Growing Pains

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An annual pre-Christmas treat for me is discovering which books have impressed the great and the good of the literary world over the previous twelve months. The lists in the heavyweight papers invariably give me two or three ideas for spending the book tokens I know are coming my way. One year Ian McEwan praised John Williams’s Stoner, which I found so strong that I didn’t hesitate a few years later to follow up another of McEwan’s recommendations, the more so as he wasn’t alone in picking it. At least two other contributors had been struck by Reunion, a novella of under a hundred pages written by Fred Uhlman, a German-Jewish painter and writer. When it was first published in 1971 Reunion went unnoticed; and though it was a little more successful when reissued a few years later, it wasn’t until a further reissue in 2015 that it was recognized as the masterpiece it is.

My tokens came, and as soon as the shops opened again I bought a copy. It looked an ideal read for the awkward days between Christmas and the New Year, but by the tenth page I was wondering whether to go on. It seemed far too close to that celebrated and painful account of growing up and losing paradise, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. I didn’t want either to read the same story again or to stir poignant memories of my parents, still missed after so long. On our way to my mother’s native Auvergne they’d taken me through the area where Alain-Fournier set his novel, the enigmatic Sologne.

But curiosity got the better of me. I fetched myself a glass of mulled wine, settled back, opened Reunion at the next chapter, and read on. I needn’t have hesitated. The elegant prose was a delight. It was hard to believe that someone whose first language wasn’t English could write it so well. Uhlman must have written in German, surely, and been translated

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About the contributor

Now that Martin Sorrell has at last found a copy of Uhlman’s autobiography, he’s keen to see what else of Reunion is there.

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