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Friday 15 December 2017

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, Play, by Simon Stephens, Wyndhams Theatre, London, 7.5* out of 10

A surprisingly moving play brought to life by excellent acting performances in a superbly designed and perfectly lit set. 

The Christmas season is the appropriate time for fairy tales. The story of the relationship between Georgie (Anne-Marie Duff), an American woman of limited financial means in her early forties and Alex (Kenneth Cranham) a lonesome, cuddly bear of an intellectual butcher in his mid-seventies is a fairy tale for grown-ups. They meet, apparently by accident. Their respective backstories as well as their story together is revealed over 80 minutes in a series of vignettes of dialogue between them in which they discuss, argue and come close to each other romantically. In the process Georgie and Alex negotiate the terms and mutual expectations from their uneven relationship. Is it utilitarian, selfless, potentially romantic ever shifting, all of the above?

The dialogues contain some fine writing with philosophical and scientific speculation woven in. Used in the title of the play, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle from the weird and wonderful world of quantum physics states that it is impossible for an observer at any moment to determine both the location and the momentum of a subatomic particle. In this play the uncertainty principle serves principally as a metaphor for people and the relationships between them. We are sub-atomic particles passing in the night forming temporary bonds with each other. In the 18th century, The German  author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had used a similar metaphor from chemistry for more orderly pairings in his novel "Elective Affinities" (Die Wahlverwandtschaften). In the 21st century and thanks to quantum physics scientific and human affinities appear less predictable.    

What lifts this production of a pleasant, life-affirming play above the ordinary, are the excellent acting performances by Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham, including the physics and chemistry between them; the superb set design by Bunny Christie perfectly lit by award- winning Paule Constable, that in its purity alludes to the world of quantum physics evoked in the play’s title where the space of the action expands and contracts, beds, benches and chairs appear and disappear with great precision; and finally, Marianne Elliott’s precise direction which brings set, lighting, actors and story together like a well-choreographed small hadron collider.

All in all, this surprisingly moving play about human connection and romance in unlikely places made for a very enjoyable evening in the theatre - not just for ageing nerds. 

*Runs at the Wyndhams Theatre in London through 6 January 2018.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Muhi – Generally Temporary, Documentary Film Israel/Germany (2017), by Rina Castelnuovo – Hollander and Tamir Elterman, 9* out of 10, screening organised by Zurich Human Rights Film Festival together with Omanut, Switzerland

Muhi - Generally Temporary is a must-see, uplifting documentary of the human spirit that tells important truths about ordinary people in Gaza, Israel and everywhere else on this conflict-prone planet who faced with challenging circumstances rise to accomplish the extraordinary. In showing this, the Castelnuovo - Hollander, Elterman and their team have themselves produced an extraordinary labour of love.

2014 Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel and Muhi, a 3-year old Palestinian boy from Gaza has been receiving treatment for a rare autoimmune disease since he was a baby. While waiting for a suitable bone-marrow donor Muhi has developed an infection. To save his life the doctors at Tel Hashomer had to amputate his arms below the elbow and his legs below his knee. He is now dependent on continuous care and treatment. Returning to Gaza would mean certain death because the treatment he needs cannot be administered there. The complex administrative arrangements between the Gaza administration run by Hamas, the officially recognized Palestinian administration run by Fatah and the Israeli administration run by the Israeli government are designed for short-term temporary care of humanitarian cases in Israeli hospitals. The term of Muhi’s generally temporary but specifically indefinite stay must therefore be temporarily extended for an indefinite period to keep him alive. As part of the arrangements between the Palestinian and Israeli governments a responsible adult above the age of 55 must accompany any children from Gaza receiving medical treatment in Israel. In the case of Muhi, the responsible adult is his maternal grandfather and patriarch of a large family in Gaza, Abu Naïm. In 2014 Abu Naïm has been at Muhi’s side at the hospital for more than three years. The administrative barriers for children from Gaza and their families to receiving treatment in Israel are high. Buma Inbar, an ordinary Israeli citizen in his fifties has dedicated himself to helping the families of Palestinian children needing treatment in Israeli hospitals with navigating the labyrinth of permits and procedures across the three bureaucracies involved. Over the years Buma and Abu Naïm have developed a true friendship based on mutual sympathy respect and appreciation. As we follow the extraordinarily courageous, funny and wise Muhi over the next three years of his life lived against the background of a very fraught political context, we recognize that his charming personality, which make him a joy and inspiration to those whose life he touches, is in large measure due to his extraordinary grandfather Abu Naïm who is in turn supported by his Israeli friend Buma.

With their longitudinal study resulting in a fly-on-the-wall documentary centring around Muhi, Castelnuovo-Hollander, Elterman and their teams in Israel and Gaza have captured extraordinary moments of love, tragedy and joy against a most difficult political and institutional context. 

Very few people would expect that a film about the relationship between Gazan Palestinians and Israeli Jews would be a powerful document of hope, friendship and love, the extraordinary fruit of which is a fantastic little boy with a wonderful potential. Abu Naïm, Buma and Muhi emanate a force-field of love, respect and humanity that draws in the people around them whether they want it or not. The merit of the film makers and their teams in Israel and Gaza is that they allow their audience to take part and become drawn in too. This is due also in no small part to the excellent editing by Joëlle Alexis. Perhaps the documentary could have been slightly shorter towards the end. Perhaps the subtitles could indicate better for audiences who cannot distinguish between Hebrew and Arabic, when Muhi and Abu Naïm speak Arabic and when Hebrew: paradoxically, yet inevitably, Muhi the Palestinian boy and his Palestinian grandfather speak to each other in Hebrew because this is the main language for Muhi who has been in an Israeli hospital since he was a baby. (Abu Naïm speaks a good Hebrew, because in his youth, before the political situation between Gaza and Israel deteriorated, he worked on building sites in Israel.) But these are minor points, that stand against an extraordinary achievement of documenting the strength of sheer humanity, friendship and love in the most difficult of circumstances.

Muhi- Generally Temporary is currently touring the international film-festival circuit and deservedly picks up award after award. It is a must-see, uplifting documentary of the human spirit that tells  important truths about ordinary people in Gaza, Israel and everywhere else on this conflict-prone planet who faced with challenging circumstances rise to accomplish the extraordinary. In showing this, the Castelnuovo - Hollander, Elterman and their team have themselves produced an extraordinary labour of love.

