Beware hubris – or how Thomas Cromwell was brought down

Review (part 2): Vivien Horler

The Mirror & the Light, by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate/ Jonathan Ball)

Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) in the miniseries based on the first two volumes in the Wolf Hall trilogy.

There is something bizarrely prosaic about the Wikipedia entry for Thomas Cromwell.

“Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, PC was an English lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540, when he was beheaded on orders of the king. Born: 1485, Putney, London. Died July 28, 1540, London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Cause of death: Decapitation.

Tower Hamlets? Well, it was certainly the Tower. Decapitation? That would do it.

And he wasn’t the actual first Earl of Essex – that honour went to Geoffrey de Mandeville, who died in 1144. His line went extinct, and in 1199 the title was recreated, with Geoffrey Fitzpeter becoming the 1st Earl of Essex. He died in 1213.

More than 200 years later one Henry Bourchier became 1st Earl of Essex, dying in 1483 and leaving the title of 2nd Earl of his son, also Henry, who died in 1540. He had no heir, and so Henry VIII recreated the title of 1st Earl for his trusted minister Thomas Cromwell, who kept it for just three months or so before he was beheaded.

There is still an earl of Essex, the 11th,  Paul de Vere Capell, born in 1944 . If I have read the family tree right – and I may not – he appears to have a cousin called Kevin.

At least Capell, a retired schoolmaster, and Kevin, are likely to keep their heads. There was no such certainty in Cromwell’s time, and he certainly helped made it possible for Henry VIII to execute many enemies and perceived heretics, as well as, famously, his second wife Anne Boleyn. Henry also had his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, beheaded, but that was nearly 18 months after Cromwell’s death and presumably cannot be laid at his door. Continue reading

The book to see you through the lockdown – the last in the Cromwell trilogy

Review: Vivien Horler

The Mirror & the Light, by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate/ Jonathan Ball)

If there’s ever a book to see you through a 21-day lockdown, I reckon it’s this: Hilary Mantel’s long-awaited final volume of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

The first two were long; Wolf Hall running to 650 pages and Bring up the Bodies to just over 400. The Mirror & the Light is a door stopper of almost 900 pages (and beautifully bound, my trade paperback copy has stood up to more than 10 days of being dragged from couch to bed to garden chair.

Now I’m going to do something I’m not sure I’ve done before: review a book I haven’t finished. But I haven’t read anything else in the past fortnight and it’s time to write my weekly review.

Mantel won the Man Booker Prize for both the two previous volumes, making her one of only three authors to win it twice (the others were South Africa’s JM Coetzee and the Australian Peter Carey). Will Mantel make it a hat-trick? Continue reading

Vibrant, delectable Lebanese food

Review: Myrna Robins

Saffron in the Souks, by John Gregory-Smith (Kyle Books)

Such an English name penning a cookbook on Lebanese cuisine was my initial reaction; then I found out that Gregory-Smith is a best-selling food and travel writer who specialises in Middle Eastern fare.

He  has published four books of recipes highlighting both this and North African cuisine, among them the sweetly named Orange Blossom & Honey.

Vibrant is the thought that comes to mind when contemplating the delectable, colourful food of  Lebanon, with its generous use of herbs and spices. Although I have never visited this small country, I have relished several of its classics, thanks to Lebanese chefs and restaurants in the Western Cape.

As the author says, mention Lebanon and images of war are likely to come to mind –  and today volatile politics and perilous finances pile additional problems onto a population that is a melting pot of cultures. Muslims, Druze, Christians, Armenians, Syrians and Palestinians have all helped shape the cuisine that started with the Phoenicians in the third millennium BC followed by the Romans in 64BC. Continue reading

The true story behind the whimsical film Goodbye Christopher Robin

Review: Vivien Horler

Goodbye Christopher Robin – AA Milne and the making of Winnie-the-Pooh, by Ann Thwaite (Pan)

One of the first books I recall owning was a red cloth-bound copy of Winnie-the-Pooh, with a map of the Hundred Acre Wood where all the stories happened, marked: “Drawn by me and Mr Shepard helped”.

