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Journey through a Small Planet
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Hamilton-esque books, authors.. > "Journey Through A Small Planet" + "The Lost Europeans" by Emanuel Litvinoff

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message 1: by Nigeyb (last edited Aug 01, 2016 02:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
More heartfelt thanks to Mark for alerting me to Journey Through A Small Planet by Emanuel Litvinoff which I am currently reading and really enjoying.

Emanuel Litvinoff recalls his working-class Jewish childhood in the East End of London: a small cluster of streets right next to the city, but worlds apart in culture and spirit. With vivid intensity Litvinoff describes the overcrowded tenements of Brick Lane and Whitechapel, the smell of pickled herring and onion bread, the rattle of sewing machines and chatter in Yiddish. He also relates stories of his parents, who fled from Russia in 1914, his experiences at school and a brief flirtation with Communism. Unsentimental, vital and almost dream like, this is a masterly evocation of a long-vanished world.

I can attest that the description above is completely on the money based on the two thirds that I have read so far. It's magical, and always good to read about working class life during our era.

Here's a review from Amazon UK...

This is a re-issue, as a Penguin Modern Classic, of a book first published in 1972. In twelve short chapters Litvinoff wonderfully evokes his childhood and adolescence in the crowded inter-war Jewish East End. While bringing out the poverty, squalor and stench in which the immigrants from Eastern Europe lived, there is a rich and vibrant community life, and his observations of characters and situations are mostly humorous - though the chapter on his experience of coarse antisemitism from staff and fellow-pupils at a trade school for shoe-makers is too grim for humour. He did not seem to show much promise as a youngster and had a series of dreary and humdrum jobs. At the very end of this memoir, when he was 19, a poem suddenly came to him, and "things would never be the same again."

He would of course not be the only upwardly mobile Jew coming from that unpromising setting, but, as in all these cases, each such ascent seems like a small miracle.

There follows an appendix of two essays and two poems. The first essay, here published for the first time, was originally written just after the War. It is a powerful, slightly over-written story about a solar eclipse; but it shows the progress he had made as a writer in the dozen years since that first literary effort. The memoir itself, written a quarter of a century later still, is not over-written at all: by that time his style had become worthy of being a classic.

The second essay, originally published in 1967, sets out his views of what it has meant to him to be `A Jew in England'. That theme is further elaborated by the 35 page introduction to the book. Written by Patrick Wright, it sets Litvinoff's memoir into the context of his whole remarkable life, and is a small masterpiece in itself. Litvinoff's reflections on his experiences as a Jew have varied over a long life-time: how he relates and has related to his background, to his Englishness, to Communism, to the Soviet Union, to Zionism and to Israel.

His last book was published a quarter of a century ago, and none of his novels are currently in print. See my Amazon reviews of The Faces of Terror; Blood on the Snow; The Face of Terror; The Man Next Door). He is now 92; and it must be gratifying for him that this memoir at least has been re-issued, and as a classic at that.

Mark Rubenstein | 1419 comments Really pleased to hear that you're enjoying the book, Nigel, but hardly surprised. It'd be a difficult task finding much fault with the book... masterful and peerless in its evocative prowess. Emanuel and David seem worlds apart, if not universes apart.

message 3: by Nigeyb (last edited Aug 01, 2016 07:11AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
Mark wrote: "Emanuel and David seem worlds apart, if not universes apart."

Yes indeed. Probably as much to do with their respective birthdates as personalites. I get the impression Emanuel had the potential to be more of a bohemian had it been more acceptable and viable in pre-War England.

Mark Rubenstein | 1419 comments Emanuel Litvinoff's first novel, The Lost Europeans (1960), has very recently returned to print...

From the publisher: Coming back was worse, much worse, than Martin Stone had anticipated. Martin Stone returns to the city from which his family was driven in 1938. He has concealed his destination from his father, and hopes to win some form of restitution for the depressed old man living in exile in London. THE LOST EUROPEANS portrays a tense, ruined yet flourishing Berlin where nothing is quite what it seems.

From Wikipedia: Ten years after the war Litvinoff went to live in Berlin. He described it as "a strangely exhilarating experience, like being under fire".[7] The Lost Europeans (1960) was Litvinoff's first novel and was born out of this experience. Set in post-war Berlin, it follows the return of two Jews to Berlin after the Holocaust. One returns for both symbolic and material restitution, the other for revenge on the man who betrayed him.

From Kirkus Review: The Europeans, who lost their identities as well as their possessions, are the German Jews- and this is a devastating look at Berlin today and at two of the dispossessed who returned there; Hugo Krantz, formerly a bright young man in the theatre-- and Martin Stone, ne Silberstein, who is now sharing his pension only for the short period in which he attempts to collect his restitution. Both of them, in returning to the scene of their rejection, are attempting to redeem themselves; Hugo, his talent killed, is trying to pin the generic guilt of the Germans on his own private betrayal- that of the young man, Putzi Von Schlesinger, with whom he had been involved- homosexually, and who had contributed to his humiliation at the hands of the Gestapo. Martin, on the other hand, while ""nailed to the past"" is looking for an impossible invulnerability; his affair now with a German girl, a seamstress in a West Berlin factory, only aggravates his own ambiguity, until the events which take place here (among them Hugo's murder- after he finally confronts Putzi) release him as he leaves the country.... Berlin today- where the gemutlichkeit of the home has become the degeneracy of the streets and bars- where the feel of the Fuhrer is still strong- is a depressingly realistic background for a first novel which is sharp and sardonic and hard-hitting. It makes its point at the expense of all concerned.

I've just ordered a copy here:

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
Thanks Mark. Coincidentally I already have a copy and plan to read it in the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Look forward to comparing notes.

Mark Rubenstein | 1419 comments Compare we shall! Although I suspect that you'll finish it long before I even tuck into it. I'm looking forward to it, though, and I can't imagine it disappointing.

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
I'm now underway with The Lost Europeans by Emanuel Litvinoff

Although British writer Emanuel Litvinoff (1915-2011) is best known for his work Journey Through A Small Planet, it might be said that he has also been pigeonholed by it, as an author confined by a small pocket of British life. But Litvinoff claimed European, rather than British nationality. His political activism after the Holocaust was both dedicated and successful....

Originally published in 1958, The Lost Europeans was Litvinoff’s first novel. It is the story of two Jewish men haunted by their pasts and seeking answers and closure in 1950s Berlin. Martin Stone – previously Silberstein – leaves his London exile to revisit Berlin, the city of his birth, with a view to securing restitution for his father, whose bank was appropriated by the Nazis. He meets his friend, Hugo Krantz, who after a successful stint as a writer of satirical revues in the Weimar era also fled Berlin for London in the 1930s. Hugo has since returned and resettled, but he cannot relax until he has found out if the lover who betrayed him to the Nazis and then became an SS officer is dead or alive.

As Litvinoff’s two protagonists pursue their separate agendas, one for compensation, the other for confirmation, they come into contact with some colourful individuals, many of whom have unhealed scars. Martin stays at the pension of former cabaret artiste Frau Goetz, who hid Jews during the Third Reich and paid for it with three years in Buchenwald. He later falls for Karin, a seamstress from East Berlin who was raped by marauding Russian soldiers. The characters that revolve around or collide with Hugo are altogether shadier. Do the playboy antics of Hugo’s secretary-valet Heinz Dieter mask darker exploits, and is the inquisitive American Mel Kane a journalist with good intentions or a spy who poses a threat?

Litvinoff’s novel is as much about place as people, and he excels with his portrait of post-war, pre-Wall Berlin. We tour a shabby East and a “glittering, night-loving” West. Martin explores the ruins of his family home and roams streets which revive memories and awaken demons. Hugo admires the view from his Kurfürstendamm penthouse and revels in bars and clubs. For Martin, Berlin is “the sick heart of Europe”; for Hugo it is “the great European Sodom”. As Martin comes to learn who to trust and love, and Hugo tracks down his treacherous quarry, the novel expands from a thrilling quest for justice into a probing and enlightening study of guilt and reconciliation.