At one point in the film Abu Naïm is asked by Muhi’s father, who has 8 other children with his one wife, whether it would not be better to bring Muhi back to Gaza and submit to God’s will. What are the chances anyway that Muhi will grow up to be an adult?  “Yesh Tikvah” Abu Naïm says in Hebrew; there is always hope. Thanks to people like Abu Naïm, Buma Inbar and Muhi there truly is.

Left to right: Abu Naïm, Muhi and Buma

Thursday 30 November 2017

The Ferryman, Play (2017), by Jez Butterworth, Gielgud Theatre, London 9* out of 10

The Ferryman embodies the strong writing, directing and performing for which it is worth to go to the theatre in London even if you come from far away. Great directing  of a 20 people cast by Sam Mendes.

It is 1981 in County Armagh Northern Ireland and the Carneys, an extended lively Irish-catholic family, are about to bring in the annual harvest on their farm. They are staunch republicans, former staunch republicans who were members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and some of them try not to get involved too much in the conflict. But the recent past is about to catch up with them and shatter the present accommodations of their family and social lives.

Jez Butterworth’s 2017 play is a great piece of storytelling about family, love, crime and politics. It is intelligent, witty and suspenseful, in turns, funny and moving. The Ferryman is theatre on a grand scale with a cast of more than 20 characters, a few of them children with substantial roles. The cast even includes a baby that last night when I saw the play accomplished its part with angelic brilliance. The entire cast is a joy to behold, jointly and severally. This is remarkable as the acclaimed cast from its original run at the Royal Court Theatre has been replaced by an all new one. There are outstanding performances from William Houston as Quinn Carney, head of the family, and Sarah Green as his brother’s wife Caitlin Carney. Director Sam Mendes has done an excellent job to avoid any dull moments in a play of about 3 hours. With the help of Mendes and the excellent cast, Butterworth moves deftly among the genres of crime thriller, family drama and mystical interludes.

If anything can be criticized, it is the accumulation of (Northern) Irish stereotypes, which may make this play less enjoyable for those who have lived in Northern Ireland during the troubles or still live there today.

But wherever you come, this is the strong writing, directing and performing for which it is worth to come to London and visit theatre here.

Thursday 9 November 2017

The Square, Film (2017), written and directed by Ruben Œstlund, 10* out of 10

Funny, intelligent, disturbing and thought-provoking, The Square fully deserves the Golden Palm it was awarded at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Christian (Claes Bang) is the suave curator of a modern art museum in Sweden. When a generous donor makes possible the acquisition of a major new work called The Square. The Square, Christian decrees, will be a space where everyone is listened to, and in contrast to the outside world everyone can bring the wishes needs and demands and have them fulfilled. Christian uses his flair for effective communication strategies to attract the attention of the art critics in the international media to the new piece and he asks his media- team to come up with a provocative campaign. He also gives an interview to an American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss) and, after a party at the museum, the two spend the night together. When on the way to work one morning Christian’s phone, wallet and the cufflinks he got from his grandpa are stolen, the dark threat of a chaotic Hobbesian world begins to encroach on his life from outside the space of the museum, where he feels comfortably in control of the exhibits and performances he has selected to be shown.  But slowly the jungle out there threatens to uncomfortably impinge on Christian’s hipster existence.

Ruben Œstlund’s The Square is a masterpiece of writing and direction, that effortlessly switches among the genres of fly-on-the-wall-documentary, satirical mockumentary and socio-political drama. In a highly entertaining and suspenseful manner Œstlund focusses on the issue of trust in a society which is increasingly divided between privileged economically, socially and culturally comfortable leftish intellectuals and people, often with immigrant backgrounds, who are struggling to make ends meet and are in danger of becoming homeless or already living on the street. 

Funny, intelligent, disturbing and thought-provoking, The Square fully deserves the Golden Palm it was awarded at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Claes Bang is a credible and charismatic Christian (at times reminding us of the younger Pierce Brosnan when he played James Bond). Elisabeth Moss does a great job in her supporting role as the feisty American journalist Anne, who is ready to joust with him, at least in the private sphere. Terry Notary as the artist Oleg who is totally dedicated to his art-performance deserves a special mention.

For anyone interested in how modern art and modern western society interact and affect us, The Square is an exciting must see. 


Sunday 5 November 2017

Literary Festival Zürich Liest: Novel und Radio Play as Complementary Forms – Gila Lustiger’s social crime novel “Die Schuld der Anderen” – 8* out of 10

In 2016, Gila Lustiger’s first crime novel “Die Schuld der Anderen” remained on Der Spiegel’s bestseller-list for many weeks. It shows Lustiger as a sharp-eyed observer of French society. She is also a thoughtful and effective speaker. The novel has not (yet?) been published in English, but her excellent essay about France “We Are Not Afraid” which she wrote in the wake of the terrorist attacks of November 2015 in Paris has and is a great read.
On Saturday, 28 October 2017, as part of the “Zurich Liest” (Zurich reads) literary festival Omanut Switzerland (an organisation dedicated since 1941 to the furtherance of Jewish art and culture in Switzerland) organised its Thriller night by presenting a radio play based on the crime novel Die Schuld der Anderen (“The Guilt/Fault of the Others” would be the literal translation of the German title) by Gila Lustiger. This was followed by a tasty dinner, readings from the novel by the author, and a conversation led by Omanut’s Karen Roth with Gila Lustiger and Barbara Liebster, who has adapted the book for radio. 

The publication of the crime novel in Germany has a special history. It was launched on the day of the terrorist attacks in Paris which started at the Stade de France football stadium, continued at several bistros in the centre of the city and culminated in a massacre at the Bataclan concert venue. The novel’s vivid and accurate descriptions of the social context in France captured the attention of the reviewers. Its central plot, which is about cover-up of corporate malfeasance fell somewhat by the wayside. That even though the central plot, based on a true story, packed a considerable socioeconomic punch in its own right: in France, the state, business and the media are often unhealthily intertwined and very centralized within its capital’s bubble. But it was perhaps inevitable that Lustiger’s sharp observations of the underprivileged workers and youths with immigrant backgrounds in peripheral towns and the infamous “banlieues” grabbed the attention of German reviewers and readers. The novel spent many weeks the top ten of Der Spiegel’s bestseller list.

