In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, a realm that stretched from the lush Kashmir Valley to the craggy foothills of the Khyber Pass and included the mighty cities of Lahore and Peshawar. It was a territory irresistible to the British, who plundered everything, including the fabled Koh-I-Noor diamond.
Exiled to England, the dispossessed Maharajah transformed his estate at Elveden in Suffolk into a Moghul palace, its grounds stocked with leopards, monkeys and exotic birds. Sophia, god-daughter of Queen Victoria, was raised a genteel aristocratic Englishwoman: presented at court, afforded grace-and-favour lodgings at Hampton Court Palace and photographed wearing the latest fashions for the society pages. But when, in secret defiance of the British government, she travelled to India, she returned a revolutionary. Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality,a far cry from the life to which she was born.
Her causes were the struggle for Indian independence, the fate of the Lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War - and, above all, the fight for female suffrage. She was bold and fearless, attacking politicians, putting herself in the front line and swapping her silks for a nurse's uniform to tend wounded soldiers evacuated from the battlefields.
Meticulously researched and passionately written, this enthralling story of the rise of women and the fall of empire introduces an extraordinary individual and her part in the defining moments of recent British and Indian history.
Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre? Petrova or Posy? Scarlett or Melanie? Lace or Valley of the Dolls?
On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, passionate Cathy; but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob, while courageous Jane makes her own way. And that's when Samantha realised that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane. So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live.
Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (turns out Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper...
How To Be A Heroine is Samantha's funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.
In fundamentalist Iran, new life sometimes means certain death. When Leila comes to see Doctor Karimi, both are in danger. Born in a slum to a Muslim father and a Jewish mother, Kooshyar Karimi has transformed himself into a successful doctor, an award-winning writer, and an adoring father. His could be a comfortable life but his conscience won't permit it: he is incapable of turning away the unmarried women who beg him to save their lives by ending the pregnancies that, if discovered, would see them stoned to death.
One of those women is 22-year-old Leila. Beautiful, intelligent, passionate, she yearns to go to university but her strictly traditional family forbids it. Returning home from the library one day - among the few trips she's allowed out of the house - she meets a handsome shopkeeper, and her fate is sealed. Kooshyar has rescued countless women, but Leila seeks his help for a different reason, one that will haunt him for years afterwards and inspire an impossible quest from faraway Australia.
Spellbinding and heartbreaking. Leila's Secret shows us everyday life for women in a country where it can be a crime to fall in love. But for all its tragedy, this unforgettable book is paradoxically uplifting, told from the heart of Kooshyar's immense sympathy, in the hope that each of us - and the stories we tell - can make a difference.
'An absolutely stunning book. Leila's story is deeply affecting and Kooshyar Karimi is a consummate storyteller.' Shirley Walker, Author of The Ghost at the Wedding
This is a collection of essays on writers and writing by the Booker-shortlisted novelist and critic. Writing about real lives takes various forms, which overlap and may be combined with each other: biography, autobiography, biographical criticism, biographical fiction, memoir, confession, diary.
In these thoughtful and enlightening essays David Lodge considers some particularly interesting examples of life-writing, and contributes several of his own. The subjects include celebrated modern British writers such as Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, Muriel Spark and Alan Bennett, and two major figures from the past, Anthony Trollope and H.G. Wells. Lodge examines connections between the style and the man in the diaries of the playwright Simon Gray and the cultural criticism of Terry Eagleton, and recalls how his own literary career was entwined with that of his friend Malcolm Bradbury. All except one of the subjects (Princess Diana) are or were themselves professionally in writing, making this collection a kind of casebook of the splendours and miseries of authorship.
In a final essay Lodge describes the genesis and compositional method of his recent novel about H.G. Wells, A Man of Parts, and engages with the critical controversies that have been provoked by the increasing popularity of narrative and dramatic writing that combines fact and fiction.
Drawing on David Lodge's long experience as a novelist and critic, Lives in Writing is a fascinating study of the interface between life and literature.
