The Damascened Blade by Barbara Cleverly: I read this one by accident. I had two hours between appointments, and decided to buy an inexpensive paperback to read over a sandwich and a cup of coffee. For no good reason, this is the book I picked. And I finished it.
I finished it because the setting is intriguing, and that is probably the reason I chose it. 1920, British India, its northwest provinces, now a wild part of Pakistan where many of the world’s problems seem centered. And not much as changed.
The story itself is not quite as exotic as the setting: a British frontier outpost, and a number of “guests” who happen to be there at the same time. Two young native Afridis, a wealthy young woman from Chicago looking for adventure, an older British official sent to determine whether it is worth while holding on to these isolated outposts, a Scotland Yard detective, the pregnant wife of the local commander, a female doctor who spans all cultures, and a few others. One of the Afridis dies, or is murdered. Revenge is the name of the game. Two of the guests are kidnapped; they must be resecued, to be sure. But beyond that, a message is left telling those remaining at the fort that they have one week to find the “murderer”, or a hostage will be killed.
Well written, a somewhat obvious plot, an exotic setting. Published about five years ago, written by a British author, winner of the 2004 Dagger Award for best historical crime novel.
Journey to the Trenches: the Life of Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918 by Joseph Cohen: Isaac Rosenberg, a British soldier, died in combat in France during World War I at the age of 28. A native of London, child of impoverished immigrant parents, he was a talented artist and poet. He is now known as one of the British World War I poets, along with Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and others, although his fame was somewhat slow in arriving, and he is commemorated at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Joseph Cohen, an expert in World War I poetry, taught at Sophie Newcomb College. He published this book in 1975; I assume it was the first biography of Rosenberg. Cohen goes through Rosenberg’s youth and education, his social awkwardness, his creativity and depression, his seeming death-wish in joining the military, his writing and his painting, continuing until the end. An interesting, and very sad, story, I thought.
3. Forever is a Hell of a Long Time by Teddy Stauffer. Written in 1976, this is another odd, and very interesting, book. Stauffer was born in Switzerland, became a musician and the leader of a jazz and dance band called The Teddies, which played and recorded in Europe during the early 1930s, become quite well known. For a while, the band was quartered in Berlin, where he witnessed the coming of the Nazis. After the Nazi noose tightened around Germany, Stauffer found himself back home in Switzerland, but was giving the possibility of coming to the United States (where he had earlier performed with his band), if he could get through France, Spain and Portugal. This accomplished, he entered the US on a tourist visa, and then started the paperwork to turn it into an immigration visa. In order to finalize his status as an immigrant, he needed to leave the country and return. He was living in Los Angeles, and it seemed like a quick trip to Tijuana would do the trick; he would cross back into California in a matter of hours.
But the Americans, at war with Germany, didn’t trust the German speaking Stauffer with Swiss a passport decorated with swastikas from his many entries into Germany, and refused his re-entry. So, he stayed in Mexico, and became a famous hotel and club owner in Acapulco, marrying five women, including Hedy Lamar.
It’s a unique story. An international musician, traveling throughout Europe in the 1930s, losing his Jewish girlfriend (and the love of his life) to early Nazi violence. A seasoned musician, arriving in the United States, already knowing, and known to, most of the country’s music and performance elite. A lonely man, stranded in Tijuana, without friends, or money, or a homeland, or an ability to get into Mexico proper (Baja California then was considered a ‘territory’ of Mexico, not a state) or to get back into the United States. Homeless in Mexico City, and then a performing musician again, and then a hotelier in Acapulco (finally, once the war was over) able to travel to the US again and renew old friendships.
Worth reading, all three. All for very different reasons.