I loved it. Years later, in matric, I rediscovered the book and realised for the first time how funny it was. For instance: “Next to (Piglet’s) house was a piece of broken board which had “TRESPASSERS WILL” on it. When Christopher Robin asked Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one – Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.” Continue reading

Virus leads to postponement of Jewish Literary Festival

The organisers of the Jewish Literary Festival, due to take place in Hatfield Street on Sunday, have postponed the event in the light of Covid-19.

Spokeswoman Beryl Eichenberger said they did not yet have a new date, but the festival would place at some stage. People who had bought tickets should hold on to them as they would remain valid.

“We have decided to be proactive and postpone the festival. This regrettable but responsible action is to limit transmission of COVID-19.

Our team has been working for the past 18 months and so we are  deeply disappointed at having to make this call but our responsibility is to act in the best interests of our literature-loving community.”

Conquest of Africa at 80 – in a good way

Review: Vivien Horler

My African Conquest – Cape to Cairo at 80, by Julia Albu (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

JULIA Albu likes a road trip. Her epic covered about 11 000km through 11 African countries and 9 European ones. But unlike most overlanders, Albu was 80 and her car, a bog standard Toyota Conquest, was 20.

Breathlessly she told John Maytham on Cape Talk in June 2016: “Next year I’m going to be 80 years old. My car will be 20 years old. Together we’ll be 100. We’re going to drive to Cairo.”

Surprised, he responded: “And what route are you going to take?”

“I have no idea. I think I’ll keep to the right.”

And that’s what this indomitable woman did: head north from Jakkalsfontein on the West Coast to Cairo and Alexandria, via Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. Continue reading

Dynamic programme for third Jewish Literary Festival

TERRY Kurgan, whose moving book Everyone is Present, was reviewed on this website last week, is one of the speakers at the third Jewish Literacy Festival in Cape Town on Sunday March 15.

Kurgan’s book, about her family’s flight from Poland one day ahead of the Nazis, is based on her grandfather’s diary of their long and often desperate journey and a slim photo album with pictures of what was a happy middle-class life until they turned into refugees literally overnight.

Other top writers taking part include Joanne Fedler, Diane Awerbuck, Jonny Steinberg and Joanne Jowell Harding.

Beryl Eichenberg writes: “Perhaps listening to Judge Dennis Davis debate with Pierre de Vos interests you or maybe getting a sneak preview into the new novels of Gail Schimmel, Hedi Lampert and Lynn Joffe?

“If you love the heady 60s and Leonard Cohen, there’s a session for you or, if sport is your bag, then cricket legend Ali Bacher in conversation with David Williams will tick your box.

“Then again murder and mayhem may be your choice, so Nechama Brodie, Tanya Farber and Annika Larsen will be on your list.

“You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this gathering, just have a love of reading and conversation.”

Books will be on sale at the festival through The Book Lounge.

The festival also boasts a young adult programme in partnership with Herzlia Middle and High schools. Children from four to 11 can enjoy a full day programme which includes stories, puppets, music and book writing.

The festival takes place on March 15 from 9am to 5pm at the Gardens Community Centre in Cape Town in Hatfield Street, home to the Jacob Gitlin Library, SA Jewish Museum and Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre who partner the event.

Visit to view the programme of over 40 sessions and be spoilt for choice.

Tickets are R380 for adults, R115 for teens and R100 for under-12s.