Barbara Liebster’s radio play adaptation, on the other hand, cuts to the chase of the novel’s central criminal plot which focuses on the family and elite university interconnectedness among the French Paris-centred elites with its revolving doors between civil service, political life and French corporations at the expense of factory workers.

“Die Schuld der Anderen” is Lustiger's first crime-novel. Lustiger, who grew up in Germany, daughter of one of the most prominent historians of the holocaust of which he was a survivor himself, has lived in France for more than two decades and raised a family there. She is herself an avid researcher of social phenomena that capture her imagination. For her novel, she travelled around France observing and speaking to people at all social levels. Lustiger also is an avid reader of social sciences and philosophical literature, which helps her put her observations she makes in the field into a sound intellectual framework. Finally, as a good social scientist and journalist with a certain amount of distance and irony, she is also an accurate observer of her own feelings and views when they are confronted with the individual destiny. So, whether it is a novel or an essay, her readers get the benefit of an intellectual journalist’s perspective on contemporary social phenomena.  

Lustiger spoke about her method of reading, making lists and visiting the real people in the real places, she also turns out to be a calm thoughtful and accurate explainer of the world around her.  She does this from the perspective of an outsider, but one who knows what she is Talking and writing about from the inside. She writes and speaks clearly, without jargon and without over-simplification. Gila Lustiger is self-assured in expressing her findings and views but thankfully without any of the arrogance of some of her male colleagues.

As the evening unfolded, it was therefore inevitable that the conversation quickly turned away from the question of the various literary forms of telling a story (, i.e. novel vs. radio play) to the political and social context of what is happening in the two countries that together are often wishfully described as the motor of the European Union, France and Germany. 

With hindsight, Gila Lustiger was so interesting as a speaker that one wished the evening would have contained more conversation. Attendees might have been given the option of listening to the radio play beforehand at home, on a train or in their car.  Having said that, it was a very interesting and stimulating evening including a tasty dinner and a sell-out event.

Die Schuld der Anderen has been translated into French and published by Actes Sud as “Les Insatiables”. It was well received by French reviewers. The novel has not been translated into English but other books by Gila Lustiger have, including the book-essay “We Are Not Afraid”, published by Notting Hill Editions, which was written under the impression of the terror attacks on Paris of 13 November 2015 but talks about the changes challenging French society and their impact on it in a clear-sighted, intelligent and readable way. 

An successful event, that made many of us attending discover Gila Lustiger as an excellent novelist and thoughtful observer of current societal developments in Europe and beyond.

Gila Lustiger

Monday 9 October 2017

Pigumim (Scaffolding), Film, Israel/Poland (2017), written and directed by Matan Yaïr, 7.5* out of 10

The strengths of this award-winning Israeli film are the screenplay and the acting performances. The difficult and complex father-son relationship is poignant. The acting performances by Asher Lax as the irascible youth and Ya’acov Cohen as his hard-as-nails father stand out.

At the age of 19, Asher Lax (Asher Lax) is in his last year of high school. He is in a class for youths with behavioural problems and needs to pass his history and literature tests to leave school with at least a minimum of qualifications. Asher’s parents are divorced and he lives and works with his domineering father Milo (Ya’acov Cohen).  Milo owns a small company in the building trade. He is an ex-convict who sees life as a struggle for survival through hard physical work and a constant vigilance against others one cannot trust. His “jokes” are reflect his disappointment with his failed marriage. Milo seems as cold as ice and doing what he must do to survive and trying to inculcate his philosophy into his only son. Asher is accepting and even submissive towards his tough and sometimes violent father, who makes no secret that he sees no value in formal education and qualifications. At school, Asher is prone to disruptive behaviour and violent outbursts. When Rami (Ami Smolartchik) a dedicated, frustrated and sensitive man – in everything the opposite of Asher’s father - begins to teach Asher’s class in history and literature, he manages to make a connection to Asher and the other difficult youths. But then Asher comes under additional pressure, when his father goes to hospital for cardiac surgery and leaves him in charge of the business. Things take a dramatic turn that will test Asher to breaking point.

The strengths of this award-winning Israeli film are the screenplay and the acting performances. The difficult and complex father-son relationship is poignant. The acting performances by Asher Lax and Ya’acov Cohen as his hard-as-nails father stand out. The drama which could have easily taken the path of redemption by the “right” kind of teacher is grittier and more challenging than that. These strengths outweigh the weaknesses in the film’s cinematography. 

This is writer director Matan Yaïr’s first feature film. He wrote and produced during his sabbatical year in his teaching job. Asher Laks was one of his students in real-life and together with seeing the young Robert de Niro in films like Taxi Driver, inspired Matan to write his screen-play. He approached Laks to see whether he could play a character like his real-life self on screen. So, the story of the making of Scaffolding would yield a good screen-play, too. Matan Yaïr has now returned to teaching and one can only wish that making this thoughtful and thought-provoking film has helped him to build up the resilience he needs to live with the frustrations and challenges of his day-job.

Film-making is a truly international business these days. The Polish producers who recognized the universality of the themes of this film and were not deterred by its being clearly situated in Israeli society and its education system are to be congratulated for their courage. The positive reception of “Scaffolding” at the Toronto and Zurich Film Festivals is their just reward. "Scaffolding" can be seen in London in November at the 2017 UK Jewish Film Festival.

Asher (right) and his teacher Rami

Tuesday 3 October 2017

Die Hauptstadt (Capital City), by Robert Menasse, 9* out of 10

With Die Hauptstadt, a novel about Brussels as the political and urban centre of the European Union, the award winning Viennese novelist Robert Menasse has written a melancholic, ironic, witty and suspenseful novel with Brussels and the European Commission at its centre. 

Is there such a thing as identity? If so, does it have a geographic-political dimension, tying a person to a region, a nation, a cultural space? Do you have to be European to ask yourself these questions towards the end of the 2nd decade of the 21st century?

