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This week: Footprints and fire.
Fiction: “Roth Unbound: A Conversation with Claudia Roth Pierpont,” at Albertine (February 24): Philip Roth, the man, is notoriously difficult to approach. In 2012 he declared that he would retire as an author. Later in 2014, appearing in an interview with Alan Yentob on the BBC, he stated that he would do no more interviews going forward. So in the absence of a chance to meet or hear from the author himself, Albertine, the bookstore and cultural space in the French Cultural Services building on Fifth Avenue, offers what might be the next best thing. Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) is a personal friend of the author’s who published in 2013 a highly personal biography of the man, entitled Roth Unbound. This Wednesday she will offer a picture of Roth both “at work and at play.” —BR
Nonfiction: Footprints in Time: Memories, by John Colville (Michael Russell Publishing): Many readers will know of John Colville’s war diaries, The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939–1955, which give an intimate portrait of his life as a private secretary to Winston Churchill. Rather fewer people, I suspect, know his memoir Footprints in Time, which takes him from boyhood in London through the war years and beyond. The younger son of the younger son of Charles Colville, 1st Viscount Colville of Culross, he inherited standing but no family wealth and, though possessed of many advantages, including intelligence and a beguiling prose style, had to make his own way in the world. He saw action as an RAF pilot in the war, but this memoir, though it touches upon his own activities during the war, is focused firmly outward to the world and personalities of public life. The cynosure, as in his diaries, is the figure of Winston Churchill, whom he regards with deep admiration but also with just a soupçon of affectionate critical distance. “It is wrong,” he writes at the beginning of one chapter, “to assume that great men necessarily, or indeed normally, have good judgment.” That, “or indeed normally,” is a patent of Colville’s stylish literary mastery as well as his acumen. This book (published in 1976) is not, alas, easy to come by, but the following anecdote, from 1944, will suggest why it is worth looking up. In the latter part of the war, the Foreign Office supplied the Prime Minister with a weekly digest of news from the American press. Churchill read these meticulously, and once asked Colville who was the author of these “brilliant if somewhat perfervid reports.” A little digging revealed that their author was the young Isaiah Berlin. Colville passed along the name. Weeks passed. One day, a luncheon was scheduled in the Garden Rooms at Number 10. Guests included Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir Alan Brooke and his wife, the Chief Whip, the Duchess of Buccleuch, and Colville. Just before lunch, Churchill’s wife. Clementine. told Colville that the Prime Minister had insisted on her inviting Mr. Irving Berlin, whose arrival in London to entertain the troops had been widely reported. “Irving Berlin arrived and was introduced,” Colville writes, “but since he can only have had the haziest idea of who his fellow guests were, he kept a discreet silence throughout most of the meal.” At last, as luncheon hastened to its end, Churchill turned to his American guest. “Now, Mr. Berlin, tell us what in your opinion is the likelihood of my dear friend, the President, being re-elected for a fourth term.” Let me just end by saying that the response was not quite what Churchill expected, including the expostulation “Gee, to think that Winston Churchill should ask me, Irving Berlin, a question of that importance. . . .” As I say, the book is out of print and you’ll have to look hard for it, but it’s worth the effort. —RK
Art: Meryl Meisler at Steven Kasher Gallery (February 25–April 9): For the last several years, Meryl Meisler, a retired public school teacher from Bushwick, Brooklyn, has released a treasure trove of her photographs from the 1970s that recall the oddities of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and the intimacies of Diane Arbus. Her recent books, “A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick” and “Purgatory & Paradise: SASSY ’70s Suburbia & The City,” document the juxtapositions she often found with her camera—of the high and lows of a city in decadence and decline. This Thursday, the esteemed Steven Kasher Gallery will open with a solo exhibition of Meisler’s earliest work, luxuriating in the patterns and characters that once filled the hair salons, Bar Mitzvah halls, and rec rooms of her suburban Long Island upbringing and standing in contrast to the grittiness of downtown New York. —JP
Music: “Folk, Form, and Fire: The Prokofiev Piano Concertos,” conducted by Valery Gergiev at BAM (February 24): Composer binges are all the rage lately. Earlier this year we had a complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies from the Berlin Philharmonic. The Chamber Music Society just finished tours of the Beethoven and Bartók String Quartets. And now, on Wednesday, the Mariinsky Orchestra visits BAM for a one-night performance of all of Prokofiev’s piano concerti by five different pianists, headlined by the superb Daniil Trifonov. Valery Gergiev, who in spite of political controversy remains one of the greatest conductors before the public today, leads the performance. —ECS
Other: “Beat Nite,” presented by Jason Andrew in collaboration with BRIC (February 26): The fourteenth iteration of “Beat Nite” returns to Brooklyn this Friday evening from 6–8pm, with a new focus on the arts spaces of Downtown BK. Venues will range from the MoCADA Museum to UrbanGlass, with an afterparty at BRIC. Following the “collaborative” mandate of Norte Maar, the event’s nonprofit organizer, one of this season’s highlights will be the ability to see the performance group BOOMERANG in open rehearsal at the Mark Morris Dance Center. More details here. —JP
From the archive: Semiotics and murder, by Barry Schwabsky: In the week of Umberto Eco’s death, we share Barry Schwabsky’s September 1983 review of The Name of the Rose.
From our latest issue: The globalist legal agenda, by Andrew C. McCarthy: On Justice Stephen Breyer’s legal philosophy.