Archive for the ‘About the book’ Category
Damian Barr explains why Jake Wallis Simons won
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“Jake Wallis Simons – novelist, journalist and broadcaster – saw his latest novel sell out within 4 days of its publication this month, prompting an urgent reprint. He joins us to talk about that, the iPhone’s predictive text functionality and the many uses for a Swiss Army Knife.
What made you realise you were a writer?
About two years ago, everything seemed to be going badly. A chain of unfortunate events meant that I lost my agent, and the novel that I had been working on for years seemed to be falling apart. To add to the pressure, I had an 18-month-old baby and my wife found out she was pregnant with twins. At that point I considered my options, and realised that I was unqualified, both in terms of my experience and my disposition, to be anything other than a writer.
So I gritted my teeth, steeled myself, and slowly but surely waded out of the mire. Two years on, my luck seems to be changing. But it was only when I was forced to consider another vocation that I realised that I was cursed – or blessed – to be a writer, no matter what.”
“I was absolutely mesmerised by the first half of the book as life for the Jews in Berlin steadily deteriorated. The writing is measured, almost unemotional, and all the more chilling for that. The level of detail is stunning but it’s demonstrated rather than delivered as exposition. I’ve read quite a bit about the nineteen-thirties in Berlin – but this was the first time that I really felt as though I was there. It’s not the major events which tell so much but the smaller points, like Jews not being allowed to ride bicycles, the ever present fear of ‘relocation’ or not knowing who could be trusted.
“It’s in the second half of the book that Rosa arrives in England and I thought that life would then become relatively easy for her, but it wasn’t to be. There are different influences at work: the more traditional approach to the Jewish religion of the relatives with whom she lived, the difficulties of knowing relatively little of the English language and the pain of separation from her family. There’s a big story here too with twists which I really wasn’t expecting.
“The characters stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. Their circumstances haunt your mind. It’s a book to buy and to savour and definitely one which you’ll return to in the future. Meticulously researched, beautifully written, atmospheric and lots of tension.”
This novel took six or seven years to complete. For at least three of those years, in the back of my head I had a piece of music by the French composer Maurice Ravel. Written in 1914, it is part of a two-song set called “Deux mélodies hébraïques;” the first of these, “Kaddish,” seems to capture perfectly the mood of the novel. Here is is played beautifully and movingly by the wonderful British cellist Steven Isserlis. –JWS
“Rosa must carry her suitcase herself. She heaves it up, walks through the doorway, looks back one final time: Papa and Mama are standing arm in arm, they are waving, but their masks have fallen away, they look hopeless, and that is the worst thing of all; Rosa turns her back and they are gone.”
The Klein family is slowly but surely losing everything they hold dear – or ever took for granted – as Hitler’s anti-Jewish laws take hold in 1930s Berlin. In desperation, fifteen-year-old Rosa is put on a Kindertransport train out of Germany, to begin a new life in England. In a foreign country, barely able to make herself understood, she struggles to find a way to rescue her parents. Overtaken by the war, however, they gradually lose touch. Now Rosa must face the prospect of not only being unable to fulfil her vow to save her family but also of an unknown future, quite alone.
One of Britain’s most compelling and original new voices, Jake Wallis Simons blends meticulous research with powerful storytelling in an epic journey from heartbreak to hope. Buy the book
31 January, 1933
The grand city of Berlin lies milky in the morning light. Amid the avenues and alleyways, tram stops and department stores, a little girl by the name of Rosa Klein hurries through the freezing air to buy some rolls for breakfast. Along the broad pavements she runs, her footsteps resounding on the flat-faced buildings. She turns onto the Wilhelmstraße, giving a wide berth to a man crumpled drunkenly in a doorway, a trail of vapour from her mouth lingering in the air beneath a canopy of tram cables… Read more