Monday, June 12, 2006

"Clever Tom", and more product placement

A fascinating look at one of the world's preeminent wordsmiths. It's somehow unsurprising that a chaotic, and frequently horrific, upbringing resulted in a writer best known for his wit, wordplay and narrative inventiveness. Langley's piece is refreshingly nonjudgmental, despite the colorful and sometimes salacious elements in his subject's history. It's a rare author profile that gives you a greater appreciation for the subject and their work without making you feel like you've had your nose rubbed in their dirty laundry, and Langley pulls it off:
First there were the Nazis who, when he was still little Tomas Straussler, murdered half his family, and forced the remnants to flee to Singapore. Next came the Japanese Imperial Army, which, less than two years later, invaded Singapore, sending Tom's mother, Martha (his father stayed behind, and was never seen again), on a refugee boat to India with her two young sons.

...At 68, he is still discovering himself. When he was a boy, his mother drew a veil over the family's past. There had been a Jewish grandmother, she said, and this was why they had to leave Czechoslovakia. Only relatively recently did he learn the fully story.

His whole family was Jewish. Most of his relatives had been murdered in the death camps. His father, once the house doctor at the Bata shoe factory in Zlin, had been killed in a Japanese air raid. Some years ago, after a visit to Czechoslovakia, he wrote movingly of meeting an elderly woman, a former Bata employee, whose gashed hand had been stitched by Dr Straussler. "I touch it. In that moment, I am surprised by grief, a small catching up of all the grief I owe. I have nothing which came from my father, nothing he owned or touched, but here is his trace, a small scar."
I would like to think that books that are obviously engineered from the get-go to be de facto catalogs for some corporation's catalog of products will set off young kids' bullshit meters. But I wonder... (See also: The dark side of copyright law.) As for the rest of us, insert your own reason why this is insane and get on with it.

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