Alba Arikha is one of these strikingly beautiful, intelligent and gifted people who make me terribly jealous. I had already heard her sing her own songs and play the piano in the best French tradition, charming and delightful as you can hear here. I particularly liked the song she dedicated to her late father, the artist Avigdor Arikha.
She will be coming to JBW to present her book Major/Minor, a very raw account of growing up feeling a misfit next to her brilliant sister, seemingly incapable of impressing her demanding father and rebelling against school. I loved the way she recaptures her teenager’s anger. The pages when she manages to break the wall of silence and gets her very private father to talk about his harrowing experience of the war are absolute gems. It’s Beckett, her godfather, who encouraged her to write and what a pity his letters to her mysteriously disappeared. The silences in her writing are as cogent and powerful as her words. And if you don’t believe all my raving about her book, here’s what other famous people said of it:
‘An unusually affecting book about the rage and rebellion of a stormy adolescence. Written in terse, pointillistic sentences – as if each sentence were a dab of paint – the accumulation of these tiny strokes creates a rich, fully realised portrait of a young woman’s inner life. I read it straight through in a single sitting – unable to stop.’ –Paul Auster
Or as another minimalist master wrote: ‘This is a truly remarkable book.’ — Edmund de Waal
Here are her answers to our interview:
– If you could escape to another world, what would there be that is missing here?
– What is the book you “inherited” from a parent or teacher that made a profound impression on you?
Germinal, by Emile Zola
– What is the book you would like to pass on to the future generation?
– What is the most Jewish thing you have ever done?
Sit in a synagogue and feel miserable
– What is the most important Jewish book of the last 60 years?
American Pastoral, Philip Roth
– When did you know you would become a writer?
When I wrote a book about a tiger in Bengal, aged 10. I knew little about tigers, even less about Bengal, but enjoyed imagining it so much that I was hooked.
– If you were not a writer, what would you be?
Making cheese in Provence
– What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
A proverb by Seneca: It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.
– What would your superpower be?
Speaking every language in the world
– Who (living or dead) would you invite to your ideal Friday night dinner?
Dorothy Parker, Fellini, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Woody Allen, Fauré, George Sand, Stendhal, Simone de Beauvoir (if only one person, then Stendhal)
– On the very distant day when you will make it to the other side, what would you like God (assuming there is one) to say to you?