The Parc du Cinquantenaire is a large slab of green in the Etterbeek district of Brussels. It is home to some museums, a lot of statues, and a triumphal arch. Foreigners like the park and crowd it out on Belgium’s rare sunny weekends.
Buried in a corner behind hedges and an overshadowing building is a shiny grey stone wall and a monument of an arching pilot reaching for the sky. The wall records all the Belgian airmen who have died in military service since the first biplane wobbled into the sky over the country back in 1908. In the section for the dead of the Second World War is the name R. de Hemricourt de Grunne.
The neatly carved white letters hide a story not many know. Comte de Hemricourt de Grunne was a war hero and aristocrat, but he was also one of only fifty Belgians who fought for General Franco’s right-wing nationalist rebels in the Spanish Civil War. Short, dark, and bushy browed, the Belgian playboy abandoned a life of idle luxury to fight a personal crusade against a foreign government in a foreign land.
Some men live like heroes. James Horowitz did school at West Point, flew fighter jets in the Korean War, wrote screenplays for Hollywood, skied in Aspen, loved in Paris, and knew film stars as friends. He wrote novels as James Salter that ached with sex and loss. Burning the Days is his autobiography.
Americans who write about books for a living call Salter a great prose stylist, a literary giant, a master. Whether you agree depends on your tolerance for misty poetics and heartfelt vagueness. Here’s a slice of prose:
‘A woman, burnished by the sun, walks down the street in early morning carrying an eel. Many times I have written of this eel, smooth and dying, dark with the mystery of shadowy banks and, on that particular day, covered with bits of gravel. The eel is a saint to me, oblivious, already in another world.’
If that makes your heart throb then this is the book for you. Those already frowning should steer clear.
In 1921 a young journalist from Illinois arrived in Paris with a loving wife and a suitcase of tyro manuscripts. Seven years soaking up the avant-garde teachings of Ezra Pound and James Joyce turned him into the best prose stylist of his generation. Ernest Hemingway returned to America with a fresh literary approach, a book contract, and a younger, richer wife.
Most readers still associate Ernest Hemingway with the French capital, an image cemented by his posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast. Guides do walking excursions round his old haunts for the tourists.
Richard Owen has other ideas. In a new book he makes the case that Italy, not France, was the place closest to Hemingway’s heart.
I‘m working on my fourth book. Soldiers of a Different God should be out in late 2018. Crack open a bottle of champagne and alert the Nobel Prize committee.
Still a few months of keyboard-melting work to go but I can always use some help. Let me know if you’ve got any information or photographs that could help tell the untold story of how an unlikely anti-Islamic alliance of feminists, football ultras, evangelical Christians, gay activists, fascists, populist politicians, and surfing rabbis from California fuelled the rise of the nationalist right across Europe and gave us President Donald J Trump.
What’s the link between Raymond Chandler, poet laureate of noir detective fiction, and Charles Bukowski, patron saint of low-life drunks? Two that I can think of: a dead gay psychic and a book.
The book was Bukowski’s Pulp. Published in 1994, it was the last he ever wrote. The bard of the bottle was on his way out when he wrote this homage/parody to the LA detective thriller.
The works of Chandler and fellow noir master Dashiell Hammett loom large over Bukowski’s book, even as he subverts their tropes and goes looking for more philosophical mean streets to stroll down. The text eventually escapes its Chandler pastiche and meanders off into autobiography and a creeping sense of mortality.
The dead gay psychic is something else.
Hi friends. I had a long chat with Angus of the WW2 podcast recently about Ethiopia, mercenaries, Haile Selassie, and my book Lost Lions of Judah. He trimmed it down and tidied it up and now you can hear us discussing the Italo-Ethiopian war in glorious stereo through iTunes, Facebook, as well as the WW2 website. It’ll probably turn up on Youtube some time soon.
Tune in and take a listen, then get your hands on the book itself [or amazon.com]. It’s about the crazy gang of adventurers who helped Ethiopia fight back against the Fascist Italian invasion of 1935.
It was a war between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a bunch of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.
Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion tells the whole colourful, blood-stained story.
Texan winters are unpredictable. Rain turns the state into a soggy mess one day then blazing sun bakes it hard the next. This changeability is especially pronounced in the state capital of Austin.
‘If you don’t like the weather,’ say seasoned Austinites, ‘just wait five minutes.’
On Saturday 8 January 1938 they had their usual dose of fickle climate. The sun shone intermittently through the day but by late afternoon grey skies ruled and a chill wind chased commuters out of the downtown business district into the suburbs. In an upscale part of town a young man called Thomas H Markley jnr celebrated his twenty-first birthday with a gang of college friends outside his parents’ house.
He had a case of beer and a revolver to keep him warm.