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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This item is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

News & Notes
On 21 August 1991 the German novelist, biographer, dramatist and painter Wolfgang Hildesheimer died at his home in Poschiavo, Switzerland. Born on 9 December 1916 in Hamburg, Hildesheimer came of a rabbinical family on his father's side. After 1933 he spent the Nazi years in exile, variously in England and in Palestine, and at the Nuremberg trials he acted as an interpreter. In the post-war years his first stories and novels made him a name as the wittiest German satirist of his generation, but it was three later works - Tynset (1967), Mozart (1977) and Marbot (1981), written after he settled in Switzerland - that established him as a subtle analyst of the line that divides fiction from biography. The recipient of many important literary awards, Hildesheimer declared in the early 1980s that he would not be publishing any more books, and again turned his attention to painting. His prose, dismissed by some as merely comic, is alert, carefully considered and genial in its acerbic elegance.

The distinguished Germanist, Professor J.P. Stern, died at his home in Cambridge in November 1991. Born in Prague in 1920, Stern fled to England three months after the German invasion of Bohemia, meeting Erich Heller, who became a Lifelong friend, on the sea crossing. Learning English rapidly, Stern served with a Czech army unit before joining the RAF in 1941. The following year he was shot down over the Atlantic and wounded. He then returned to Cambridge where he completed his studies and, after a brief spell at Bedford College, taught German until 1972. Stern then moved to University College London, maintaining his links with Cambridge by becoming the founding editor of the University Press's Landmarks in World Literature series. He also remained aware of his Czech roots, producing a string of impressive critical works on central European writers and philosophers, particuarly Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein whom he had known. Stern is most likely to be remembered, however, for his study Hitler: the Fuhrer and the People (1975), which analyses the dictator's charismatic appeal in terms of ingrained German cultural values, especially the notion that anything hard-won must be good. This doctrine of 'the dear purchase' provides the title of a forthcoming volume of essays, revolving the anomaly of a culture that simultaneously gives rise to exemplary artistic achievement and political disaster. The book promises to be a fitting memorial.

In 1941, during a bloody civil war, Milan Milišić future poet and translator, escaped with his mother from independent Croatian forces who were slaughtering orthodox Serbians. In October 1991, some fifty years later, Milišić was killed in Dubrovnik by, it now transpires, a mortar shell fired by the Yugoslav army. Milišić grew up in Dubrovnik, graduating from Belgrade University in 1966. Shortly afterwards he moved to England where he worked on his first book of poems Two Sisters Loved Me, published in Belgrade in 1970. This year also marked his return to Yugoslavia with a batch of half-completed translations of English works which included Tolkein's The Hobbit and poems by Ted Hughes. Latterly Milišić was poet in residence at New York University, gaining a Fulbright Scholarship to translate Robert Frost into Serbo-Croat. His last summer was spent in perfecting these renderings and in working on the final drafts of his own last collection, Trembling.

The Russian translator and editor Nina Zhirmunskaya was killed in a road accident near Leningrad University, her second home, in November 1991. She was 71. it was Zhirmunskaya who, together with her husband Viktor, was responsible for finally lifting the ban imposed on Anna Akhmatova's poems by Stalin's cultural watchdog Zhdanov, thus enabling them to be published in the prestigious Poet's Library series in 1976. Although permission had been granted ten years previously, prepations were time-consuming and arduous and, following Viktor's death in 1975, Nina Zhirmunskaya was obliged to complete the labour alone. Much of that edition was sold abroad - the book was stocked by Collets International in London - for foreign currency. Zhirmunskaya went on to consolidate her achievement by producing a 50,000 copy pocket edition of Akhmatova, primarily for Russian consumption.

In November 1991 the Moscow literary community was shocked to learn of the suicide of Yulia Drunina. Drunina had established a unique reputation as a poet of the second world war. She was 17 and still a schoolgirl when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Like her contemporary Bulat Okudzhava, she volunteered for the front and spent the next five years working with field hospitals, frequently under gunfire. She became accustomed to death and wrote her first poems by candlelight at the bedsides of the wounded. They were later published in army newspapers and after the war she returned to Moscow as a national heroine. In 1948 Drunina published her first collection of verse, In a Soldier's Coat, to public and critical acclaim. The book's fresh, romantic approach was very different from the pompous patriotic orthodoxy then required by the Stalin regime. In the same year she married a fellow student, the poet Nikolai Starshinov. Drunina's Selected Poems, also well received, appeared during Khruschev's 'thaw'. When in 1956 Khruschev released thousands of innocent prisoners from the Gulag, Drunina met and fell in love with one of them - the script writer Alexi Kapler, some thirty years her senior and originally interned for his involvement with Svetlana Stalin. She divorced Starshinov and married Kapler who, as conditions worsened again under Brezhnev, found her a job writing for film studios. Drunina never fully came to terms with Kapler's death in 1979, despite a revival of interest in her work following the publication of her memoirs From Those Peaks …. Ironically Drunina, who never joined the communist party but survived the rigours of Stalinist censorship, became a casualty of post-Glasnost publishing and its drive to gratify new demands for pornography and popular exposes of freemasons and the KGB. Her publishers, Sovietsky Pisatel, under financial pressure since the removal of Party subsidies, no longer found it expedient to issue her work. 'Who now needs poems about a girl in the war?', remarked one contemporary.