Dolores Payas has written a delightful and moving account of colourful adventurer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, a snapshot account of his final years surrounded by his drinks, his guests, and above all, his books.
This short book conveys a portrait of a man who became indomitable, proud and charming in old age, while retaining his other attributes . An original and witty study in nostalgia, mixed with personal fortitude, right up until the end.
Winner of the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2014 A rich historical biography of 'those wild Wyndhams' - three cultured aristocratic sisters born into great privilege in late Victorian Britain.
Mary, Madeline and Pamela - the three beautiful Wyndham sisters - were born into immense wealth. Cultured bohemian daughters of a maverick politician and an artistic mother, they became entangled with the scandalous and intellectual 'Souls' set, as well as the most celebrated figures of the day, including Oscar Wilde, Marie Stopes and the iconoclastic poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, lover both of Mary and her mother before her. Two sisters were intimate with great statesmen - Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and the Liberal politician Edward Grey - and only one of them would marry happily.
This first ever biography of the sisters captures their dramatic lives from romantic beginnings through the passions and disappointments of womanhood to the tragedy and devastation of the First World War that brought a definitive end to their sons, their era and way of life.
This is the first comprehensive look at Jobs' years following his dismissal from Apple.
During this time a combination of exile, failure and family saw him mature from the childish genius who left in disgrace in the mid-80s, to the man who returned just over a decade later to create a world changing, visionary company.
Based on recently rediscovered, personal taped interviews between Jobs and Schlender - who had known each other for 25 years - as well as various sources from Job's business and personal life, this groundbreaking book will focus on the maturation of the most important business figure in modern history: how it happened, why it happened, and what that meant for Jobs, Apple, and business and culture around the world.
Nancy Mitford was, in the words of her sister Lady Diana Mosley, 'very, very complex'. Her highly autobiographical early work, the biographies and novels of her more mature French period, her journalism, and the vast body of letters to her family, friends such as Evelyn Waugh, and to the great love of her life, Gaston Palewski, all tell an intriguing story.
Drawing from these, as well as conversations with Mitford's two surviving sisters, acquaintances and colleagues, prize-winning author Laura Thompson has fashioned a portrait of a contradictory and courageous woman. Approaching her subject with wit, perspicacity and huge affection, Thompson makes her serious points lightly, eschewing cliches about the eccentricities of the Mitford clan.
Life in a Cold Climate is full of the sound of Mitfordian laughter; but tells also the often paradoxical and complex story beneath the smiling and ever elegant facade.
Twenty hours have gone since I last wrote. I have been thinking of you. I shall think of you until I post this, and until you get it. Can you feel, as you read these words, that I am thinking of you now; aglow, alive, alert at the thought that you are in the same world, and by some strange chance loving me.
In September 1943, Chris Barker was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he decided to brighten the long days of war by writing to old friends. One of these was Bessie Moore, a former work colleague. The unexpected warmth of Bessie's reply changed their lives forever. Crossing continents and years, their funny, affectionate and intensely personal letters are a remarkable portrait of a love played out against the backdrop of the Second World War.
Above all, their story is a stirring example of the power of letters to transform ordinary lives.
Roy Jenkins was probably the best Prime Minister Britain never had. But though he never reached 10 Downing Street, he left a more enduring mark on British society than most of those who did.
His career spans the full half-century from Attlee to Tony Blair during which he helped transform almost every area of national life and politics. First, as a radical Home Secretary in the 1960s he drove through the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of abortion, abolished theatre censorship and introduced the first legislation to outlaw discrimination on grounds of both race and gender. Attacked by conservatives as the godfather of the permissive society, he was a pioneering champion of gay rights, racial equality and feminism. He also reformed the police and criminal trials and introduced the independent police complaints commission.
Second, he was an early and consistent advocate of European unity who played a decisive role in achieving British membership first of the Common Market and then of the European Union. From 1977 to 1980 he served as the first (and so far only) British president of the European Commission. Public opinion today is swinging against Europe; but for the past forty years participation in Europe was seen by all parties as an unquestioned benefit, and no-one had more influence than Jenkins in that historic redirection of British policy.
Third, in 1981, when both the Conservative and Labour parties had moved sharply to the right and left respectively he founded the centrist Social Democratic Party (SDP) which failed in its immediate ambition of breaking the mould of British politics - largely because the Falklands war transformed Mrs Thatcher's popularity - but merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats and paved the way for Tony Blair's creation of New Labour.
On top of all this, Jenkins was a compulsive writer whose twenty-three books included best-selling biographies of Asquith, Gladstone and Churchill. As Chancellor of Oxford University he was the embodiment of the liberal establishment with a genius for friendship who knew and cultivated everyone who mattered in the overlapping worlds of politics, literature, diplomacy and academia; he also had many close women friends and enjoyed an unconventional private life.
His biography is the story of an exceptionally well-filled and well-rounded life.
Sosina Wogayehu learnt to do flips and splits at the age of six, sitting on the floor of her parents' lounge room in Addis Ababa, watching a German variety show on the only television channel in the land. She sold cigarettes on the streets at the age of eight, and played table soccer with her friends who made money from washing cars, barefoot in the dust. She dreamed of being a circus performer.
Twenty-five years later, Sosina has conjured herself a new life in a far-off country: Australia. She has rescued one brother and lost another. She has travelled the world as a professional contortionist. She can bounce-juggle eight balls on a block of marble.
Sosina is able to juggle worlds and stories, too, and by luck - which is something Sosina is not short of - she has a friend, David Carlin, who is a writer. Following his acclaimed memoir Our Father Who Wasn't There, David brings us his 'not-me' book, travelling to Addis Ababa where he discovers ways of living so different to his own and confronts his Western fantasies and fears.
Through Sosina's story he shows us that, with risk and enough momentum, life - whom we befriend, where we end up, how we come to see ourselves - is never predictable.
In the summer of 2009, as she was covering the popular uprisings in Tehran for the New York Times, Iranian journalist Nazila Fathi received a phone call. They have given your photo to snipers, a government source warned her. Soon after, with undercover agents closing in, Fathi fled the country with her husband and two children, beginning a life of exile.
In The Lonely War, Fathi interweaves her story with that of the country she left behind, showing how Iran is locked in a battle between hardliners and reformers that dates back to the country's 1979 revolution. Fathi was nine years old when that uprising replaced the Iranian shah with a radical Islamic regime. Her father, an official at a government ministry, was fired for wearing a necktie and knowing English; to support his family he was forced to labor in an orchard hundreds of miles from Tehran. At the same time, the family's destitute, uneducated housekeeper was able to retire and purchase a modern apartment - all because her family supported the new regime.
As Fathi shows, changes like these caused decades of inequality - especially for the poor and for women - to vanish overnight. Yet a new breed of tyranny took its place, as she discovered when she began her journalistic career. Fathi quickly confronted the upper limits of opportunity for women in the new Iran and earned the enmity of the country's ruthless intelligence service. But while she and many other Iranians have fled for the safety of the West, millions of their middleclass countrymen - many of them the same people whom the regime once lifted out of poverty - continue pushing for more personal freedoms and a renewed relationship with the outside world.
Drawing on over two decades of reporting and extensive interviews with both ordinary Iranians and high-level officials before and since her departure, Fathi describes Iran's awakening alongside her own, revealing how moderates are steadily retaking the country.
An extraordinary book; one that almost magically makes clear how Tennessee Williams wrote; how he came to his visions of Amanda Wingfield, his Blanche DuBois, Stella Kowalski, Alma Winemiller, Lady Torrance, and the other characters of his plays that transformed the American theater of the mid-twentieth century; a book that does, from the inside, the almost impossible - revealing the heart and soul of artistic inspiration and the unwitting collaboration between playwright and actress, playwright and director.
