The last few days have been pretty busy. We’ve had to move one session (Niall Ferguson had double-booked himself but,not wanting to let us down, is coming to JBW at 5.00 pm instead of 7.00 pm. At least people will now be able to listen to him for free). In a way, I’m almost glad because it will give a full hour to Kevin Bloom to talk about his book Ways of Staying. A renown journalist in South Africa, the brutal murder of his cousin led him to investigate the violence that makes life unbearable to many. He gives us a painful picture of the supposedly rainbow nation, talks to people about disappointed expectations, harrowing poverty and extreme wealth. It will be fascinating to listen to his conversation with Janet Suzman whose family played an important part in the fight against apartheid and who still has strong connections with South Africa.
We were asked if we might be able to find a slot for Peter Mandelson. Apparently I am the only person not to have known his father worked for the Jewish Chronicle. We don’t generally invite speakers simply because they are Jewish but here I was suddenly being told that he would quite like to talk about this aspect of his life. And apparently he might have new things to tell us about his time as the Third Man. Who knows, he may even share his views on the present government and opposition… At the same time, we could see we risked selling out for Yair Lapid’s session on Sunday 6 March so we jumped on the opportunity to book the Institute of Education for the extra space. I think Lapid will have a very varied crowd. There will obviously be quite a large number of Israeli ladies who seem to swoon just when hearing his name, then the older generation who want to hear him talk about his father. His book, My Memories after Death, is the biography of his father but told in the first person as if it had been written as an autobiography. And then there will be all those people who wonder when and if, as rumoured, he will launch his own political party. Who knows with the new developments in Israeli politics, let me dream of the coup it would be if he were to announce it at JBW….
Then I received an email from Eshkol Nevo saying he was terribly sorry but felt he really had to stay home with his heavily pregnant woman. All is well and she’s only due in April but can you blame a Jewish writer on the verge of becoming a father for the first time to be slightly neurotic? And after all it was our Mensch Hour session and isn’t being a good husband proving he’s indeed a mensch? How could we blame him? David Flusfeder has agreed to join our brilliant True Tales line up on Saturday 5 March at 9.00 pm. The theme of the evening is close call and I expect some pretty great stories.
Fortunately Maureen Lipman agreed to come on Sunday 27 February to perform her monologues. I’ve seen her do one at 5×15 a few months ago but hadn’t been told in time the book was published. She was amazing, totally believable as a teenager taking part in X-Factor and absolutely hilarious. Her new book is a collection of miscellaneous articles, essays and those very funny monologues, each one a perfect little vignette in the best tradition from LaBruyere to Eve Ensler (after all Maureen did do the Vagina Monologues). Actually that Sunday makes you proud to be a woman with Maureen, Susannah Heschel, Anat Hoffman and Eve herself to top it off! So ladies, I look forward to seeing you en masse and do feel free to bring some men along!
I went along to the first Anne Frank lecture delivered by Simon Schama in top form. He gave us a sparkling lecture on the history of tolerance and spoke very movingly of Anne. I was glad that he had noticed we were devoting a session to her in the programme. I’ve been reading her Tales from the Secret Annexe. Some are reworkings of pages from the diary, but there are a lot of original gems, terribly moving when you think of the great writer we were deprived of. We’ll have an actress read some of them at JBW. I also really look forward to meeting Buddy Elias, Anne’s last surviving relative to have known her. I’m sure this will be as special as the talk on Irene Nemirovsky last year.