East West Street, by Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
I have to confess that my own book club voted against this, but that is their loss. I got to read it anyway and it was a brilliant read. It is a Holocaust book but also a great deal more than that. Philippe Sands’ Jewish grandparents were from Lemberg in Poland (now Lviv in Ukraine) and were murdered during the Nazi occupation. Sands himself is a British-based international lawyer, who became fascinated by two former Lemberg lawyers, Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, who were responsible for introducing the legal concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” to the Nuremberg Trial. The other main character in this sweeping book is Hans Frank, the governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland and an enthusiastic servant of Hitler’s. He was one of the defendants at Nuremberg.
Bare Ground, by Peter Harris (Picador Africa)
Peter Harris’s books of non-fiction read like fiction, and Bare Ground, his first novel, reads like fact. His first book, In a Different Time, was about the trial of the Delmas Four, and was quite literally a page-turner. Bare Ground is set in Joburg, and deals with the people in and around a mining company which is setting up a BEE consortium. The deal has to have government approval, but people in the presidency are distinctly dodgy. As is the president, who is backed by a wealthy Indian family. Sound familiar? At the launch in the Book Lounge a couple of weeks ago Harris said he occasionally wondered, while writing it, whether he was stretching the truth, but then the articles in current newspapers assured him he wasn’t.
The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton (Penguin)
Shakespeare said: “The course of true love never did run smooth”, and it certainly doesn’t in this novel. Rabih and Kirsten are Londoners who fall in love, marry and have children. They believe their love will carry them through, like a buoyant tide, bur they discover you don’t stay afloat if you don’t keep paddling. The trajectory of the story is supplemented with passages of commentary on how well – or not – Rabih and Kirsten are doing, and the mistakes or otherwise they are making. It’s tender, perceptive and often instructive. The Daily Mail said The Course of Love should be “compulsory reading for anyone contemplating tying the knot”, while the Evening Standard said: “It may even save some marriages.”
A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré (Penguin)
George Smiley must be over a hundred, Peter Guillam well into his 80s and Jim Prideaux about a thousand years old. Jim was always old. These three old secret service hands come together in John le Carré’s latest novel, A Legacy of Spies, where he returns to his old haunt, the Cold War. Or rather, the detritus of that part of his life and genre which produced his best works. (Archie Henderson)