At a moment in the life of Tennessee Williams when he felt he had been relegated to a lower artery of the theatrical heart, when critics were proclaiming that his work had been overrated, he summoned to New Orleans a hopeful twenty-year-old writer, James Grissom, who had written an unsolicited letter to the great playwright asking for advice. After a long, intense conversation, Williams sent Grissom on a journey on the playwright's behalf to find out if he, Tennessee Williams, or his work, had mattered to those who had so deeply mattered to him, those who had led him to what he called the blank page, the pale judgment.
Among the more than seventy giants of American theater and film Grissom sought out, chief among them the women who came to Williams out of the fog: Lillian Gish, tiny and alabaster white, with enormous, lovely, empty eyes. Maureen Stapleton, his Serafina of The Rose Tattoo, a shy, fat little girl from Troy, New York, who grew up with abandoned women and sad hopes and whose job it was to cheer everyone up, goad them into going to the movies, urge them to bake a cake and have a party. Jessica Tandy, Kim Stanley, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Jo Van Fleet, Rosemary Harris, Eva Le Gallienne, Julie Harris, Geraldine Page . And the men who mattered and helped with his creations, including Elia Kazan, Jose Quintero, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud.
James Grissom's Follies of God is a revelation, a book that moves and inspires and uncannily catches that illusive dreaming nature.
Archaeologist, spy, Arabist, linguist, author, poet, photographer, mountaineer and nation builder, Gertrude Bell was born in 1868 into a world of privilege and plenty, but she turned her back on all that for her passion for the Arab peoples, becoming the architect of the independent kingdom of Iraq and seeing its first king Faisal safely onto the throne in 1921.
Queen of the Desert is her story, vividly told and impeccably researched, drawing on Gertrude's own writings, both published and unpublished. Previously published as Daughter of the Desert, this is a compelling portrait of a woman who transcended the restrictions of her class and age and in so doing created a remarkable and enduring legacy.
A seamless blend of intelligent analysis with real empathy, Young Tagore is a first-of-its-kind psychobiography that deepens our understanding of Rabindranath Tagore.
By carefully reconstructing the crucial years of Tagore's childhood and youth, preeminent psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar examines the young prodigy's formative experiences and unravels how they shaped his creative genius. In laying bare the inner workings of Tagore's brilliance, Kakar reveals the real man behind the luminary.
It has been 50 years since Norman Mailer asserted, 'I think that William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.' This assessment holds true today.
No-one since then has taken such risks in their writing, developed such individual radical political ideas, or spanned such a wide range of media - Burroughs has written novels, memoirs, technical manuals and poetry, he has painted, made collages, taken thousands of photographs, made visual scrapbooks, produced hundreds of hours of experimental tapes, acted in movies and recorded more CDs than most rock groups.
Made a cult figure by the publication of NAKED LUNCH, Burroughs was a mentor to the 1960s youth culture. Underground papers referred to him as 'Uncle Bill' and he ranked alongside Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Buckminster Fuller and R.D. Laing as one of the 'gurus' of the youth movement who might just have the secret of the universe. Based upon extensive research, this biography paints a new portrait of Burroughs, making him real to the reader and showing how he was perceived by his contemporaries in all his guises - from icily distant to voluble drunk.
It shows how his writing was very much influenced by his life situation and by the people he met on his travels around America and Europe. He was, beneath it all, a man torn by emotions: his guilt at not visiting his doting mother; his despair at not responding to reconciliation attempts from his father; his distance from his brother; the huge void that separated him from his son; and above all his killing of his wife, Joan Vollmer.
For a man who liked being called the American, Mark Twain spent a surprising amount of time outside the continental United States. Biographer Roy Morris, Jr., focuses on the dozen years Twain spent overseas and on the popular travel books The Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad, and Following the Equator he wrote about his adventures.
Unintimidated by Old World sophistication and unafraid to travel to less developed parts of the globe, Twain encouraged American readers to follow him around the world at the dawn of mass tourism, when advances in transportation made leisure travel possible for an emerging middle class. In so doing, he helped lead Americans into the twentieth century and guided them toward more cosmopolitan views. In his first book, The Innocents Abroad (1869), Twain introduced readers to the American Vandal, a brash, unapologetic visitor to foreign lands, unimpressed with the local ambiance but eager to appropriate any souvenir that could be carried off. He adopted this persona throughout his career, even after he grew into an international celebrity who dined with the German Kaiser, traded quips with the king of England, gossiped with the Austrian emperor, and negotiated with the president of Transvaal for the release of war prisoners.
