In brief: The Memory Monster; The Lives of Literature; Delicacy – reviews | Books


Yishai Sarid (translated by Yardenne Greenspan)
Serpent’s Tail, £12.99, pp176

Award-winning Yishai Sarid’s slender, elegantly translated novel grapples with some mighty questions, among them the myriad ways in which the Holocaust might be seen to have shaped Israel’s culture, and the complex existential politics of memorialisation and Holocaust education. It takes the form of an extended letter written to the chair of the board of Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum, by a nameless historian who’s found himself trapped in a career as a tour guide of Holocaust sites in Poland – immersive, horror-filled work that’s quite naturally driven him to a nervous breakdown. Where the book excels is in its readiness to court controversy without surrendering nuance, and in place of moralising it offers questioning that’s as necessary as it is unsettling.

Arnold Weinstein
Princeton University Press, £25, pp352

Why do we read literature? Because it allows us to be someone else, making it, quite simply, “the finest cultural bargain ever to come your way”. Veteran American literary scholar Arnold Weinstein presents an irresistible thesis in this agile, instantly engaging work of personal literary criticism. He anchors it in his early experiences as an identical twin, and, through works by authors from Sophocles to Toni Morrison, shows us how the shapeshifting that they enable alters and expands our own sense of self. As he notes: “We enter the bookstore, see all the books arrayed there, and think: so little time; but the truth goes the other way: books do not take time, they give time.”

Katy Wix
Headline, £9.99, pp288 (paperback)

Comic actor Katy Wix’s hilarious, heartbreaking memoir is made up of 21 defining, variously devastating vignettes in which cakes – “weird, camp objects” – pop up in supporting roles. There’s the rose-covered royal icing on the cake that made her realise comedy was her calling, the bara brith she eats in hospital after a life-altering car crash, the homemade madeira cake that someone brings along to a grief therapy group. She’s a writer with an impressive range, and while the switches occasionally feel hectic, Delicacy is entertaining and affecting, filled with satisfying observations about body image, grief and memory.

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