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message 1: by Nigeyb (last edited Nov 19, 2013 05:45AM) (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Alexander Baron's name has come up a few times in other threads. 2014 is the year I start to explore his work.



Here's a thread where anyone can comment on Alexander Baron and his work.

Novels

From the City, from the Plough. (1948) a novel about the fictional 5th Battalion of the Wessex Regiment British Army. The novel takes place in the weeks leading up to D Day and during the Normandy campaign. It was widely believed that the battalion was based on units of the 43rd Wessex Division and its attacks on Hill 112 and Mont Pincon in Normandy. This novel was re-issued by London publisher Black Spring Press in June 2010.

There's No Home (1950) - On the interaction of wartime British soldiers with the people of Catania, Sicily, focusing on a doomed love affair. Two stanzas of Hamish Henderson's The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily serve as the motto. Republished by Sort Of Books in June 2011. Discussions concerning a film adaptation of this novel are currently in progress.

Rosie Hogarth (1951), set in London. Republished by Five Leaves Press in 2010.

With Hope, Farewell (1952), set in London. Scheduled for republication by Five Leaves Press in 2013.

The Human Kind (1953). The third in Baron's 'War Trilogy'. This was a collection of short stories that were based upon the author's own wartime experiences. The book was later filmed as The Victors (1963), with the British characters changed into Americans in order to attract American audiences.

The Golden Princess (1954), about La Malinche.

Queen of the East (1956), an historical novel about Zenobia, Queen of the short lived Palmyrene Empire, and her antagonist Aurelian, Emperor of Rome.

Seeing Life (1958),

The Lowlife (1963), set in Hackney, is "a riotous, off-beat novel about gamblers, prostitutes and lay-abouts of London's East End". Re-issued by Black Spring Press in June 2010. Discussions concerning a film adaptation of this novel are currently in progress.

strip jack naked (1966), sequel to The Lowlife

King Dido (1969), set in the East End in 1911. In autumn 2009 this was re-issued in New London Editions, an imprint of Five Leaves Press. Discussions concerning a film adaptation of this novel are currently in progress.

The In Between Time (1971)

Gentle Folk (1976); adapted by Baron as a BBC television drama (1980)

Franco Is Dying (1977)



A few interesting links...

Guardian obituary

Alexander Baron: 'Rosie Hogarth' - 1951 from London Fictions

Review of The Lowlife from 3 am Magazine

Alexander Baron novels now in print - make the most of it by Andrew Whitehead. Here's an excerpt...

Alexander Baron (1917-1999) was a commanding author of post-war London, renowned above all for The Lowlife, and also one of the most compelling novelists of the infantry man's experience of the Second World War. His first novel, From the City, from the Plough., sold massively on its publication in 1948. It was based on his own war service, fighting across France from the Normandy D-Day beaches, and won acclaim for depicting both the boredom and the brutality of the battlefield, and for its account of the strong sense of camaraderie among those brought together by combat. Baron's London novels - and click here for more about London in fiction - were similarly based largely on personal experience and observation. The Lowlife harked back to the street where he grew up on the cusp of Stoke Newington and Dalston - Rosie Hogarth is a compassionate evocation of a working class back street near Chapel Market in Islington - and King Dido, set in the early years of last century, recalled visits to grandparents in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green.

So let's discuss Alexander Baron...


message 2: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments As I probably mentioned earlier, I've read the following...

King Dido
Rosie Hogarth
The Lowlife
From The City, From The Plough

Not one page of any of them disappointed in the least, and I've every intention of digging deeper into his works. 'The Lowlife,' in particular, managed to hit all the right spots and ended up being one of those novels that I tend to read slowly, on purpose, in order to prolong. My recommendation is to read it before the film adaptation soils the legacy.

'King Dido,' apparently, is hugely informed by a much earlier novel titled 'A Child of The Jago' by Arthur Morrison [1896], which I eagerly read after enjoying 'King Dido.' The similarities are absolutely there, but both surely stand on their own.


message 3: by Nigeyb (last edited Nov 20, 2013 02:27PM) (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
That's really helpful. Thanks Mark. I'll probably start with From the City, from the Plough. as I already have a copy. My library also has King Dido, Rosie Hogarth, The Human Kind and There's No Home. I look forward to exploring his work.


message 4: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
As I mentioned over on the Five For Friday thead, I am putting together a book/film/music set of choices for my real world book group and I have decided I will probably go with a London theme.

I've provisionally chosen "The Lowlife" by Alexander Baron, "London - The Modern Babylon" directed by Julien Temple, and then was mulling over the most London-centric music and concluded that The Kinks were probably the way to go. That said, I may yet go with Ian Dury and The Blockheads. Any other London suggestions that might work well?


message 5: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
^ Before reading The Lowlife, I have just started King Dido by our man Alexander Baron.



