I am still normal

Four years ago, I saw a great deal of Tony Blair. At that time, I was a political columnist for a British newspaper, and he was the Leader of the Opposition. As a result I saw him in public, in private, in the House of Commons, in newspaper offices; I saw him shaking hands, kissing …

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The Best of Companions

There are countries where it is easy to be a tourist, and countries where enjoying oneself takes a bit of extra effort. Despite my long association with Poland, I must concede that it falls into the latter camp, although not for wholly obvious reasons. It isn’t simply that the communist-era hotels are not up to …

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French lessons post-Stalin

If the task of a good novel is to describe a particular time and a particular place in such a way that they seem real to people who never knew that time and that place, then here is a very good novel indeed.

Serendipity Rules OK

It isn’t history, it isn’t fiction, and it isn’t scholarship, although it contains elements of all three: in fact, one might say that The Oxford Companion to English Literature belongs in a genre all of its own. That being the case, one might also say that reviews of Companions to English Literature belong to a …

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Die vergessenen Millionen

Vor achtzig Jahren errichtete die Sowjetunion in Solowetzky den ersten Gulag. Millionen Menschen wurden in Lager deportiert, wo sie elend starben. Fast jede russische Familie ist betroffen. Dennoch will heute in Russland niemand etwas davon wissen.

The battle for the Holocaust legacy

In the travelling over the past fifteen years or so, I reckon I have visited several dozen memorials to Hitler’s destruction of the Jews. I have been to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem; to the Polish museums and memorials commemorating Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the Warsaw ghetto; to uncounted monuments and plaques, wrecked synagogues …

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Spurning Bush

As I write this, thousands of ardent young people are boarding trains and buses, heading towards Spain, towards Sweden, towards just about every place that President George W. Bush might possibly appear in public on his first state visit to Europe.

Inside the Gulag

To some Russians, the memory of a first encounter with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is as much a physical memory–the blurry, mimeographed text, the dog-eared paper, the dim glow of the lamp switched on late at night–as it is one of reading the revelatory text itself.

Secret agent man

Over the past few days and weeks, much has been made of the “mystery” of Vladimir Putin, the man who now runs Russia. Yet in some ways, we know far more about him than we ever knew about the very private Boris Yeltsin.

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