Cover Image: The Pages

The Pages

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Loved this - an intriguing idea in that's it's a novel narrated by a book, an old copy of Joseph Roth's Rebellion, bringing together several narratives that the book has been part of over its long life. These include Roth's own life, the previous owner(s) of the book, and, in the present day, the artist Lena Knecht, who has inherited the book from her German father and leaves New York for Berlin in an attempt to understand the map drawn at the back of the book.  The narrative strands are interwoven skilfully so that you don't really notice (or mind) the absurdities of having a book as narrator. There are some lovely touches about defacing and destroying books and Hamilton has a feel for describing Berlin, but the ending is a little disappointing, resembling something out of a standard (German) police procedural, albeit narrated by a novel.  That aside, this is really worth your time.
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It has to be granted that Hamilton's device of having a book act as narrator is a very interesting one.

This is a story about journeying, identity, how we treat those deemed to be refugees, and place.  Hamilton draws on similarity of time and place - a warning to his readers indeed.

Whilst it is an interesting concept, personally I do not find that it will be a 'classic'.  At the same time I feel that I strangely lost interest but keen to 'tune-back-in'.  It does have a certain detached feeling about it, as though you accompany the book-narrator watching on / listening in: akin to how one watches a soap-opera.
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“Wherever they burn books they will end up burning human beings”

The German Jewish writer Heinrich Heine has a character in one of his plays speak a version of this statement. The author of this absorbing book, Hugo Hamilton, turns the statement round, in his author’s note afterword : “Wherever they save a book from burning, they will end up saving human beings”

The Pages is a book narrated by a book. The narrator of The Pages is the book Rebellion, by the Jewish writer Joseph Roth. Confused? Don’t be. Intrigued? I hope so, because this is an entrancing, immersive read, which within its pages recounts Roth’s own complex life, that of his wife, Friedl, the story of Rebellion itself, an interwar book about the ravages of the First World War, and its aftermath. Also entwined, are the fictional stories of a Professor and a student who saved a copy of Roth’s book – which was indeed, one which which was proscribed and burned. Other books also sit alongside Roth’s, its companions, particularly Effi Briest. Hamilton’s book is not though, absolutely not, a book which vaunts its cleverness and literacy (or those of its readers) in a self-congratulatory way. You don’t have to have read the cited books to absorb, understand, enjoy and surrender to this one 
(I haven’t)– all will be explained by our narrating book.

The long arm of human prejudice and brutality reaches out across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to follow the story of Lena, a descendent of the fictional student who saved the narrating copy of ‘Rebellion’. Lena, an American artist, returns to Germany on an adventure. Drawn onto the back pages of her passed-down-to-the-third-generation copy, is a mysterious map. Where this is, and why this is, is the mystery she wants to unravel, as part of her proposed exhibition. The ensuing narration will tie up modern demonisations of outcast nations, ethnicities and ideologies.

Despite the darkness and horror of the subject matter, Hamilton writes with a light, sure -and even playful touch

I was delighted to have journeyed with this story, and will read more by Hamilton. Thankyou to Net Galley and the publisher for allowing me this enchanting ‘tell me a story’ which is an absolute vindication of all the pleasures of reading fiction.

Highly recommended
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It's unusual, thought provoking and fascinating. I loved the stories, the style of writing and think this is one the best book I read in 2021.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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*Many thanks to Hugo Hamilton, 4th Estate and William Collins, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
While watching documentaries showing the pyres onto which books were burnt during the Nazi regime, I sometimes wondered if there had been people courageous enough to save any book indexed by the Nazis. Mr Hamilton offers us a tale of a novel by Joseph Roth which escaped the fire and was given to a young American woman by her father with a request to take the utmost care of it. 
The voice is given to the novel itself, The Rebellion, and this voice is poignant, especially during the scenes of the Nazi intrusion into the library. The stories are all linked, and the author exqusitely blends the past with the present, the fiction with the real events. 
An unputdownable read for me ...
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This is a seriously strange, but utterly compelling book.  In many decades of reading, it ranks as one of the most unusual and somehow, it works.

It’s difficult to describe because it tells a number of different tales, all linked, from the narrative point of a book.  I had to start it a couple of times, because it kind of messes with your head when you read ‘I’ and then realise that I is the book.  Having grasped that point, (which may come more easily to some readers), what follows is a mind opening ride.  The construction moves between the stories of various individuals, all connected, often vicariously to Lena, who starts the story as the first carrier of the book.  Sh travels, with the book from America to Germany to uncover some family history.  It’s an amazing pastiche if takes, all of which resonate and it slides seamlessly from one theme to another.  Fascism, racism, loss ( including literal loss and a prosthetic leg) live and the fragile structure of society and relationships. To my surprise and total delight, some of the most powerful passages are those which describe how the book feels when it’s discarded, is defaced and abandoned. Overall, it’s brilliant.  Thought provoking, different and one to treasure and read again.  So different and I really enjoyed this rather existentialist take.
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If books could speak, what would they tell of the people in whose hands they have been? This is what happens in Hugo Hamilton’ extraordinary novel. 