These thoughts came to my mind on reading the Viennese writer Robert Menasse’s long awaited novel Die Hauptstadt (Capital City). Long awaited, because his previous novel, Don Juan de la Mancha was published more than 10 years ago. Unfortunately, it has never been translated into English (only Spanish, Russian, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Bulgarian and Greek).  Long awaited also, because Menasse’s initial stay in Brussels and visit to the European Commission to research his new novel led to a much-noted essay published in 2012, in which the rather ironic and self-critical novelist showed himself as a passionate supporter of the European idea as conceived by its founding fathers, in particular, Jean Monnet and Walter Hallstein. Menasse also singled out the international civil servants working in Brussels for considerable praise, describing them as highly competent and intelligent and committed to the European idea. He identified and criticised the culprit for the lack of progress towards ever closer union in Europe as governments who put their nation’s perceived narrow interest ahead of that of Europe as a whole; the demon bedevilling Europe was Nationalism, the only real remedy, according to the activist pro-European Menasse was the abolition of the European nation-states resulting in a United States of Europe consisting of European regions rather than European nation states as its components. My thoughts on Menasse's activist Essay, Der Europäische Landbote (The European Courier), can be found by clicking here.  

With Die Hauptstadt, a novel about Brussels as the current political and urban centre of Europe, the melancholic, ironic and witty novelist is back. Whatever one’s attitude to the European Union one can read this novel, be intelligently entertained and interpret it to support one’s point of view.

The protagonists of this satirical drama include an ageing Holocaust survivor from Brussels and a lobbying representative of the EPP. No, that is not Europeans People’s Party but its acronymic twin and nemesis, the European Pig Producers. Then there is the professor from Austria, with a father supportive of the Nazis in the 1940s, who has been invited to a meeting of a European think-tank. This turns out to be a highly predictable junket, for re-chewing stale European Union pragmatism instead of looking for bold new ideas. Then there is a whole menagerie of international civil servants working for the European Commission, whose national identities turn out to have multiple facets. They arrive to their work on their bicycles, financially incentivised by their employer to demonstrate ecological conscience and a healthier life style. Some work in the Directorate General (DG) for Culture, others in the DG for Trade and the DG for Agriculture. Into this mix comes a Polish assassin,  a Belgian police inspector and a peripatetic pig being sighted in Brussels at different times and places. 

Out of all these characters and their interwoven lives, Menasse threads a satirical, dramatic and suspenseful novel. The organisational politics of the European Union and the personal and professional aspirations of its civil servants are seen in the alternating light emanating from Europe’s terrible 20th century history, her turbulent present and her uncertain future.

Book reviewers in German speaking/reading Europe see Die Hauptstadt as the first literary attempt at a novel of the European Union. In both Austria, Germany and Switzerland the novel has been rather well received. It has been put on the long-list for the most prestigious literary prizes in Germany and Austria (the equivalents of the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom).  

With Brexit, the outcome of recent elections in France and Germany, President Macron’s ambitious plans for the Eurozone and bullish Catalonian regionalism it is for German readers an excellent literary accompaniment to the music of time. I warmly recommend it. The rights for UK and the Commonwealth  have been acquired by MacLehose Press, so the wait for the English Translation will hopefully not be long.

Editorial Note:I amended the original article on 9 November 2017, after Robert Menasse mentioned to me that the English translation he had chosen for the title of his novel was Capital City rather than the more ambiguous The Capital which I had originally used.  

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Der Europäische Landbote (the European Courier) by Robert Menasse

With his publication of  Der Europäische Landbote, Robert Menasse became the unlikely poster-boy in German speaking Europe of ever closer European Union, as envisaged by founding fathers Jean Monnet and Walter Hallstein. To educated continental Europeans, there is an undeniable emotional appeal in Menasse's radical European idealism; but embarking on such a project in reality maybe a dangerous endeavour to throw out the baby of the nation state with the bathwater of nationalism.  

After Brexit, I have had to give some thought to my European (Union) identity, which is one of a few that I ascribe to myself. Among the continental European authors who have helped me in this endeavour by providing a challenging perspective different from my own is Robert Menasse, who published his almost lyrical, political essay Der Europäische Landbote (The European Courier) in German. It is an emotional plea for a United States of Europe that is post-national and post-capitalist. Contrary to Menasse's novels, there is not much irony and humour in his essay, which he wrote while researching a European novel. This novel, Die Hauptstadt (The Capital), whose title refers to Brussels, is now available in German and apparently not short of irony and humour. But the subject of this blog entry is is Der Europäische Landbote for which the author received the prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize. At the end of the blog you will find links to expressions of Menasse's European political idealism in English translation.

In 2012 the Austrian writer Robert Menasse goes to Brussels to research a novel he plans to write on that will play in Brussels and whose protagonists will be international civil servants working in the institutions of the European Union. As he sets out on his journey, Menasse has a critical attitude to the reality of the European Union and its civil servants. Once in Brussels, he finds that the civil servants are intelligent, idealistic culturally literate. Indeed, he is so impressed that he publishes an essay about his stay in Brussels, which is call to return to the original ideas by Jean Monnet and Walter Hallstein, namely the creation of a United States of Europe. 

The argument Menasse makes runs as follows: the problem of Europe is Nationalism, which has led to two terrible World Wars and a Holocaust. Recently Nationalism has been raising its ugly head again. Like Monet and Hallstein, Menasse believes that Nationalism can be overcome by replacing European nation states with a European state based around regions rather nations as its building blocks. Such a European state would have as one of its task to reform the free market capitalism that the EU as it exists today has been espousing. Moreover, in 2012, at one of the peaks of the Greek financial crisis, it was European Nations that had taking over the running of the EU and were holding the power rather than the European Commission and the European Parliament. 

In Menasse’s view this pragmatic nation-state-dominated approach to the European Union is a betrayal of its founding fathers' main goal of doing away with nationalism which ultimately means doing away with nations. Adding to that recent members of the EU such as Poland and Hungary bring openly nationalistic ideas which threaten the progress that Menasse and his ilk would like to see.

Inspired by Georg Büchner’s 19th century polemic the Hessian Courier (Der Hessiche Landbote), Menasse writes a passionate defence of Brussels, its institutions and its civil servants; a polemic against the national member governments which criticise, blame and use them for their own purposes of nationalistic one-upmanship. 

Menasse’s 2012 essay is beautifully written, almost lyrical and has the feel of a Bach piano sonata. It has also had an unlikely career as a widely noticed and discussed political essay in Austria and Germany. Since then the rather thoughtful and often ironic Menasse has become the unlikely poster-boy for European Union back-to-the-roots idealism in German speaking countries and is a frequently invited discussant and speaker on the subject. 

The background to Menasse’s writing is his Viennese perspective: Austrian Nationalism today is being represented by the Austrian Freedom Party most of whose ideologues believe that Austria should not exist as a separate country but be part of Germany. So, if you grow up in a country where even the nationalists wish for their country's demise, it is easy to imagine the demise of other countries in favour of a Europe of regions rather than a Europe of nation states. There is also a kind of nostalgic view on the multi-ethnic Austro Hungarian empire improbably combined with a hankering after the various Marxist inspired ideals espoused in the academia of the 1960s. 

Of course, for Monnet and Hallstein, the United States of Europe would have encompassed Germany France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg: culturally speaking a sort of slightly enlarged version of Switzerland, with representative rather than direct democracy at its heart. Not as much of a leap of the imagination as 27 very different nations with wildly different histories.

From their history, Poles and Hungarians for instance have a very different outlook on projects that are designed to suppress their existence as a nation than Germany or France. They also have historically a different relationship with Islam in general and Turkey in particular. To them the idea of a Europe without nations sounds a lot more threatening than desirable. 

Also, to a European pragmatist, like myself, Robert Menasse’s political vision of a Europe of the 27 to a Europe without nations appears unlikely, although more likely after Brexit than before. It may even be a dangerous endeavour to try and throw out the bathwater of nationalism with the baby of the nation state. Nevertheless, to educated continental Europeans, there is an undeniable emotional appeal in Menasse's radical European idealism; but embarking on such a project in reality maybe a dangerous endeavour to throw out the baby of the nation state with the bathwater of nationalism.   

In September 2017, five years on from the European Courier, Robert Menasse has finally written his novel. Die Hauptstadt (The Capital), is about Brussels, the European Union institutions and the people who work in them. It was published this week and has been put on the longlist for this year’s Austrian Book Prize. It is Menasse’s first novel in 10 years and, like me many of his fans are looking forward to reading it. 

Below a link to the English Translation of an essay by Robert Menasse in Eurozine, which repeats many of the ideas from the European Courier, which appears not to have been translated into English. The second link shows excerpts from Menasse's address to the European Parliament (with English subtitles).

Robert Menasse

Jean Monnet Plaque in Paris 16

Sunday 20 August 2017

Die Außerirdischen (The Extraterrestrials), Novel 2017, by Doron Rabinovoci, 8* out of 10

With his new novel, Doron Rabinovici presents a by no means flawless, yet very entertaining and witty socio-political satire that can easily be mistaken for science-fiction. In fact "The Extraterrestrials" owes more to Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" and George Orwell's "Animal Farm" than to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games or Stephen King's Running Man.

Sol is co-founder of a hipster online magazine, which specializes in reporting on fast-moving food trends. Sol’s life-partner Astrid curates exhibitions. When, one morning, the radio reports that extraterrestrials have landed, Sol becomes worried and excited. Astrid is sceptical: to her it looks like a remake of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio play, which enacted this scenario and spread panic among unsuspecting American listeners who thought they were listening to live news reports. When it appears that benevolent camera-shy beings from another planet have indeed landed on earth, Jupp Bitter, Sol’s boss, and Albert Stern, Sol’s work-colleague,  grab the opportunity to expand the mission of it will become the place where expert-discussions are broadcast live via the internet. The audience will be invited to participate and react live. There is of course no shortage of expert-opinion. At the same time, well known show business personalities organise an event to welcome the new arrivals in a show of intergalactic friendship: “We Are the World”. Albert Stern’s show on has the highest viewing figures. Events however take a more sinister turn when our new discrete, extra-terrestrial friends let it be known that they like the taste of human flesh. Still camera-shy, the extraterrestrials offer to eradicate all war and disease on earth in return for small quantities of human flesh - but only from people who would totally voluntarily offer themselves up for sacrifice. Volunteers would be assured of a painless death would have a place in history as revered heroes. Their families would receive generous life-long pay-outs. The generous offer is accepted. Volunteers will participate in a game-show competition in which the winners would be spared and rewarded while the losers of the high stakes game would eventually end up as dead meat, but entirely painlessly and in the best possible taste. Sol begins to excitedly voice criticism of the new societal developments. Astrid is less open in voicing her opinion. But when their neighbour Elliott asks Sol to use his influence at to help him be selected as a candidate in the upcoming game a chain of events is set in motion that will make what is going on in the world very close and personal.

With his latest novel, Doron Rabinovici (Elsewhere, Hitler’s Jews) Tel Aviv born Viennese author, historian and activist enters a genre that is new to him. “The Extraterrestrials” is his first overtly political allegory and social satire; rather than a work of seemingly futuristic science-fiction, it is very much situated in our present. From his previous books, Rabinovici retains a clear eye for observation for how individuals react to ethical and moral challenges. Few other living German-writing authors can formulate with as much wit, clarity and a sense of irony as Doron Rabinovici. This makes the first two thirds of this novel entertaining and at times very funny socio-political satire. In the last third the story takes a more serious, personal tone. This does not give as much opportunity for the kind of short, insightful and witty formulations at which Rabinovici excels.

On the surface the story of the “The Extraterrestrials” seems to echo science fiction best sellers such as Suzanne Collins Hunger Games and Stephen King’s Running Man. But “The Extraterrestrials” focuses not on the participants of the gladiatorial games but the society in which they take place. That society looks eerily like ours. Indeed, “The Extraterrestrials” chimes with some great works of socio-political satire in world literature: In “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for making them Beneficial to the Publick” written in 1729, Jonathan Swift feigns a practical suggestion to fight famine in Ireland: let hungry parents eat their newborn babies. And there is George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, a satire on Stalinist totalitarianism in which Orwell tried “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole”. Moreover, one does not have to be catholic for references to eating the body of Christ and “accepting his sacrifice for us” to come to mind rather disturbingly.

Despite all his sense of irony, or perhaps because of it, Rabinovici is also a deeply committed and ultimately optimistic public intellectual and activist, who engages himself personally when he believes that the situation demands it. This may have stood in the way of following a darkly funny plot through to the very black and devastating ending (e.g. George Orwell in “1984”) his latest novel seems to demand.

Nevertheless, with his suspenseful, compelling, witty and readable novel Rabinovici succeeds in entertaining us intelligently. As it contains a lot of short and sharp dialogue, “The Extraterrestrials” is also a very suitable candidate for adaptation to theatre and film.