Hugo tells Martin on his arrival that “Berlin is a form of insanity – and it’s contagious”. We willingly succumb to that madness as we accompany them through a city of victims and survivors, perpetrators and ghosts – all the time wondering why so fine a book could languish so long in obscurity. Now this overlooked gem can sparkle again.

'One of the best unsung novelists of our time' Valentine Cunningham.

'The great forgotten novel of post-war Berlin ... both moving and forensic in its portrayal of a shabby and still only partly repaired city: recently divided between East and West but united by a common past of such monstrosity that the most prosaic presences and encounters shriek of murder' Patrick Wright.

'Litvinoff’s novel is as much about place as people, and he excels with his portrait of post war, pre-Wall Berlin ... We accompany them through a city of victims and survivors, perpetrators and ghosts – all the time wondering why so fine a book could languish so long in obscurity. Now this overlooked gem can sparkle again' Herald.

'A real treat ... This is still some achievement and has been the book I have enjoyed most to date in Apollo's surprisingly wide-ranging series of eight of "the best books you've never read"' Nudge Books.

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
I've read 20% of The Lost Europeans by Emanuel Litvinoff and it's very absorbing.

It has already brilliantly evoked both the horror of being Jewish in Germany during the rise of Nazism, & also the feelings of a Jewish person returning to Berlin a few years after the end of WW2. As the intrigue of the plot builds, so does my curiosity and enjoyment. The world weary Hugo is a wonderful character.

It also occurs to me that The Third Man would make a wonderful cinematic accompaniment to this book.

Mark Rubenstein | 1419 comments Your enthusiasm bodes well for the novel, which should be turning up on my stoop sometime during the week through the combined might of the US and UK postal systems. Once it does, it sounds like I should immediately bump it to the top of the stack.

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
Yep, I would suggest you prioritise it based on the first 20% or so. I look forward to discovering what you make of it.

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
I'm now about two thirds through 'The Lost Europeans' by Emanuel Litvinoff and can give this a much more unequivocal and ringing endorsement. It's got a tick in every box. Loving it.

message 12: by Nigeyb (last edited Sep 03, 2016 05:05AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
I've now finished 'The Lost Europeans

It's the story of two Jewish men, Martin Stone and Hugo Krantz, seeking answers and closure in 1950s Berlin. Martin Stone returns from London to Berlin, the city of his birth, to claim financial restitution for his father, whose bank was appropriated by the Nazis. His older friend, Hugo Krantz, also fled Berlin for London in the 1930s, after enjoying success as a celebrated theatrical writer. Hugo has since returned and resettled in Berlin, but he cannot rest until he has discovered whether his lover, who betrayed him to the Nazis and then became an SS officer, survived the war.

AND, it's a stunner....

message 13: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Rubenstein | 1419 comments Now my appetite's been doubly-whetted, Nige. The book turned up this week, so I'll be starting it sometime over the next few days, as soon as I finish reading the book I'm currently stuck into.

message 14: by Nigeyb (last edited Sep 03, 2016 06:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
I look forward to your reaction Mark. I'm still reeling.

It's been emotional.

message 15: by CQM (new) - added it

CQM | 225 comments I've just this moment pressed the "buy now" button on Abe Books so fairly soon The Lost Europeans and The Face of Terror will be winging their way me-ward.
I don't know if either of you gents has had a peek at the Face of Terror trilogy but certainly the first part, A Death out of Season my interest you both. It's based around the Seige of Sidney Street and the legend (if that's not too strong a word) of Peter the Painter, who must surely be the only foreign terrorist to have a block of flats named after him

message 16: by Nigeyb (last edited Mar 28, 2019 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nigeyb | 4084 comments Mod
Succinct entry CQM.... Peter Piaktow - Not everyone was happy that Hackney named a block of flats after this anarchist.

I'm all for it myself

I look forward to yoru reaction to The Lost Europeans. I blimmin loved it.

And, yes, you're quite correct, you've piqued my interest with your revelation about A Death out of Season, which is where I came in.

message 17: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Rubenstein | 1419 comments Having only read his Lost Europeans and Journey Through A Small Planet, and rated each very highly, I’m very much up for more. I’ll take your tip and make for the trilogy.

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