American Vandal presents an unfamiliar Twain: not the bred-in-the-bone Midwesterner we associate with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer but a global citizen whose exposure to other peoples and places influenced his evolving positions on race, war, and imperialism, as both he and America emerged on the world stage.
Philip Roth - one of the most renowned writers of his generation - hardly needs introduction. From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award, to his Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral, to his eternally inventive later works such as Exit Ghost and Nemesis, Roth has produced some of the greatest literature of the past hundred years. And yet there has been no major critical work about him, until now.
Here, at last, is the story of Roth's creative life. Claudia Roth Pierpont tells an engaging story even as she delves into the many complexities of Roth's work and the controversies it has raised. This is not a biography - though it contains many biographical details - but something more rewarding: an attempt to understand a great writer through his art. Pierpont, who has known Roth for several years, peppers her gracefully written and carefully researched account with conversational details, providing insights and anecdotes previously accessible only to a very few, touching on Roth's family, his inspirations, his critics, the full range of his fiction, and his literary friendships with such figures as Saul Bellow and John Updike.
Roth Unbound is a major achievement, a fascinating and highly readable work that will set the standard for Roth scholarship for years to come.
Gary Shteyngart's parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer, or at least an accountant, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka - 'Little Failure' - which she applied to her son. With love. Mostly.
A candid and poignant story of a Soviet family's trials and tribulations, and of their escape in 1979 to the consumerist promised land of the USA, Little Failure is also an exceptionally funny account of the author's transformation from asthmatic toddler in Leningrad to 40-something Manhattanite with a receding hairline and a memoir to write.
In Gods and Kings Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe, tells the story of how John Galliano and Alexander McQueen changed the face of fashion. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the fashion world was dominated by two very different but equally successful and turbulent figures. But, within twelve months, Alexander McQueen had committed suicide, and John Galliano has professionally imploded. Who was to blame? And how was fashion changed by their rise and fall?
This is the story of Galliano and McQueen, the two working class British boys who shook fashion to its core. With their complicated and deeply seductive designs, they moved from the raucous art and club scene of London to the old-school heart of French couture.
Dana Thomas, who witnessed their arrival in Paris and who interviewed more than one hundred people close to both designers, presents their lives in rich detail. Highlighting the similarities and differences in their temperament, charisma and style, she explores both their individual talent and the changing nature of fashion over the 80s, 90s and noughties. The result is a deeply engrossing, fast-paced and original read.
Galliano and McQueen weren't simply driven and gifted: they wanted to revolutionize fashion in a way no one had in decades. And for a while, they succeeded.
When Alexander McQueen committed suicide in February 2010, aged just 40, a shocked world mourned the loss of its most visionary fashion designer.
McQueen had risen from humble beginnings as the youngest child of an East London taxi driver to scale the heights of fame, fortune and glamour. He designed clothes for the world's most beautiful women including Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. In business he created a multi-million pound luxury brand that became a favourite with both celebrities and royalty, most famously the Duchess of Cambridge who wore a McQueen dress on her wedding day. But behind the confident facade and bad-boy image, lay a sensitive soul who struggled to survive in the ruthless world of fashion. As the pressures of work intensified, so McQueen became increasingly dependent on the drugs that contributed to his tragic end. Meanwhile, in his private life, his failure to find lasting love with a string of boyfriends only added to his despair. And then there were the dark secrets that haunted his sleep...
A modern-day fairy tale infused with the darkness of a Greek tragedy, this book will tell the sensational story of McQueen's rise from his hard East London upbringing to the hedonistic world of fashion. Those closest to the designer - his family, friends and lovers - have spoken for the first time about the man they knew, a fragmented and insecure individual, a lost boy who battled to gain entry into a world that ultimately destroyed him.