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Lore Segal: Books that changed my life

Lore Segal: Books that changed my life

American novelist Lore Segal is known for her novels Other People’s Houses, which drew on her experience as a Kindertransport refugee during the Second World War, and Shakespeare’s Kitchen, a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Her new short story collection Ladies’ Lunch is out now

Persuasion by Jane Austen 

Who is the wit who joked that we wouldn’t like to think Jane Austen disapproved of us? 

In the painfully tender novel Persuasion, Ann Elliot is the lovely, elegant daughter of a foolish baronet who hasn’t the decency to live within his means. Their home must be rented out and Ann goes to stay with her younger married sister Mary.

"We the reader watch Ann forced to watch the man she has not stopped loving, attach himself to this and that pretty woman"

Here she is thrown into the company of the splendid Captain Wentworth whose love and offer of marriage Ann had, eight years earlier, been persuaded to turn down. He has not forgiven her. We the reader watch Ann forced to watch the man she has not stopped loving, attach himself to this and that pretty woman.  

In her silent suffering of the loss of every hope for herself, Ann’s nature is to relieve the distresses around her, the real as well as silly Mary’s suffering in moments when no one is paying her attention. 

If we have been wracked by Ann’s sadness, we are feelingly rewarded with the bliss of Ann and Captain Wentworth’s rediscovery of each other’s truth.

  

The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick 

Cynthia Ozick’s novel, The Puttermesser Papers, opens with young Puttermesser studying the sacred Hebrew letters. My particular pleasure in this book is Ozick’s audacious, witty, deeply serious play on the Golem legend. The Golem was the creation of embattled Eastern European Jewry. In pious imitation of the biblical God breathing humanity into a handful of dust, they created themselves a daemon for their protection.  

"The reader who has a strong heart and stomach can stick with Puttermesser to her sad and peculiarly brutal end"

In her bedroom in scary New York, Puttermesser takes some dirt from the flower pot and shapes the Golem which will make her mayor of New York. During Puttermesser’s administration, the city is free of all hate, all crime, and all fear of violence, for a while. The reader who has a strong heart and stomach can stick with Puttermesser to her sad and peculiarly brutal end. 

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David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 

It was Charles Dickens who showed me what to do with my life. Wartime England, I was 12 when my mother read me David Copperfield, how David’s gentle young mother dies and leaves him in the sole care of the coldly brutal step-father called Mr. Murdstone; how in the night the loving, funny Pegotty comforts the little boy through the door. My mother read about the magnificent Steerforth and the sweet girl he debauches and my favourite character, the young lawyer who responds to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with irrepressibly cheerful goodness.

"I have spent a long writing life hoping to name one character as perfectly as Dickens’s Mr. Murdstone"

That’s what I wanted to do: fill the living page with physical and moral presences whom we remember as we remember the people we have personally known. I have spent a long writing life hoping to name one character as perfectly as Dickens’s Mr. Murdstone. 

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Lore Segal’s new book, Ladies Lunch and Other Stories is out now (Amazon)  

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