Booking: or through Quicket or
the Gitlin Library 021 462 5088


Page-turning story of the Kindertransport

Review: Vivien Horler
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton (Harper)
Everyone is Present, by Terry Kurgan (Fourthwall Books)
When you’re 15 and the scion of a wealthy and influential family, national and international politics are, usually, peripheral to your life. There are more important things, like friends and school and, for Stephan Neuman of Vienna, the burning desire to be a playwright.
But it’s 1936, Stephan is Jewish, and life is about to change in every possible way. March 1938 brings the Anschluss, and Hitler marches into Vienna.
Hitler’s lieutenant in Vienna is the icy Adolf Eichmann, who has been tasked with solving the “Jewish” problem in Austria. His idea is to provoke the Jews to leave the country by undermining their economic footing.
In the eight months between the Anschluss and Kristallnacht, when Jewish homes and business across the Reich are vandalised, many people are killed and 30 000 Jews, mainly men, aree arrested, life in Vienna alters unrecognisably. Stephan’s father is beaten and taken into custody, and Stephan, by now 17 and nearly a man, goes into hiding. He also keeps away from his non-Jewish friends, especially maths whizz Zofie-Helene.
Meanwhile in Britain parliament is debating the issue of allowing large numbers of Jewish children into the country. There is resistance – do they want a lot of Jews, even if they are children? Will the taxpayer be forced to pay for them? MPs are assured: it will be just for a time, until the present unpleasantness is over, and then the children can go home.
In the Netherlands a childless woman, Truus Wijsmuller, has been smuggling small numbers of children, most of them Jewish, out of the Reich to various countries in Europe including Britain. Now she feels she has to up her game.
She gets an appointment with Eichmann in Vienna and obtains permission for 600 children to go to Britain, provided she can arrange it all in a matter of days. And it must be exactly 600 children – one more or fewer and none can go. Continue reading

For women it’s a different world, thank God

Review: Vivien Horler

Mrs Everything, by Jennifer Weiner (Piatkus)

I remember as a small girl in the 1950s, being told to sit with my knees together like “a little lady”. I remember overhearing my mother once telling my dad, apologetically, that she couldn’t seem to interest me in domestic matters, like cooking.

It was such a different world from the one we’ve partly inherited, partly created today. Expectations, particularly of women, have changed so much, thank God.

Mrs Everything is a family saga about two Jewish sisters growing up in Detroit in the 1950s, and how expectations can be turned upside down. There is Jo, tomboyish and the despair of her mother, and Bethie, sweet, pretty and biddable.

The book opens with the Kaufman family moving from an apartment in the poor part of town to a nice house with a lawn in the suburbs. Proud that he has been able to buy it for his family, Jo’s dad tells his wife this is “the American dream”.

He sets up a picture of them in front of the house, but Jo ruins it. She hates girly clothes, she feels as though she’s in disguise when forced to wear lacy socks and puffed-sleeve dresses.

Jo doesn’t know how to fit in, how to be good, like Bethie. Later she realises she likes girls much more than boys, and that she really is different.

But years later life has turned out not as planned. Jo is the wife who stays home with her daughters, while Bethie has joined the counter culture, going to music festivals and enthusiastically embracing drugs and free love, all against a background of Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib.

This is a love story – occasionally a fairly raunchy one – but it is also about expectations met and unmet, about being Jewish in a largely non-Jewish society, racism, and frustration.

It is also about how sisters can blame each other for the way their lives develop, about guilt, and eventually about feeling whole and accepted in one’s own body.

And it illustrates the change in society from the 60s to now, from a time when an abortion can upend a life to the present when an unplanned pregnancy is not a disaster and the resulting baby is accepted and loved.

It’s a different world.

Tenderness and the Beast

Review: Archie Henderson

Beast, by Tendai Mtawarira with Andy Capostagno (Macmillan)

Even for those who have played rugby over the years, the front row is the place to avoid. It’s where the grunts of the game live, and terrible stories are told at beer-drinking sessions in the clubhouse about it after games. 

The front row is the front line; it’s where opponents literally knock heads. Once a scrum is set, the exponents on both sides – from the left, the loosehead prop, the hooker and the tighthead – engage in activities that the referee cannot see, not even the television match official with his probing cameras. Punches can be thrown, ears can be bitten, testicles can be kicked, thumbs can be broken. And all of it out of sight. Continue reading