Our narrator is a rare copy of Joseph Roth’s 1924 Rebellion, a novella about Andreas Pum, a WW1 veteran with a prosthetic leg who lives contentedly playing the barrel organ in Vienna. His faith in the state is destroyed when he goes to jail for futile reasons. Its Jewish German author Joseph Roth documented the crumbling of the democratic ideals of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler and emigrated to Paris where he died an alcoholic in 1939.  

The book tells us of its adventurous life, of how it escaped the Nazi fire and was hidden inside a copy of Theodor Fontane’s 1894 novel Effi Briest, making it through Nazis and Stasi, how years later it got into the hands of Lena, its saviour’s granddaughter and an artist with a relationship in crisis, and was lost, found and returned by Armin, a Chechen refugee whose sister is a musician with a prosthetic leg. A mysterious map sketched inside the book and a ripped page with a swastika on it will bring the two together to solve the riddles and face the challenges. 

This is the main plot, which is quite simple and a mere pretext for this polyphonic novel to skilfully bring together a number of different strands: Andreas Pum’s story, the tense story of the book itself and the DDR family that kept it, Lena’s father fate as a German immigrant in racist America, Armin’s tragic past, his sister’s relationship with a racist stalker. A particular place is occupied by Roth’s complex, attentively researched character, shown as both persecuted man, a confused individual and a womaniser who committed his sensual wife to an asylum.  Closely intertwined with the theme of racist and fascist strains, the novel also offers a  very nuanced exploration of toxic masculinity, guilt, and betrayal: it is not a coincidence that Rebellion was physically and symbolically encased inside Effi Briest, a seminal texts defining the 19th-century fallen woman plot (Effi is cast away by her husband for a kiss with a young officer many years earlier and dies in misery). References to this and other literary texts also feature in the novel, adding to the multivocality and multiplying meanings and making this an incredibly learned book. 

The result is an amazing, timely novel that feels like a kaleidoscope, elegantly and carefully  weaving the different stories into a complex narrative that is like a game of sliding doors, where the ills of the past are still haunting the present and the undercurrent of violence that plague European history reach us in different disguise, and books are here to remind us. What is incredible is how much Hamilton can pack in a short text: this happens because his writing is elegant, assured, scintillating and wonderfully accomplished. 
I am grateful to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This is an unusual book but one full of profound wisdom and important warnings about the kind of world we want to live in. I found it incredible and deeply moving.
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What a marvellous novel! The rather tumultuous life of the great Austrian writer Joseph Roth told with lots of pathos & humor by a very resilient copy of one of his novels, Rebellion, whose extrordinary and incredible odyssey over an eventful century is at the center of this compelling narrative feat. From its survival of the evil & fiery literary auto-da-fe orchestrated in 1933 by Goebbels in Vienna to the sometimes menacing and  dangerous streets of contemporary Berlin, we follow the captivating and peripatetic journey of one small and very smart book through the tremendous upheavals and diffcult challenges that have profoundly scarred and ultimately transformed the European landscape since the 30s, and the many unresolved issues that are still plaguing its moral fiber today, such as racism and intolerance.
Hugo Hamilton has given us a fascinating gift with a bittersweet and very poignant homage to one of our best 20th century wordsmiths overhere in Europe. An elegantly written and unforgettable fictional tapestry totally reminiscent of the poetic & luminous prose of the late W.G. Sebald. A delicious treat that all readers should definitely enjoy without any moderation! 

