The Others

By: Various

Format: Hardback, Paperback

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Their Promised Land by Ian Buruma

A family history of surpassing beauty and power: Ian Buruma’s account of his grandparents’ enduring love through the terror and separation of two world wars

During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma’s grandparents, and the film director John Schlesinger’s parents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other. Their only recourse was to write letters back and forth. And write they did, often every day. In a way, they were just picking up where they left off in 1918, at the end of their first long separation because of the Great War that swept Bernard away to some of Europe’s bloodiest battlefields. The thousands of letters between them were part of an inheritance that ultimately came into the hands of their grandson, Ian Buruma. Now, in a labour of love that is also a powerful act of artistic creation, Ian Buruma has woven his own voice in with theirs to provide the context and counterpoint necessary to bring to life, not just a remarkable marriage, but a class, and an age.
 
Winifred and Bernard inherited the high European cultural ideals and attitudes that came of being born into prosperous German-Jewish émigré families. To young Ian, who would visit from Holland every Christmas, they seemed the very essence of England, their spacious Berkshire estate the model of genteel English country life at its most pleasant and refined. It wasn’t until years later that he discovered how much more there was to the story.
 
At its heart, Their Promised Land is the story of cultural assimilation. The Schlesingers were very British in the way their relatives in Germany were very German until Hitler destroyed that option. The problems of being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism even in the country they loved were met with a kind of stoic discretion. But they showed solidarity when it mattered most. As the shadows of war lengthened again, the Schlesingers mounted a remarkable effort, which Ian Buruma describes movingly, to rescue twelve Jewish children from the Nazis and see to their upkeep in England. 
 
Many are the books that do bad marriages justice; precious few books take readers inside a good marriage. In Their Promised Land, Buruma has done just that; introducing us to a couple whose love was sustaining through the darkest hours of the century. 

 

City of Widows by Haifa Zangana

In City of Widows, Haifa Zangana tells the story of her country, from the early twentieth century through the US-UK invasion and the current occupation.

She brings to light a sense of Iraq as a society mainly of secularists who have been denied, through years of sanctions, war, and occupation, a system within which to build the country according to their own values. She points to the long history of political activism and social participation of Iraqi women, and the fact that, before the recent invasion, they had been among the most liberated of their gender in the Middle East.

Finally, she writes about Baghdad today as a city populated by bereaved women and children who have lost their loved ones and their land, but who are still emboldened by the native right to resist and liberate themselves to create an independent Iraq.

 

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