Readers of this blog, who do not read German, must wait a bit longer for the English translation of “Die Außerirdischen”. It will be worth the wait, though.

Thursday 27 July 2017

The Party, Film UK (2017), written and directed by Sally Potter, 8.5* out of 10

Oscar nominated writer and director Sally Potter has assembled a stellar cast of British actors at the top of their game to deliver a witty, entertaining and devastating piece of criticism of the current state of a London liberal left elite in a turbulent display of their less than stable social, political and sexual orientations. 

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is preparing a small dinner party for friends to celebrate her nomination to shadow health secretary. As she parries the various congratulatory callers while preparing the chicken vol-au-vents, her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) seems preoccupied. Staring into space, he is getting seriously drunk while playing an eclectic mix of music at high volume on his 1960s-style record player. The first guest to arrive is Janet’s formerly idealistic, now sarcastic friend April (Patricia Clarkson) and her German esoteric life coach partner Gottfried (Bruno Ganz). Soon to be joined by University professor Martha (Cherry Jones) and partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer) the latter of child bearing age and disposition. Investment banker Tom (Cillian Murphy) turns up without his wife Marianne and is even more hyper than usual. The somewhat frayed relationship among the couples will be subjected to a steadily rising crescendo of turbulence as revelations begin to made and Gottfried the imperturbable, sweetly smiling German esoteric decides to try and calm the stormy atmosphere with the strong dose of the kind of vacuous banalities that is sure to drive even the most docile English stoic to contemplating bloody murder.

Filmed in the UK over a period of just two weeks in June 2016, writer and director Sally Potter’s film delivers a hard-hitting critique of the leftish liberal intellectual elite at home in the trendy and comfortable districts of North London (Islington, Hampstead). At the heart of the success of this film is Potters sharp and witty screenplay brought to life by excellent direction and top performances by an ensemble of excellent actors at the top of their game.  The outstanding black and white cinematography by Aleksei Rodionov puts the action into full relief.

Sally Potter has described The Party as a tragedy wrapped in a comedy.  It also is a devastating social commentary delivered in witty and entertaining style. 

The packed audience at the Swiss avant-premiere in Zurich’s Le Paris cinema loved it. The enthusiastic applause for Sally Potter and Bruno Ganz who joined them for Q&A led by local film-maven Marcy Goldberg after the session was genuine and well deserved.


Tuesday 25 July 2017

Rabbi Wolff, Documentary Film Germany 2016, produced and directed by Brigitte Wauer, 8.5* out of 10

Are you looking forward to life in your late 80s? No? Perhaps it's time to think again. You need not be interested in Judaism or any religion for that matter to be amazed and inspired by Brigitte Wauer's deceptively deep and unexpectedly feel-good documentary film about the unconventional Mr William Wolff of Henley-on-Thames and Schwerin.

At the age of 87, William Wolff is not only the Rabbi of the Jewish community of North Eastern Germany, but a bundle of positive intellectual and emotional energy. The Jewish community in the former communist part of Germany consists almost exclusively of people who came to Germany in recent years from the former Soviet Union and Jeremy Wolff has taken the not always rewarding job to be its Rabbi. Soon it will become clear that Mr Wolff has more than one string to his bow and that is a good thing, because his flock and its elected leaders are not as friendly and accepting of their spiritual guide as it might at first appear.    

Producer Director Brigitte Wauer follows William Wolff, who not only commutes between the North-Eastern-German cities of Schwerin and Rostock to serve his community, but whose actual home is in Henley-on-Thames near London from where he commutes regularly to his job in Germany and sets out on other adventures. Between, London, Schwerin, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Wauer manages to gradually draw out the many facets of Wolff’s professional and personal lives and the people whose lives he touches. On the way, we find out, why William Wolff is an expert on British political life and particularly the Houses of Parliament, where the former British Foreign Secretary Lord Owen explains how Wolff was his go-to- man for learning about its workings, when Owen first entered it as a young member. 

Like it’s subject, this documentary is a tour-de-force, showing us an unconventional multi-faceted man in his late 80s with his human strengths and weaknesses, but using sheer intellectual and emotional energy and an innate positivity to live a uniquely interesting and fulfilled life. Moreover, in doing so, he energises and inspires those around him whatever their background, job or outlook on life. 

Director Brigitte Wauer and her team have done an excellent job in transmitting to their audience the feeling of wonder and sheer joie-de-vivre that emanates from Rabbi Wolff. 

You need not be interested in Judaism or any other religion for that matter to be amazed and inspired by this unexpectedly feel-good documentary film, which is sure to come to a cinema or film festival near you. Currently it can be seen at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

Monday 17 July 2017

Gifted, Film USA (2017), written by Tom Flynn directed by Marc Webb 8* out of 10

A very good screen play by Tom Flynn and great understated performances by Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan make Gifted very worthwhile and watchable summer viewing.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans), a single man in his 30s who repairs motorboats for a living lives in a small Florida seaside town. He has taken on the custody of his niece Mary as a baby after the unexpected death of her single mother, who was Frank’s sister. Frank’s neighbour Roberta (Octavia Spencer) child sits to ensure Frank retains a bit of a private life beyond his duties as a single parent. Following in her matrilineal heritage, six-year-old Mary is a genius at mathematics. Frank is determined to let her have a normal childhood, and after some years of home-education registers her at the local school. Thanks to Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) things start settling down a bit at school, after a bumpy beginning. But as Mary’s grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) arrives on the scene with different ideas about her grand-child’s education, events take a dramatic turn.

Gifted is a family drama with some very witty bits. Screenplay writer Tom Flynn has done a very nice job of depicting the complex characters of this story and making their interactions and complicated relationships plausible and human. He avoids the trap of good versus evil: the “good” are somewhat flawed, the “evil” have reprieving characteristics. Chris Evans and Lindsay Duncan, the latter as the inevitably British accented evil grandmother, do an excellent job with their intelligently understated performances. Sensitive direction by Marc Webb (director of Spiderman films) allows the grown-up characters not to be overwhelmed by appearing with cute gifted child or its slightly handicapped cat. The result is a very watchable enjoyable and optimistic movie.     