It has a splendid introduction by Ken Worpole. Apparently he wrote a book called Dockers and Detectives - which is another book republished by the incredibly helpful and consistent Five Leaves Publishing.

Here's a synopsis...

Ken Worpole in his ground-breaking book Dockers and Detectives, analysed the appeal of “hardboiled” US crime novels of the 1930s to an industrial working class that failed to identify with the tamed domesticity of the home counties.

This pioneering study of twentieth-century working class reading and writing in Britain helped revive a number of literary reputations, such as those of Alexander Baron and James Hanley, as well as distinguishing distinct regional literary cultures and narrative styles still existing in Britain.

Dockers and Detectives was Ken Worpole’s first book, and the first edition was widely reviewed and praised. Dockers and Detectives appears on many UK course lists and is regularly quoted as an important source in any other book on literature in the 1930s and 40s.

Ken Worpole is the author of a number of books on architecture, landscape and social history, including Last Landscapes and Here Comes the Sun. He writes regularly for the Guardian, Prospect, Times Higher Education Supplement and other papers.

‘…one of the shrewdest and sharpest observers of the English social landscape’ — the Independent

‘Dockers and Detectives can be read with profit by anyone concerned with the sociology of reading. Ken Worpole is the kind of enthusiast who encourages one to seek out and read the books he describes.’ — The Bookseller

‘What makes 'Dockers & Detectives' a good read is the quality of intelligent thoughtfulness that suffuses the book... He succeeds in making the reader want to rush out and read the books he is discussing because he tells a story well, and that in itself is still rare in books about literature.'
— City Limits




If the introduction to King Dido is anything to go by then Dockers And Detectives is going to be well worth a read. I've ordered a copy.

As with all great introductions it has made the prospect of getting stuck into King Dido very enticing indeed, and it also makes me want to read many of the books mentioned in the opening post of this thread.

I shall report back on King Dido, and Dockers And Detectives when it arrives and when I get round to reading it.


message 6: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
I am 70 pages into King Dido. Superb so far. Alexander Baron has a perceptive eye for period detail and his knowledge of London's East End is clear throughout the narrative. There are already some fabulous characters in this story, in addition to Dido Peach, there's the cunning policeman Inspector Merry, and the monstrous gang leader Ginger Murchison. The fight between Murchison and Peach is particularly vicious and memorable. Gripping.


message 7: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Happy, though hardly surprised, that you're enjoying 'King Dido.' Baron was masterful at transporting the reader to a time and a place, which, to me, is the most that I ask of any author. Trust me, neither 'Rosie Hogarth' nor 'The Lowlife' will disappoint you.

And many thanks for reminding me of my initial interest in 'Dockers & Detectives.' I've been meaning to scoop up a copy since reading Ken Worpole's intro, but, as is usually the case, other books got in the way.


message 8: by Nigeyb (last edited Feb 11, 2014 04:11AM) (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
I've just finished King Dido by Alexander Baron. Here's my review...

This is the first book I have read by Alexander Baron (1917-1999) having heard very positive things about his work. He was a renowned London author, best known for his novel The Lowlife (1963).

His first novel, From the City, from the Plough (1948), was a best seller. It was based on Alexander Baron's own war service, fighting across France from the Normandy D-Day beaches. Baron went on to write many London novels which were similarly based largely on personal experience and observation.

King Dido (1969) is set in the years just before World War 1 and it's a gripping thriller about crime in the East End. It tells the story of Dido Peach, who is drawn into the violent world of protection rackets and gang warfare. Peach, a contradictory character, has his late father’s violence and strength combined with his mother’s concern for living a respectable, decent life. He rules his two younger brothers with a rod of iron and tries to live up to his mother's expectations. His family’s attempt to lead a virtuous life brings them into conflict with a local family of thugs led by the monstrous Ginger Murchison. Dido Peach and Ginger Murchison engage in a vicious and vivid street fight.

The novel abounds with memorable characters, not least Inspector Merry - a cunning, ambitious and relentless policeman.

Full of extraordinary period detail, the book graphically and authentically evokes the world of the early twentieth century East London slums. This alone makes it a special book, however this detail is also aligned to a genuinely gripping story and an array of unforgettable characters. A superb book. I cannot wait to read more of Alexander Baron's work.

4/5


message 9: by Greg (new)

Greg | 159 comments I hope to read your review of From the City, from the Plough. soon. I am getting hold of a copy.


message 10: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
^ Splendid news Greg. I look forward to your thoughts.


message 11: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
I am currently reading...




The Human Kind by Alexander Baron

This is Alexander Baron's third work based on his World War Two experiences, and was republished by Black Spring Press in Autumn 2011. His first novel, From the City, from the Plough (1948), was a best seller. It was based on Alexander Baron's own war service, fighting across France from the Normandy D-Day beaches. Baron went on to write many London novels which were similarly based largely on personal experience and observation.

This is the second book I have read by Alexander Baron (1917-1999), the first was the excellent King Dido (1969).

The Human Kind is a 1953 collection of war stories. I have read five of the stories so far and each has been magnificent. If it carries on like this then I will have no hesitation in heralding this as a masterpiece. It's a fascinating little book, a sequence of unconnected though clearly autobiographical vignettes of life as a young soldier. One tale about working class lads avidly passing round a copy of David Copperfield is wonderful. Actually, they're all wonderful. An amazing writer and a superb storyteller.

I will report back when I've finished.


message 12: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
^ I've finished.


This is the second book I have read by Alexander Baron (1917-1999), the first was the excellent King Dido (1969). I now intend reading everything he ever wrote.

Between January 2014 and March 2014, and not through any design, I read two books about World War Two and both are, in my opinion, masterpieces.

The first was Sword of Honour by Evelyn Waugh, which I read in January, and after I'd finished it I doubted I'd read a better book all year. In March 2014, I read Alone in Berlin (aka Every Man Dies Alone) by Hans Fallada, which is another masterpiece, and absolutely superb.

I can now add a third book about World War Two to my growing list of masterpieces about the conflict. The Human Kind was Alexander Baron's third work, first published in 1953, and based on his World War Two experiences. It was republished by Black Spring Press in Autumn 2011.

The Human Kind is a fascinating little book, a sequence of unconnected though clearly autobiographical vignettes of life as a young soldier. The stories appear chronologically and chart the journey of the narrator from enthusiastic conscript to war-weary veteran. The beautifully written stories provide little glimpses of a wide variety of personalities. It's all here: the young, the old, cynics, idealists, corruption, depravity, wisdom, kindness, culture clashes, intolerance, violence, surprises, and the surreal. I cannot praise this book highly enough. It's extraordinary. Each tale has the ring of authenticity and each vividly illuminates an aspect of life during World War Two. The only caveat being the final story, which is an anomaly, however this does not detract from the magnificence of this short, punch, memorable collection.

5/5


message 13: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Baron's 'From The City, From The Plough' is yet another WW2 book that would undoubtedly light up your life. Still, you should shift his 'The Lowlife' right to the top of your Baron-To-Read stack.


message 14: by Nigeyb (last edited Mar 23, 2014 03:02PM) (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Mark wrote: "Still, you should shift his 'The Lowlife' right to the top of your Baron-To-Read stack."


Done.

Will be reading it in the next few weeks. Thanks Mark.


message 15: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
^ I've just started The Lowlife.





30 pages in an already another great read.


message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Nigeyb wrote: "^ I've just started The Lowlife"

Really glad to hear that you've got round to this one... to me, Baron at his absolute finest. I'm sure you'll breeze through it... I'll be waiting at the other end for your critique. Enjoy!


message 17: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
^ Thanks as ever Mark.


It was you who put me on to Alexander Baron - one of many fine authors who you have highlighted, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I'm already loving The Lowlife. I've been engaged in some serious work and non-work commitments but that should ease of a bit today and tomorrow, so hopefully I can get a few hours reading time in. I can't wait to immerse myself in the world of Harryboy Boas.


message 18: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Just finished. Absolutely brilliant. Here's a few thoughts....



The Lowlife tells the story of Harryboy Boas, a Jewish veteran of WW2, a gambler, a womaniser, a philosopher, and a man of integrity and compassion. All Harry wants is to be left alone to enjoy his solitary life: either - and when his winnings from the dog track allow him the time and space - to eat, read, and meet women, or - when he needs cash - to work in short-term jobs to build up more stake money.

Harryboy is afflicted by guilt. Guilt about his own dead child who may never have existed and who, despite this uncertainty, Harry believes may been killed during the holocaust. Harryboy consciously tries to get away from his family, his religion, and the expectations of others. His sister Debbie, who has moved out to the the respectable suburbs, worries about him and wants to see him settled down and financially secure.

Although Harryboy is a confirmed loner he gets sucked into the life of his neighbours at his boarding house, and in particular Vic and Evelyn along with their young son Gregory. Evelyn, with her middle class aspirations, is the antithesis of Harry, and she cannot bear Hackney or the boarding house she is forced to live in. Harry's involvement with Vic, Evelyn and Gregory is the catalyst for Harry's life to unravel spectacularly.

This is an extraordinary novel that explores East London, tradition, guilt, snobbery, social history, families, loyalty, sacrifice, immigration, property, desire, racism, pride and all within the framework of an original and exciting tale about gambling, debt, and gangsters. Another splendid book by Alexander Baron who is deservedly getting republished and rediscovered by a new generation of readers.

