Conjugal relations in Camelot

  • Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House
    by Sally Beddell Smith, Ballantine Books, 2006, 686pp.

A week after her husband’s assassination in November, 1963, Jackie Kennedy gave an interview to the writer Theodore White. Passionately declaring that she didn’t want John F. Kennedy immortalised by “bitter” journalists who didn’t appreciate him, she told White that she had come up with her own metaphor for his presidency. She had chosen it, she said, from a line in a Broadway show song that her husband had loved: “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, from one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Continue reading “Conjugal relations in Camelot”

The spy who danced through catastrophe

  • The Mystery of Olga Chekhova: Was Hitler's Favorite Actress a Russian Spy?
    by Antony Beevor, Viking, 2004, 300pp.

At the beginning of May, in 1919, a group of travelling performers from the Moscow Art Theatre set out on a tour of the provinces. The group’s director was the legendary Konstantin Stanislavsky; among its performers was the equally legendary actress wife of the late Anton Chekhov. Unfortunately, the tour was not a success. Although the group was billeted in an abandoned hotel in Kharkov which “still retained an air of pre-revolutionary elegance”, the city’s ambience was somewhat lacking. “Nobody had told them that the civil war had erupted again,” writes Antony Beevor in his description of this ill-fated trip. Within days, the troupe found itself cut off from Moscow, on the wrong side – the White side – of the front line in the bloody Russian civil war. Continue reading “The spy who danced through catastrophe”

Poets Under Surveillance

  • Moscow Memoirs
    by Emma Gerstein (translated by John Crowfoot),
    Harvill, 2004, 482pp.

Without a doubt, Moscow Memoirs is an extraordinary book, one of those literary memoirs that comes along once a decade. Emma Gerstein, in her nineties when she published it, has shed completely new light on some of the most important poets and writers of the 20th century, providing previously unknown biographical details, some of which will lead to new interpretations of their work. Continue reading “Poets Under Surveillance”