Many thanks to Netgalley and 4th Estate/William Collins for this terrific ARC
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I’m a relatively recent convert to e-books and am not quite the Luddite I was before. There’s a definite convenience to them and for certain books (huge totemic bricks of books, say) it’s even become my preferred medium. I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘yah boo sucks to the future’ sort of person.
And yet, I’ve always had a deep love for second-hand books — one that sometimes ever supercedes the pleasure of a crisp, new physical volume. There’s something intoxicatingly magical about a musty old second-hand bookshop. Maybe it’s the smell. That odd, mouldy and yet really rather pleasant odour of times gone, of dead readers, and of dead authors. There’s many subsidiary pleasures to a second-hand book — for me, enjoying the cover design and typography that were once in fashion, and, of course, the inscriptions found on the leafs of many wishing a happy birthday or Christmas from decades ago, so far sometimes that both giver and receiver are quite probably no longer with us. And occasionally, you really hit paydirt and find an obsolete bus ticket or leaflet bookmarked within the pages. Those give the real wider context in which the book might have originally been read.
All of which serves to illustrate the true — and unassailable — advantage that physical books have over their digital counterparts. They not only communicate history through their subject matter (regardless of what that might be) but they are physical parts of history in their own right. They are part of Christmas or birthday celebrations in long-gone living rooms, of quiet evenings in snug bedrooms, of being companions on railway journeys on long-dismantled routes. And by picking up and preserving that book, you are contributing to that history, becoming a part of it. Despite the many death notices written for the physical book, this is the main reason why it’s such an enduring medium, why it will never die. It speaks too strongly of our human desire for continuity, to observe, experience and hopefully learn from our own pasts.
And it’s this desire that Hugo Hamilton’s The Pages taps into. It is (paradoxically) oddly intimate epic which centres around a copy of Joseph Roth’s Die Rebellion, saved from the Nazi book burnings of 1933, smuggled out of Nazi Germany and eventually ending up in the possession of Lena, a New-York based artist who undertakes an artistic pilgrimage to modern Berlin. 
It’s actually not that easy to pinpoint what The Pages is about, so successfully wide-ranging are its ambitions. It’s certainly about the persistent longevity of the written word and about the instinct towards creativity, the social and political resonance that effective literature can possess. It’s partially the story of the writing of Die Rebellion, the why and the how and the impact of its writing. And it’s the biography of this particular volume of the novel, of its escape from Nazi Germany and its adventures throughout the years. But it’s also the story of Roth himself, his patchy career as an author and journalist, his descent into alcoholism and, most importantly, his troubled relationship with his wife Friedl.
And as if all that weren’t enough, the book is also a thoroughly modern examination of current issues, of the European and American migrant experience and of the parallels between the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and its alt-right resurgence today. That is manages all these different strands so adeptly, save perhaps for a dip into rather standard thriller tropes for a few pages of the denouement, is a testament to just what a great novel this really is.
A big part of the book’s power is in its strength of characterisation (for my money, the key thing what makes or breaks a piece of narrative fiction). All of the characters are well drawn, particularly Lena and her Chechen lover Armin. Some are, of course, less effectively fleshed out. I found myself wanting to spend more time with Armin’s singer sister and with the German artist Julia and her troubled son. But it’s perhaps a sign of Hamilton’s skill as a writer that I had that desire to learn more about them from the scant treatment they receive. 
But most effectively is the character of the book itself — meaning the copy of Die Rebellion that narrates much of the action. The book is wryly self-aware, a literally novel take on the omniscient narrator and the brief glimpses we get into this world full of sentient books, all interacting and empathising with each other is fascinating and intriguing (and again I could happily have stood a lot more of it). It’s the oddest sensation (although perhaps unsurprising for someone who is already a bibliophile) to feel such an emotional wrench when the book undergoes various misadventures, from theft, to being abandoned in the rain, to the indignity of having one of its pages ripped out and defaced. There were points in the novel where I felt more anxious for the welfare of the book than I did for the more conventionally human characters.
Much is made of the death of the novel but already this year I’ve encountered at least two novels that must surely be destined to be future classics. The Pages is definitely one of them. It’s superbly written, vividly characterised and provides not just a thought-provoking look at the past but intelligently marries that to some modern observations of art, cultural diaspora, our lurking and destructive culture wars and on the attendant, more toxic, aspects of weaponised masculinity. I highly recommend it.
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A fascinating collage of a book, filled with echoes and connections. The stories that proliferate tend to be linked by suggestion rather than anything too obvious or contrived: the author Joseph Roth and his wife, both persecuted by the Nazi regime; the contemporary artist Lena and the Chechen Armin who face different kinds of dangers; the journalist, Anna Polikovskaya, murdered after reporting from Chechnya; a couple arrested and separated at their wedding. And the book itself - an edition of Roth's Rebellion - which is narrator of this story but also crucially implicated in it, as it is passed through history, contains a mysterious drawn map which links past and present, and, after escaping burning by the Nazis, ends up pierced by a bullet hole: ' the pagination of holes aligned themselves into a high-velocity tunnel that left behind the shape of hatred. It was part of my life story now.' 

This is, for me, a book where the whole is greater than the parts: there are some technical issues where the book tells us what's happening to a character when it is somewhere else completely and so cannot have this knowledge; the writing is sometimes just a bit woolly; there are places where the pace drops, where the narrative thread feels like it's been lost - yet the sum of parts combine to say something meaningful about love and life, art and death, history and memory. Not, perhaps, as formally innovative as it might have been but with real heart.
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