Biography & Memoir

Black and white photo of the Bunker Soratte

In the Bunker

Thomas Jones

2 July 2020

Elaborate and secret bunkers tend to be linked in the popular imagination (and perhaps in reality too) with evil megalomaniacs: every other Bond villain is to be found lurking in an underground lair – under the influence, perhaps, of the Führerbunker in Berlin.

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In Mali

Rahmane Idrissa

2 July 2020

As it​ usually is in September, Dakar was sweltering and sticky. I’d come to examine back issues of the Bulletin de l’Institut fondamental français d’Afrique noire in the . . .

Mrs Escobar

Jessica Loudis

18 June 2020

Victoria Eugenia Henao​ was 12 years old when she first saw Pablo Escobar. It was 1972 and they were both living in Envigado, a working-class town half an hour south of Medellín in Colombia . . .

How to Draw an Albatross

Gaby Wood

18 June 2020

Before my appointment​ with the albatross, I’d planned to draw it differently. We first met through glass: the skeleton was in a cabinet in the museum, displayed on a high shelf. If you looked . . .

In Beijing

Long Ling

4 June 2020

One​ morning in mid-March, somebody knocked on my door. Since the apartment community where I live had been closed to the outside world for two months, this was unusual. Through the spyhole I saw . . .

Always the Same Dream: Princess Margaret

Ferdinand Mount, 4 January 2018

Only the hardest heart would repress a twitch of sympathy. To live on the receiving end of so much gush and so much abuse, to be simultaneously spoilt rotten and hopelessly infantilised, how well would any of us stand up to it?

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On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

A panic suddenly overtakes me, and I wonder: how did I get here? And then the moment passes, and ordinary life closes itself around what had seemed, for a moment, a desperate lack.

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Remembering Susan Sontag

Terry Castle, 17 March 2005

Afew weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of Susan Sontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed...

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A Memoir

David Sylvester, 5 July 2001

Icannot recall the crucial incident itself, can only remember how I cringed when my parents told me about it, proudly, some years later, when I was about nine or ten. We had gone to a tea-shop on...

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A Feeling for Ice

Jenny Diski, 2 January 1997

I am not entirely content with the degree of whiteness in my life. My bedroom is white; white walls, icy mirrors, white sheets and pillowcases, white slatted blinds. It’s the best I could do.

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The Old Devil and his wife

Lorna Sage, 7 October 1993

Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his.

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Too Close to the Bone

Allon White, 4 May 1989

Faust, despairing of all philosophies, may yet drain a marsh or rescue some acres from the sea.

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett, 23 May 1985

On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant.

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Over the decades the princess and her lady in waiting became an effective double act. They made a striking couple: at nearly six foot tall, Anne Glenconner towered over Margaret’s 5'1''. Margaret...

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At Home

Jane Miller, 4 June 2020

It’s​ april, and beyond our back wall a line of ambulances is queuing up to deliver sick passengers to the hospital. We are self-isolated, safe in our fortress, as we wait on our order...

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Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana, 4 June 2020

In late March, Yonas heard that another rescue boat, the Alan Kurdi, was on its way to Libyan waters. But he didn’t manage to get on board. On 7 April, the boat, crammed with 150 migrants, headed...

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Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice, 4 June 2020

The feeling of being unsafe is more acute in a world where everyone is beginning to feel unsafe. To be seriously ill in ordinary circumstances is to measure one’s distance from health. To be seriously...

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Diary: In Guy Vaes’s Footsteps

Iain Sinclair, 21 May 2020

The poet’s London was a literary mausoleum edited from quotations. And then, in growing excitement, a place actually experienced from a number 14 bus, before he struck out in whichever direction...

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The Bournemouth Set

Andrew O’Hagan, 21 May 2020

‘Remember the pallid brute that lived in Skerryvore like a weevil in a biscuit,’ Stevenson wrote. Yet his three years there, the only period he spent in England, were the best years of his...

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Lizzie, Cal and Caroline

Colm Tóibín, 7 May 2020

‘The matter of your work is yours entirely and I don’t think you have it in your power to “hurt” me,’ Elizabeth Hardwick told Robert Lowell. ‘I mean that I cannot see...

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Diary: The 1956 Polio Epidemic

Patrick Cockburn, 7 May 2020

The poliovirus was worse for the very young; for the coronavirus it’s the old who are hardest hit. In both cases respiratory aids – the ‘iron lung’ and the ventilator – have...

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Diary: Where water used to be

Rosa Lyster, 2 April 2020

I’d always thought people were being metaphorical when they said that Mexico City was sinking, or at least that the evidence of it would be invisible to anyone other than a hydrologist or an engineer....

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Caroline Gordon v. Flannery O’Connor

Rupert Thomson, 2 April 2020

Towards the end of the correspondence a self-consciousness creeps in. Responding to ‘Parker’s Back’, one of O’Connor’s last stories, Gordon’s self-deprecation borders...

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Diary: ‘Mummy est morte’

Christopher de Bellaigue, 19 March 2020

‘Christopher?’ my father said. ‘I’ve got bad news.’ He said this in French, the language he used when talking to me. I knew exactly what he would say, he would say Bill Ladd’s...

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The Stud File

Kevin Brazil, 20 February 2020

By​ the time Samuel Steward began to write his autobiography in 1978, at the age of 69, he’d had sex more than four thousand times with more than eight hundred men. Each encounter was...

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Diary: The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner, 20 February 2020

So I’d been reading Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, and was telling her about the diagram that shows how taste in interior decoration correlates with social class. ‘Not for me!’...

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Richard Holbrooke

Samuel Moyn, 6 February 2020

He was an exceptional shit of a human being, even aside from the defects born of extreme ambition. None of his cult followers has ever squarely denied it, and his enemies never fail to mention it.

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Diary: In Monrovia

Adewale Maja-Pearce, 6 February 2020

Corruption and hypocrisy tend to be systemic: if you see them at the top you’re sure to encounter them at the bottom. Liberia has been rebuilt with impressive speed; the road networks are now even...

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Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 6 February 2020

Perhaps Soviet dissent was always less remarkable as an actual political movement in the domestic context than for the magnified reflection it gained in international media.

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Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade, 23 January 2020

Ray Strachey​ is remembered, if at all, for The Cause, her history of the women’s movement, published in 1928. But reading that book – which is dedicated to Strachey’s friend...

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What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud, 23 January 2020

Bin Laden’s wives and daughters were excluded from leadership on grounds of their gender, but their brothers were unsuitable for other reasons. Siham’s son, Khalid, doesn’t seem to have...

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