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Sydney Writers Festival p1

This edition of readersvoice.com features the biographer of an English comedian who struggled as a solo variety performer, but became an international comedy star through tv. First up, though, the Sydney Writers' Festival.

I managed to ask a few of the writers at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, May 19- 25, about their favorite books. Most speakers at writers festivals push the same political line. It was refreshing to get a trustworthy and objective speaker in Ramachandra Guha.

Ramachandra Guha, author of A Corner of a Foreign Field, the Indian History of a British Sport (Picador), had an awesome knowledge of Indian history and cricket, which he shared, pausing every now and then for a gulp of water, before continuing for a fascinated audience. At one point one of his co-panellists referred to an obscure innings of an Indian cricketer in some game decades ago. Ramachandra Guha gave the exact number of runs the player had amassed.
His excellent book tells the history of India through the prism of the game of cricket.
He said some of his favorite books were: In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh; The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England, by Mark Bloch, J.E. Anderson; and Beyond the Boundary, by C.L.R. James.

Co-panellist William Dalrymple also wrote a history of Anglo-Indian relations, in White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India. He used the example of a love affair between an East India Company man and a 15 year old Mughal princess that resulted in a pregnancy.
Mr Dalrymple, a travel writer, noted for such books as From the Holy Mountain; and City of Djinns, also talked about how, recently, he had walked out of an interview for the first time in his life. Suddenly his erstwhile interviewer appeared in the audience and started yelling at Mr Dalrymple much to his horror.
I managed to ask Mr Dalrymple about his favorite books (when the other audience member stopped yelling) and they were: The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron ; In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin; War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy; the journalism of Truman Capote; and Steven Runciman’s The Fall of Constantinople 1453.

Anthony Beevor was another credible speaker and writer, not out to push an ideological barrow. It’s a pity historians like Anthony Beevor weren’t the norm. He is the author of Stalingrad, and Berlin, spoke about his research for these respected histories. He and his researcher were given permission for very limited use of files in Russian archives. Russian Intelligence supervised much of their research, forbidding access to “negative information”, only permitting the perusal of book-marked pages. However, furtively, Mr Beevor and his researcher viewed the forbidden reports. These included accounts of battlefront suicides, drunkenness, desertions, and executions in the Red Army. He wondered what the reaction would be in Russia when the Russian translation of his books hit the shelves there. Mr Beevor also spoke about how the bodies of German soldiers, killed fighting the Red Army, are still being found in Germany. Some East Germans used metal detectors to look for helmets and medals. They would dig up the bodies, take the things they could sell in East German street markets, and leave the bones piled up under trees. Mr Beevor said he met a man whose job it was to collect these bones and give them an official burial. Mr Beevor’s favorite book of history was The Face of Battle, by John Keegan, because it showed the experience of the soldier in war and got away from portraying war as a chessboard. He said he also liked some of the oral histories of the 1980s, and he said his style was influenced by all these books. He aimed to give a history of both leaders and soldiers in times of war.

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