Thursday, 14 August 2008

Book Festival - Part 3

No, not another reference to Gordon Brown's visit. Anyway, isn't he Mr Bean nowadays?

Yesterday lunchtime we went to hear Simon Sebag Montefiore talk about his new novel Sashenka. And, inevitably, we heard Montefiore's views on current events in Georgia.

The Scotsman's review encapsulates the talk very well:

He (Montefiore, not Stalin!) speaks with passion, wit and that effortless eloquent self-deprecation of the true English toff, no notes in sight, but striding confidently about the main stage emitting a compelling blend of anecdotes, history and hard sell.

So while you're being treated to his memories of Georgian dentist warlords or how he gatecrashed a coup d'├ętat in the presidential palace, or how he got landed with a seven-year-old interpreter thanks to a Chechen homicide detective who'd never caught a single murderer – while all these anecdotes come pouring out with practised perfection, there was far more in the mix too. It's hard to imagine anyone explaining the historical context to this week's re-emergence of Russia as a regional superpower quite as well

I thought that Montefiore's talk last year was one of the best and he was at least as good performing in the "big tent".

But, note this:

For as soon as Sebag-Montefiore sat down, his first questioner stood up. She was quivering with anger.

Talking about Stalin like this, she said, with Solzhenitsyn just in the grave, was just glamorising him. "The guy was sick, sick. What he has done to people like my grandfather… In a normal world, he'd be sectioned. I'm almost having a heart attack listening to the way in which you're talking about him…"

The questioner was sitting immediately to my left and was fully justified in making her point. Montefiore handled this challenge well and I noticed several people congratulating the questioner when the talk had finished.

Never forget.

No comments: