle's childhood. Alexei was so named in honour of Maxim Gorky, born Alexei Pehkov, by his Communist parents. Gorky was a mentor of Isaac Babel and published some of his early work in Novaya Zhizn. I am sure that there are greater connections in this world than these three books, picked up by chance, but there you go.

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