Friday, 25 September 2009

The limitations of peace

Reading Our Longest Days: a people's history of World War II, by Sandra Koa Wing (2008) which is escapist in comparison with the other stuff, but full of the detail necessary for the writing about every day life in Britain during WWII. It does not grip me enough. It is based on the diaries kept by British people during the war, within a scheme called Mass Observation, which sounds Orwellian, but is only mildly so. The ruthlessness is in the writers' note-taking of what they witness, which is what any writer does.

I've reached the proof stage for the newsletter without needing the intense labour that has been associated with it in the past. Less than 30 hours for this issue, reasonably good. Not sure if it is because I now understand some of the software's formatting shortcuts, less time spent fiddling, or for some other reason.

This week was the memorial service for an old friend. I was asked by the family if I would speak. They said afterwards that I "stole the show". I'm not sure they were entirely happy about that.

I put in a brief plug for the Holocaust Centre, and in support of refugees, anywhere, any time. This is a safe country: its people have no idea what it can be like elsewhere.

Why does one feel superior? "They have no idea!" - dismissiveness. Isn't it a situation we want for our children and our loved ones - that they may lead lives of peace.

Old soldiers often remember war as the time of their lives. Do most of us need to experience ourselves on the brink of death in order to truly live? Happiness is not what we want, but to live on the cusp, in support of an ideal...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The task

I understand what I am doing, why I am doing it: the key to understanding the character who is the grandfather - whom I do not enough insight into - lies in the books about that period. I shall have to decide what he thinks about the situations and can only do that if I have a better understanding of the period.

Am taking notes regularly and processing them daily. Avoid looking at the time spent at this, though I compare: J has finished his latest novel - within a year, and the publisher is delighted with it. He keeps at his writing daily, rising early early - 5: 30 am.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Up and down

Reading the book about Leo Baeck when I feel brave, and the book about Churchill and Hitler for peace - politics are less threatening. Both books are riveting.

For light relief, went to see Up, the movie by Disney productions. The early review said it was beautiful. It is beautiful the way any plastic item that has not yet been used is beautiful - shiny, gleaming, and doomed to disappoint. Seeing in three dimensions is a gimmick and the rest is the usual syrupy-sweet sticky nonsense. The start was magic: a beautiful snow flake floated in the air apparently above the heads of the audience. From thereon, the film went downhill: technically flawless and boring. I'll admit: I am no longer six years old.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Red tape and passivity

Serendipity: a book about to be thrown out from the TS library is a novel about the Evian Conference in 1938 (convened by US President Roosevelt to help desperate German Jews find refuge).

Entitled The Mission (1966, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd) by Hans Habe, it is excellently translated from German by Michael Bullock. The main protagonist is an elderly and respected Jewish nephrologist sent by the Gestapo - unlikely but true - to plead on behalf of his people. The story is full of believable complexity. Jewish organisations were there en masse to plead, and nothing was accomplished.

Habe, who attended the Conference as a League of Nations correspondent for the Prager Tagblatt, says in the final Commentary that he knew the man on whom the novel is based:

"For more than twenty-five years, I have been carrying my knowledge of the Conference at Evian-les-Bains and the "Benda Mission" about with me like a burden and a duty...

Habe delineates the real from the invented. The final section contains the names of all the participants, a form of bearing witness to evil committed through red tape,passivity and a lack of imagination.

A NZ delegate was there: NZ was perceived as a country which might take in refugees.
The NZ public service was riddled with anti-Semitism, so nothing came of it. Nothing in the scale of what was needed.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Real Work

The first Wednesday of a new start: work on my own book. Kind advice from J: 'Say No'. He means, to people wanting my input on other projects. (He and Helen are off to Germany today- till next July. Nine and a half months)

Too late already, a small commitment was made - enough to stop me from falling outside the circle of friendship.

The newsletter (out on time with an error in the date on the cover) took 40 hours to produce, too long. The previous editor said she spent 20 h per issue: ask others to edit the too-long articles, she said. I shall spread the work over two weeks after all, doing it in the afternoons - not every afternoon - keeping the morning for Real Work.

After reading a NY Review of Books article which mentioned John Lukacs, started on The Duel, Hitler vs Churchill, 10 May-31 July 1940 (1990, The Bodley Head, London). Not the book reviewed, unfortunately, as it's not yet available here.

Lukacs is a thoughtful expert; he writes well, a pleasure. Reading it now is self-indulgence: the material suits the second part of the book, set in that time in England, though there are some direct benefits. For instance, he says: "In 1940, London was the largest city in the world." Something the children in my story will know and wonder about, coming from a provincial German city.

Goal: list the material to read from the overseas archives, plus the material available online. Program the reading and translating, a little every day, not thinking about the end.

I am fearful of re-reading my MS, worried it may trigger a frenzy of fiddling, rather than the broad reshaping it needs.