Tuesday, March 13, 2007

In their hearts a burning hunger, beneath the copper sun.

Johnny Clegg & Savuka


With his latest novel Restless William Boyd has joined the ranks of literary thriller writers such as Alan Furst, Graham Green and John le Carré. Selected by my book club as the March reading, I raced through it, relishing every page.

The story is a double helix with the past life of 65 year old Eva Delectorskaya – who is now known as Sally Gilmartin, twisting round the present day life of her twenty-something daughter Ruth.
At the start of the long hot summer of 1976, Ruth is living in Oxford with her six year old son
and working as a TEFL teacher whilst ostensibly writing her post-graduate thesis. One day her mother presents Ruth with a sheaf of papers which are the details of her early life. To Ruth’s bewilderment her mother is not the person she has always presented herself as being. She was born in Russia, grew up in France and in the late 1930s following the death of a dearly loved brother, she was recruited into an obscure branch of the British Secret Service. Following intensive training into the craft and techniques of espionage, Eva is eventually sent in 1940 to join a small team in New York, who are working covertly to encourage America to join the war. Suffice to say, and without revealing the twists and turns of the plot, Eva eventually returns to Britain, marries and spends the rest of the war in Ireland. After the war she and her husband set up home in England where Ruth is born. Now Eva/Sally feels someone is after her again, and she wants Ruth to assist her in tracking down the one person she believes had betrayed her all those years ago so that she can be safe once more.

Ruth teaches foreign students, many from Iran who oppose the Shah’s regime, and who are possibly members of the Iranian Secret Service or its potential targets. To make her life as a single parent even more complicated, a young German to whom she is tangentially related has foisted himself on her and brought with him a scruffy young woman. The police are interested in this young woman and there are hints that the couple are connected to the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang.
As her mother slowly unfolds the story of her past, Ruth is forced to consider the worlds of truth and untruth, suspicion and trust, and how difficult it is to determine what is real and what we are made to believe is real. She comes to realise that her mother has spent her whole adulthood being wary, expecting to be unmasked and even when, after Ruth has helped her to achieve her mission, Eva/Sally will continue being restless and on her guard until her death

Members of my book club have frequently discussed how, when an author writes a first person narrative, where the narrator is not the same sex as the author there is often an artificiality about the book, and the narrator’s viewpoint never quite rings true. However, in Restless I think Boyd has managed the cross-gender voice very well indeed, and has managed to find female perspectives that seem totally natural. He has built the plot up with tiny details piled one on another -and they seem impressively accurate so the reader feels that it must be a “true” story - rather than using a broad brush approach, and I think that is what makes it a literary thriller rather than one of the more common mass-market thrillers that are read today and
discarded tomorrow.

Rated 4 *


When I hear or read news from Zimbabwe I want to scream, yell, do serious harm to Robert Mugabe, and weep, weep, weep.

I spent my formative years in central Africa, and visited or passed through Zimbabwe many, many times. I find it so hard to accept that a fantastic country, with great people, has been systematically destroyed by the crazed, greedy behaviour of this vile man and his henchmen.
This is a country twice the size of Britain, which was once referred to as the breadbasket of
sub-Saharan Africa; it lead most other African nations with its productivity and economy. All gone, all destroyed. Famine now stalks the land, infant mortality has doubled in the past five years, and the average life expectancy of a woman is 34. Today, inflation is running at 2000%.

It joins a list of African nations which have been raped by their own governments since post colonial independence. It didn’t have to be this way.

And today, when the leaders of the official opposition, in what purports to be a democratic country, appear in court having been beaten within an inch of their lives by the police/army following ZANU orders, does our Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett make any fuss, contact the UN Security Council or stop British aid to the country? Does she hell.


This past week the weather has been so sunny and on Sunday we were able to have lunch outside - in early March! I think this is a record for us. Anyway, as Spring is very definately here, and therefore Summer is just around the corner, I have made a huge bowl of a middle eastern salad I absolutely love - to the point of addiction at times. I no longer even bother to measure the ingredients, just sling them together following the recipe loosely. The finished salad should be very green with the tomato and burgul playing second fiddle to the herbs. It is great with grilled lamb or with braaied meats, it also makes a super lunch sandwich in pitta bread with a dollop of Hummus. Hard to believe that something so delicious can be so good for you!


125g burgul (bulgar/cracked wheat)
2 bunches spring onions, washed and chopped
250g tomatoes, skinned, chopped and drained
4 heaped Tablespoons chopped parsley
4 heaped Tablespoons chopped mint
4 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt + Freshly ground black pepper

Put the burgul into a bowl and pour in enough fresh cold water to cover. Leave for ½ hour to soak. Drain, then squeeze dry between your hands.
Put the prepared burgul into a bowl, and add the finely chopped spring onions, mint, tomatoes and parsley. Stir well to mix then stir in the oil, lemon juice and season to taste.

Leave for an hour before serving.

Keeps well in fridge for 2-3 days. Rich in vitamin C.


charlotte said...

Thanks for a great post. I loved Restless too. Boyd is such a superb storyteller - everything he turns his hand too seems to be a success. He managed to inhabit a female voice (two, really) so authentically.

Zimbabwe breaks my heart. I find it almost to hard to read the news about Zim now because it hurts so badly. We had our honeymoon there in 1994, and loved it so much that we thought we could live there. Clearly not, now. It saddens me too that the SA govt, because of an debt of gratitude, sits by and watches it being destroyed.

Tabbouleh is my best summer salad! I love making it and eating it ...

LiVEwiRe said...

I love this dish and have just been too lazy to find a recipe... thank you!!! Years ago I used to make falafel as well and home made hummus. Maybe someday again. For now I'll start with the tabouleh!

Richard Byrne said...

Found your mention of my book on London's prisons - 3.5 was a bit high, but it was my first book. I was looking around because I had been trying to work out whether to try to update it: Belmarsh, the brief revival of the prison hulk, and all that dismal stuff. I wrote that book when I was managing a probation team in Wandsworth. As an allocation prison for long-termers, everybody was aware, day by day, when the system was getting close to bursting, with a total population of around 48,000, and every single person who worked there - uniformed or mufti - had a mantra of "Most of these people don't belong in here". Now 80,000.

I suppose that's the rant.

For a read - Bad Faith by Carmen Callil. One thing Britain never has had to face was the set of daily moral dilemmas that went with occupation, which has left us smug.
This can be read as the tale of one particularly foul man, but every time I put it down to give my outrage a rest I could think of many I have met who would have been just as opportunist and despicable, given the chance. Just to link it to the mention of prisons, I would have been much less worried about officers in uniform than about those who regarded every fresh memo from the Home Office as Holy Writ.

As to recipes, I suggest The Great Lost Recipes of All Time. I have copied down your lamb marinade, but what I really want to know is what George did to lamb at Anemos, in its first incarnation as the only kebab house in town, a little place stuck behind Schmidt's. I can still smell it, I can still taste it, but I am damned if I can recreate it. Night after night toiling in the lab with Igor ...

We are no nearer to the peanut sauce served up in that early Thai caff in St Christopher's Place, near Selfridges, nor the proper peppers for the pickles once kept in big glass sweetie jars behind the counter defended by a wonderful crone in a place just north of Camden Town. Once tasted, never forgotten, and all she could tell me was "I just ... make them, you know ..." I felt like crying "Yes, but you are Greek, and 273 years old, and therefore you know things that I do not ... have pity ..."

I am all for Indiana Jones And The Right Amount of Turmeric - that's the sort of quest I could get into.