Sigrid Rausing: Books by my bedside

Swedish philanthropist, anthropologist and writer Sigrid Rausing speaks to us about the books that are currently on her mind. 

What’s currently on your bedside table?

I’m reading Julian Barnes’ The Only Story—I read all his work, and I know his voice so well, it’s like speaking with an old friend. This book is a time piece—an evocation of what might have been a highly complex and overwrought love affair—19-year-old boy, 48-year-old married woman—which, at least in the beginning, is calm, tender and thoughtful. In fact, two lives are in the process of being destroyed, but we hardly even notice, and nor do the protagonists, until it’s too late.

Which book/s would you recommend to your closest friend right now, and why?

I recently recommended David Plante’s Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three, to my closest friend. I read it with fascination—the three women were Jean Rhys, Sonia Orwell, and Germaine Greer, each interesting in their own right, and each effortlessly dominating their interlocutor. Something about that perverse domination interested me—powerful women I suppose are always “difficult” in one way or another because they’re no longer subservient to men, as most women of course are. Each part is fascinating, but the portrait of Germaine Greer, to my mind, was the best. She strides like an Amazon through her life, effortlessly intelligent, highly educated, but also, like my friend, a true original.

Which book/s are you planning to take on your next journey, and why?

I’m still in South Africa, and have been here for eight weeks, researching my next book, so strictly speaking—we’re leaving in a couple of days—I’m packing my South African books—the plethora of books describing why and how South Africa has gone wrong. Statistics paint a more optimistic picture, but there’s something fascinating about just how many books have been published in South Africa about the state of the nation. Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keeper: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and Out of Prison is amongst the best—a genuinely shocking description of state capture and corruption in South Africa. This is not a book to read for the pleasure of the writing, but it’s an important indictment of the still powerful Zuma faction within the ANC—and the police raided Pauw’s home as a result.

Tell us about your latest book

My last book, Mayhem, was a memoir about living with addiction in the family. There are not many books in this genre written by family members—most books about addiction are written by recovering addicts, and at times they can be somewhat dismissive of their own families. I thought that if we are to take seriously the idea that addiction is a family disease—and I do—then other family members have an important story to tell. Mayhem is a very sad book, difficult to write and more difficult to publish, but I have had so many emails and letters from people going through similar experiences, who found that my book crystallised something of a common experience: sadness, anxiety, obsession, helplessness. Helping addicts is an almost impossible quest—they’re very protective of their drug-use. My book describes what can happen if you get too involved in the addiction of a much-loved family member.

Do you discuss your own work-in-progress with anyone?

Sometimes. But on the whole, I think it’s probably better not to, allowing the text to find its arc without the input of other voices.

Which book made you want to write?

So many! Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation was certainly one of them. Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi, another. Earlier on, Anne Frank’s Diary. All of Astrid Lindgren’s marvellous children’s books, and Tove Jansson.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

I’d be an editor—which I am, anyway!

 

Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing is shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2018 (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99)