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Posts Tagged ‘Frank Westermann’

“When you touch a Lipizzaner, you are touching history”

In Non-Fiction on November 21, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Brother Mendels perfect horse

“When you touch a Lipizzaner,” Frank Westerman was told as a child, “you are touching history.”

As a noble breed that has borne emperors and kings, and is imbued with “power and grace, loyalty and eagerness to learn”, it is a “horse to top all horses”, writes Frank Westerman in his history of the Lipizzaner. The lineage of these famous white beasts, which can be trained to perform a sort of equine ballet, stretches back to 1580, when the Habsburgs’ imperial stud farm outside Trieste began a breeding programme to create the perfect horse.

Westerman’s account of the Lipizzaners’ remarkable survival makes stirring reading. Brother Mendel’s Perfect Horse: Man and beast in an age of human warfare tales of research in secret archives and encounters with wartime veterans who helped with Operation Cowboy have the subterfuge and tension of a thriller.

His chronology is sometimes confusing, and his determination to link the Lipizzaners’ history with the genetic theories of Mendel and Lamarck, ideologues like the Soviet biologist Lysenko and Nazi programmes of eugenics is sometimes strained and can lead to lengthy and somewhat indigestible digressions. But Westerman never loses sight of the emotional connection that inspired his story: the deep attachment between humans and horses which is, it sometimes seems, more than we deserve.

Read here the full review in The Financial Times by Carl Wilkinson.

Engineers of the Soul

In Non-Fiction on November 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM

engineers of the soul

Frank Westerman draws the reader into the euphoria of the Russian Revolution, as art and reality were bent to radically new purposes.

Writers of renown, described by Stalin as “engineers of the soul,” were encouraged to sing the praises of canal and dam construction under titles such as Energy and The Hydraulic Power Station. However, their enthusiasm—spontaneous and idealistic at first— soon became an obligatory song of praise as the massive waterworks led to slavery and destruction in the service of a deluded totalitarian society. On the dilemma of the Soviet writers, which he faced alongside contemporaries such as Maxim Gorky, Isaak Babel, and Boris Pasternake, novelist Konstantin Paustovsky wrote: “It is easy to die a hero’s death, but it is difficult to live a hero’s life.

Combining investigative journalism with literary history, Westerman examines the books and lives of writers caught in the wheels of the system. Engineers of the Soul is the riveting story of how authors were forced to write in service of an ideology, in this case communism as it was practiced in the Soviet Union. Westerman’s sharp pen combines a fine example of investigative journalism with a dash of literary history. In the book’s ingenious construction he continually contrasts the Soviet past with present-day Russia, leading the reader into a maze of mirrors through “Absurdistan.”

Engineers of the Soul was shortlisted for both the Dutch AKO Prize and the Golden Owl and was awarded the Dr. Wijnaendts Francken and the J. Greshoff Prize. Engineers of the Soul, English translation by  the gifted Sam Garret is published by Harvill Secker (UK) and The Overlook Press (US). It was also translated in Spanish, German, Polish, Croatian, Swedish, French, Estonian and Italian.

You can read a sneak peak here >>

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