Enrique Labrador Ruíz, together with Alejo Carpentier and Lézama Lima one of the great Cuban novelists of the century, died in Miami in November 1991 at the age of 89. A fervent anti-communist, he did not succeed in leaving Cuba until 1976, and then at the cost of his beloved library which contained more than 60,000 volumes, many of them signed. Labrador, as he is known, travelled indefatigably and numbered among his friends authors as diverse as Miguel Angel Asturias and Pablo Neruda. By the time of the 'boom' in the Spanish American novel he was already an elder statesman, having pioneered what he described as a 'gaseous form' in Labyrinth of Oneself (1933), his first published novel, and later a series of unparalleled novelines neblinosos - misty novelettes.

Despite repeated offers by the Castro government of a welcome home, Lydia Cabrera died in Miami in September 1991 in her 91st year. Widely regarded as 'the greatest Cuban woman writer ever', she shared an earlier exile in Paris with her rival Anaïs Nin. While Nin was 'going native', Cabrera, as an art student, became fascinated by African culture and more specifically the African lore brought to Cuba by slavery. The first product of this preoccupation was a book called Contes négres de Cuba which changed her life. Spurred on by the reminiscences of her old black nanny, on her return to Havana Cabrera startled her family by associating with witch doctors and gaining unprecedented recognition by the Abakuas, a black secret society normally closed to women. Inevitably seen by some as an aristocrat 'slumming it', her commitment to the genre which she termed 'anthropoetry' - a combination of anthropology and poetry - was tough, enduring and serious. She once told an interviewer, 'If there hadn't been any blacks in Cuba I wouldn't have lived there.'

Following new details given in P·N·R 72 about the tragic death in action of Lieutenant Alain-Fournier in September 1914, a thorough search of the area was made. In the particular part of the Bois de Saint-Rémy concerned 22 skeletons were dug up, together with strips of uniform, buttons, sundry leather objects and … a lieutenant's badge of rank, presumed to have belonged to the author of Le Grand Meaulnes.

(D.A.)

Issue 10 of Cross Currents, 'a yearbook of Central European culture', is a powerful reminder that this is effectively the yearbook for an area that will now obviously occupy a greater share of the limelight than ever before, even if there are those, like Eric Hobsbawm, with justified suspicions of MittelEuropa. Yearbooks are easily overlooked in the periodical stakes, but Cross Currents has a new and prestigious publisher - Yale University Press - and will be eagerly awaited. Issue 10 contains some items principally of interest to historians and political scientists, though it is nearly impossible and certainly unwise to treat Central European literature as merely literary. There are also worthwhile essays on Franz Werfel, Ivo Andrić. Tristan Tzara and the Langer brothers of Prague, and an exceptionally interesting interview with the great critic René Wellek conducted by Peter Demetz. Using material incorporated into her fine study of Paul Celan, which will be reviewed in a future issue of P·N·R, Amy Colin writes on the Holocaust poetry of the Bukovina; and John-Paul Himka, alert to the internal tensions of the region and in something of its unforgiving spirit, very shrewdly pinpoints the implicit, and indeed explicit, hostility to Ukrainians exhibited by Gregor von Rezzori in The Snows of Yesteryear, reviewed in this issue of P·N·R. The address given by Czeslaw Milosz on receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Krákow in 1989 offers further helpful insights to set beside his various prose works and the invaluable Conversations, and is typically combatively titled 'With Polish poetry against the world'. It will be interesting to see how the world adjusts to a redrawing of boundaries that is already setting the constitutive elements against themselves, and so with us all for the foreseeable future.

(J.P.)

With the onset of 1992, Horsham in West Sussex is preparing to celebrate the bi-centenary of Percy Bysshe Shelley who was born at Field Place, two miles from the town, on 4 August 1792. The Shelley Festival Committee has devised an extensive programme for the occasion, including the launch of a new permanent exhibition at the Horsham museum. Chairman Ken Pritchard Jones anticipates visitors from all over Europe - particularly the former Eastern bloc where the poet's stock has been steadily rising - as well as more familiar literary pilgrims from Japan and the United States. Another commemorative exhibition will be housed at the Wordsworth museum in Grasmere, Cumbria. Taking as a starting point Arnold's controversial verdict, it bills itself, somewhat cryptically, as 'Ineffectual Angel?'

Readers surprised to note the use of a hitherto unknown portrait of Dylan Thomas on the jacket of George Tremlett's new study In the Mercy of His Means may be interested to discover that this surly brunette with Paul Newman eyes is almost certainly an imposter. It seems that both Tremlett - former controversial Tory on the GLC - and the painting's owner, bookseller Colin Frost, had doubts as to its authenticity but acquiesced when publishers Constable selected the portrait from a number of other photographs. All parties agree that the artist is James Proudfoot, who did in fact paint Thomas, although, for the time being at least, that canvas remains lost.

This autumn saw the publication of two more pamphlets in the enigmatic Contemporary Papers series from W.H. Smith. How comfortable, one wonders, is Sir Simon Hornby, Chairman of the Group, with Charles Handy's postmodernis't conclusion to The Future of Work: 'Maybe a right to a job became for many a right to a prison; security of a sort at the cost of self-discovery, and of responsibility for oneself'. As a self-employed writer, teacher and broadcaster Handy seems in a better position to discover himself than most. His fellow pamphleteer Andrew Sinclair opts for a return to an older, less triumphantly individualistic model in 'Patron is Not a Dirty Word'. Sadly, you'll have difficulty in finding either pamphlet on the shelves of your local branch of W.H. Smith's.

This item is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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