At the top of some concrete stairs, in a slightly run-down area of London near Sadler’s Wells, is a room with a magic carpet, otherwise known as Eland Books. Open an Eland book and you are miraculously transported to another time and place – imperial India perhaps, or sixteenth-century Turkey, Ireland in the 1950s, or Germany just before the Second World War.
I was sitting in the bathtub when they rang at my door on October 22nd, 1939. The char had not yet arrived; I thought it was the postman and called out that he should wait a minute. They yelled back ‘Hurry up. Here is the police’ . . .
That’s Arthur Koestler in France, where he’s at work on Darkness at Noon and about to be imprisoned as an enemy alien.
There was no sound at all in the room save the whispering beat of the music and the slithering of the boy’s feet across the floor. Men sat in rapt attention, light running silver down the side of a face or the jutting archipelago of a nose . . .
That’s the Turkish writer Irfan Orga, transfixed by the erotic dance of a young Yürük nomad boy in the remote High Taurus. The attic office seems filled with such haunting voices, its long bookshelves lined with evocative names and titles – Golden Earth by Norman Lewis, A Visit to Don Otavio by Sybille Bedford, The Weather in Africa by Martha Gellhorn – and other authors less well known.
As well as books, the office (shared with a commuting friend) also contains a discreetly concealed bath and quite a large dog. But once you’ve met the firm’s founders, Rose Baring and Barnaby Rogerson, you wouldn’t expect it to be conventional. They both have a feeling of freedom and fresh air about them, as if they’ve only just thrown off their coats after returning from some adventurous journey. They laugh easily too, as they tuck into their coffee and Jaffa Cakes, in the way of people who are doin
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