Last week the Maryam Mirzakhani the Iranian Fields-Medal winning Mathematician died of cancer, much too young and much too soon. The Field’s Medal is the equivalent of the Nobel-Prize in Mathematics. Mirzakhani a mathematics genius with a warm outgoing personality, a real-world role model for Mary, Gifted’s fictional child prodigy.


Tuesday 18 April 2017

Moonlight, Film 2016, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, 9* out of 10

Moonlight is a sensitive and intelligent look at growing up as a gay boy wanting to develop and live his identity in a rough black neighbourhood in the United States, a moving story compellingly told. Sometimes violent, at other times romantic, Moonlight has the feel of authenticity about it.  It deserves its Academy Award for Best Movie of 2016.

Chiron grows up in the roughest black neighbourhood of Miami. We meet him first as a young boy with the nickname Little, his mother dependent on welfare and drugs, he aware of being somehow an outsider. The other boys are of course aware of that too and begin to turn on him. Little Chiron survives in his peer-group by inner strength and running away when necessary.  And he has a stroke of luck when Juan (Mahershala Ali) the head of the street corner drug dealing gang in his neighbourhood and Paula (Naomi Harris), his girlfriend take a shine to the shy boy and become his mentors. They offer a welcoming place of refuge to the small boy as he learns to stand up for himself and his otherness. His newly-found mentors are more accepting than his mother. Kevin must cope with her bouts of drug-induced incapacity and her feelings of jealousy towards Paula and Juan, the man who organises her drugs supply. Why should Juan of all people arrogate to himself the education of her son, her only? We meet Chiron as different stages of his development: as a small boy (Alex Hibbert), as a teenager (Ashton Saunders) at high school and as a young man nickname Black (Trevante Rhodes) whose professional identity is very much at odds with his sensibilities and his aspirations for finding love.

Moonlight is a sensitive and intelligent look at growing up as a gay boy wanting to develop and live his identity in a rough black neighbourhood in the United States, while knowing how dangerous it is to disclose it in this environment, that violently rejects homosexuality in boys and men and feels threatened by it. 

Chiron navigates this hostile social environment in a very personal way with intelligence and panache, but there are no easy answers and sometimes no good choices available between how he feels he wants to act and how he feels he must act. He cannot avoid having to endure bullying, physical and emotional pain, but he always refuses to accept the role of the victim in his own personal attempt at “the pursuit of happiness”.   

Writer and Director Barry Jenkins achieves to imbue many of the characters with a humanity that feels real, both in their characters’ weaknesses and their strengths. This humanity manages to transcend the boundary of race and sexual preference to a realistic and ultimately uplifting story with universal appeal. Moonlight can be read topically as the story of Chiron’s attempt at integration into a community without giving up an essential part of his identity. The fact that it’s a community based on deprivation, violence and drug-consumption only makes Chiron’s journey more poignant.

The juxtaposition of the beautiful classical style film music with life in a rough black area of town works brilliantly. The use of the camera close-up to the characters, for example out of the water when they swim in the sea gives scenes an almost improvised documentary like feel.
Moonlight is a good story compellingly told. This high-quality low budget-film speaks to all of us and richly deserves its Academy Awards. Beside writing, direction and music this is due to a strong ensemble performance with particularly noteworthy performances by Mahershala Ali and Trevante Rhodes. The 2016 Academy Award for Best Movie has an unusually deserving winner.

Saturday 25 March 2017

The Glass Menagerie, Play by Tennessee Williams, Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9* out of 10

Cherry Jones shines in John Tiffany's beautifully staged production of Tennessee Williams autobiographical play at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. The many award nominations are richly deserved. The Glass Menagerie dovetails beautifully with another cultural highlight that can currently be seen in London. Until 4 June, The Royal Academy shows “After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s“.

Amanda (Cherry Jones) lives in St. Louis with her son Tom (Michael Esper) and her daughter Laura (Kate O’Flynn), both in their twenties. Tom, an aspiring writer with wanderlust, works in a warehouse. The family relies on his income but he is dying to leave St. Louis. He tries to escape the oppressive atmosphere of his home by going to the movies whenever he can. Laura, handicapped by a club foot, is painfully shy and avoids leaving the apartment. Her favourite pastime is playing with little figures of animals made of glass, the glass menagerie. Out of necessity, Amanda whose husband has left the family years ago, is a practical working woman. But at night when she speaks to her children, she always reminisces of her comfortable youth as a southern belle when she received gentleman callers, eligible young bachelors all. To her eternal regret she chose handsome looks over comfortable wealth and reliability. Despite living in St. Louis, Amanda dreams of gentleman callers for Laura now, perhaps in the hope to correct her own mistake with a choice for Laura. However, in the modest St. Louis apartment, no gentlemen come calling for Laura. Amanda urges Tom to look for prospects among his work colleagues and friends. But due to Laura’s mental fragility and physical handicap, both Laura herself and Tom do not believe that any gentleman in shining armour can be found for her. When Tom finally invites a work colleague home, Amanda pulls out all the stops to show this gentleman caller true southern hospitality and her daughter Laura in the best light.  

Director John Tiffany has created a beautifully conceived production of this American Classic of the 1930s. In the centre of the set designed by Bob Crowley which evokes the dream like atmosphere of some of the scenes there is steel-stairway. Like fire-escape stairs which almost reach the ceiling of the stage it is a symbol both for Amanda’s unrealistically high hopes for Laura and for Tom’s desire to escape from the oppressive atmosphere of his home. When Tom proclaims that living vicariously through going to the movies he stops himself from living his own life he raises an issue that is as relevant in the internet age as it was in the age of the silver screen.  Cherry Jones’ Amanda is memorable, and the acting of the entire ensemble does justice to Williams’ great writing. The deserved result is an enthralled audience at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London and the many award nominations for this production.

The Glass Menagerie is Tennessee Williams first successful play and contains many autobiographical elements. He felt responsible for abandoning his own handicapped sister and once he had become a successful playwright paid for her stay in a care home with the income from his writing. 

The Glass Menagerie goes very well with another cultural highlight that can currently be seen in London. Until 4 June, The Royal Academy shows “After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s“, a time when Franklin D Roosevelt’s Federal Art Program, part of his New Deal, encouraged the artists of the time to paint America in the 1930s.

Edward Hopper: New York Movie 1939

Friday 17 March 2017

Herzl Reloaded, by Doron Rabinovici and Natan Sznaider, readings from their book, Schauspielhaus Zurich, 8* out of 10

In a three-way e-mail exchange, the Viennese author Doron Rabinovici, the Israeli sociologist Natan Sznaider and the spirit of the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, discuss the past, present and future of the State for the Jews. The authors presented readings followed by a moderated discussion at the Zurich Schauspielhaus on 5 March. 

A novelist, a sociologist and a dreamer-seer meet in cyberspace to engage in an e-mail exchange about the state of the “State for the Jews”, Israel viewed from the perspective of original dream, current reality and future potential.  The result is Herzl Reloaded, the book by Rabinovici and Sznaider. Despite its English title the book is currently only available in German.  

On Sunday 5 March 2017, the authors playing themselves and Klaus Brümmelmeyer, an actor playing Theodor Herzl, presented extensive readings of key passages from the book. This was followed by a discussion between them which was skilfully moderated by Yves Kugelmann, the editor of Switzerland’s largest circulation Jewish magazine. 

Doron Rabinovici, the novelist born in Israel to holocaust survivors, has lived in Vienna since early childhood. 

Natan Sznaider, Professor of Sociology at Tel Aviv University was born in Germany in 1954. He also is the son of holocaust survivors. Having emigrated to Israel at the age of 20, he now lives the reality of Zionism in 2017. 

The seer, Theodor Herzl (1860 – 1904), was born in Budapest and lived in Vienna where he worked as a novelist, playwright, journalist and public intellectual. Herzl's utopian dream:  a State for the Jews through which they would emancipate themselves among the nations and thus combat and overcome ubiquitous antisemitism. Herzl died in 1904, but lives on through his books, plays, letters and newspaper articles. Based on what he considered achievable at different times, Herzl experimented with several versions of his dream, such a state in Uganda or the conversion of all Jews of future generations to Christianity. Ultimately, he reached the conclusion that the one thing that made sense was the creation of a modern state for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Through his ideas and tireless work, he became a protagonist of modern Israel’s creation, an almost mythical figure mentioned by name in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

For Doron Rabinovici modern Israel’s legitimacy as a State is inextricably tied up with the Holocaust. Only by having their own state would Jews be able to ensure their survival. A position that was given international legitimacy by the community of nations through the decision by the UN General Assembly to recognize the State of Israel in 1948.  Rabinovici distinguishes the golden age of modern Israel from 1948 to 1967.  In his view Israel’s 1967 occupation had made the moderate Western socialist “city-on-a-hill” that was the State for the Jews go awry. The occupation of Palestinian land and people has changed Israel proper and in his view, not for the better. As Rabinovici sees it, assisting the creation of a peaceful democratic Palestinian state alongside a peaceful democratic and strong Israel would have been and still is an effective pragmatic step; moreover, it is a moral duty not only for all Israelis but also for all Jews.  The responsibility for lack of progress lies with both sides of the conflict and the occupation is becoming an ever more normal situation as far as Israeli society is concerned; but the longer the occupation lasts the more difficult it is for a fair two-state solution to be implemented and the further away Israel moves from its original ideals. Nevertheless, Doron Rabinovici, a feisty resilient social democrat and human rights activist, continues to defend Israel with persistence and wit, while strongly criticising what he sees as its excesses. 

Natan Sznaider, the sociology professor, speaks with the legitimacy of an Israeli citizen living in Israel. For him the bible is a more suitable and positive founding narrative for the state of Israel than the Holocaust. As Sznaider sees it, Israeli civil society today is a lively mix of diverse tribes and groups interacting among themselves and between each other, with a diversity and vibrancy often overlooked outside of Israel. 

He points out that the 1948 to 1967 period when Israel was led by an Ashkenazi elite wasn’t quite as golden as Rabinovici would like to believe it was.  And thus, the period of 1967 to 2017 does not represent as steep a decline as Rabinovici has made it out to be. Today's Israel is the result of perhaps inevitable adaptations of the state for the Jews to the realities of the internal and external changes in conditions which Israeli society and its body politic had to manage. 

In Sznaider’s view, simply returning to the 1967 borders would not solve much and is not a good idea, even if it were politically on the cards. So, while for Rabinovici ending the occupation is practical and healthy for Israel’s soul as well as for its position in the “family of nations”, Sznaider believes it would be a phenomenally risky act that could be misunderstood by Israel's enemies as a sign of weakness or even of hubris. In either case, it would likely put Israel in a position that would be much worse than the status quo. As Sznaider sees it, managing the status quo in the volatile new Middle Eastern and geopolitical environment is the least bad option available. 

Such realism sounds convincing at a time when the Christians of the Middle East who have lived peacefully in Muslim majority countries for millennia, are forced to flee the region in fear of their lives. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wish that sooner rather than later, voices like Rabinovici’s, to the extent that they also exist among Israel’s citizens, would get more traction in the Israeli political debate. Israeli political thought and leadership today suffers from an overdose of sarcastic realism which blinds it to creative ideas directed towards a moral aspiration for country and society. Enlightened self-interest may lie in tipping the balance more towards the latter. 

As far as Herzl’s dream is concerned Tel Aviv has not become the “Vienna-by-the-Yarkon” which he imagined and hoped for. But it is a young, passionate and vibrant modern city, beating heart of the “start-up nation”. Perhaps Israel today is not everything that the Jews of the diaspora could have wished for; but it is a country, warts and all, of which not only Jews in Israel can be proud.

Shortly before his death Herzl appealed to his designated successors: “Just don’t do anything stupid while I’m dead”. That was always too much to ask.

In any case on a Sunday evening in March 2017, in a well-filled Schauspielhaus in Zurich the mainly Swiss Jewish audience was stimulated and entertained, both by the readings and by the discussion that followed. For two people to enjoy discussing serious disagreements in a civilized, sincere, witty and entertaining manner is a considerable achievement these days, certainly when the topic is Israel and Zionism. The Swiss Jewish cultural society Omanut is to be congratulated for organising an especially interesting and stimulating event which was rewarded by a large attendance and warm applause for the protagonists of the evening.

The link below is an English page by the publishing house Suhrkamp:

This is the 3rd version of this blog entry (posted 20 March 2017 at 12:41 hours) correcting a number of spelling/grammatical errors from the earlier versions and incorporating small editorial changes.