5/5


message 19: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Alexander Baron's magnificent 'The Lowlife' is discussed in the most recent episode of the Backlisted Podcast (16 April 2018). I recommend it. An informed and interesting discussion about both the book and Baron more generally. Essential listening.





message 20: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Good news for those of us who’ve been distraught over having too much free space in our Alexander Baron collections. Five Leaves, out of Nottingham, have plans to return two of his novels to print over the summer, in addition to a detailed study of his works. Details here...

The War Baby
https://fiveleaves.co.uk/product/the-...

With Hope, Farewell
https://fiveleaves.co.uk/product/with...

So We Live: The Novels of Alexander Baron
https://fiveleaves.co.uk/product/so-w...

This seems like a trove worth looking forward to.

Additionally, Five Leaves will also be publishing what looks like an interesting book about the world of British Kitchen Sink films. Details of that are here...

Welcome To The Cheap Seats: Silver Screen Portrayals of The British Working Class
https://fiveleaves.co.uk/product/welc...

Putting my pre-orders in, toot sweetly.


message 21: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Splendid news. Thanks Mark. Looking forward to plugging some Baron sized holes.


That Kitchen Sink film book looks great too.


message 22: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Coinciding with Five Leaves rolling out three new Alexander Baron titles... okay, one new title, and two returns to print... the always-superb Spitalfields Life blog has posted a wonderful article today on Baron’s London. Well worth poring over for those who enjoy poring over things like this.

http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/06/1...


message 23: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Thanks Mark. I shall be giving that a serious perusal in the near future. I need to get back to AB. Everything I have read so far is splendid.


message 24: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments My copies of With Hope, Farewell and The War Baby turned up from Five Leaves in this week’s post, immediately landing on the top of my to-read stack. Will absolutely file a report.


message 25: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Thanks Mark. I think I’ll be following suit


message 26: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments So far, With Hope, Farewell is on a path to five stars, easily. Right up there alongside Baron’s best, alongside the finest London novels.


message 27: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Splendid news Mark. I'll definitely be reading it then.


More info here for anyone who is interested.....

With Hope, Farewell was Alexander Baron's first novel to explore Jewish working class life in fiction, and predated his The Lowlife, being published first in 1952.

Mark Strong endures petty anti-Semitism but achieves his wartime ambition to become a fighter pilot. After the war, blighted by injury and a desolation brought on by conflict, Mark and his wife, Ruth, seek to set up home in Hackney. ‘The bombing of the East End during the war had sent thousands of homeless Jews outwards in wave after wave,’ Baron asserts in this novel. ‘They had penetrated to every corner of Hackney.’ They face organised anti-Semitism, and the climax of the novel comes amid a rally in Dalston by British Nazis, still not cowed by their co-thinkers’ war defeat.

About the Author: Alexander Baron was born Joseph Alexander Bernstein in 1917 to Jewish parents. His first novel, From the City, From the Plough, a fictionalised account of the D-Day landings, was published in 1948 and sold over a quarter of a million copies. Prior to World War II Baron was politically active on the left. While he continued to write novels he was also a successful screenwriter, writing scripts for Hollywood and for the BBC. Since Baron died in 1999 his novels have been republished several times, testifying to a strong resurgence of interest in his work among the reading public as well as among critics and academics.



With Hope, Farewell


message 28: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Five Leaves missed a trick by re-designing the cover. Some things just cannot be improved upon.


message 29: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Let's be honest, the new cover is a bit shit


message 30: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments I’d recommend going for With Hope, Farewell, as it’s classic Alexander Baron. I’m fifty pages into The War Baby and not too sure how enthusiastically I can recommend it. Well written, of course, but possibly best approached with knowledge of, and interest in, the Spanish Civil War.

Baron, for me, was at his best when he wrote of London in general, and the old East End in particular. The War Baby, while not without its merits, is miles and miles away. Literally and figuratively.


message 31: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Thanks for the info Mark. I certainly loved the London novels


message 32: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Sadly, my knowledge and understanding of the Spanish Civil War goes no further than having read Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia, so I’m having a bit of a rough go.

On the other hand, I really liked With Hope, Farewell... certain passages were right up there alongside Baron’s best.


message 33: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Thanks again Mark


Despite owning a copy, I have yet to read From the City, from the Plough

I must prioritise that one having only ever heard praise for it


message 34: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Oh, yeah, despite that one not being a London novel, it’s certainly a good ’un. Well worth inching it nearer the top of the pile.


message 35: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
I hear ya Mark


message 36: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments Have just now realized that The War Baby was previously unpublished, which might explain why it’s not striking me as Baron at his best.


message 37: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
One for the completists then?


message 38: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments I’m thinking maybe so. Or for Spanish Civil War enthusiasts, if such things exists.


message 39: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 3826 comments Mod
Thanks Mark. I’m quite keen on the Spanish Civil War 🤔


message 40: by Mark (new)

Mark Rubenstein | 1349 comments In that case, I’ve got just the book for you...


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