In the time of pandemic | Issue 17 | 2020
Classical ballet, Siegfried Sassoon, Chekov and Jilly Cooper. Laura Shumiloff—in 2016—on the books that track her life.
“Aujourd’hui maman est morte.” The only book that I can remember the first line from. I studied this in my teens and it was so badly taught that I have never been able to contemplate reading another book by Camus. That being said, I cannot bear to throw it away.
All Jilly Cooper books are rumbustious and rollicking reads, mainly featuring shameless countryfolk who are obsessed with horses and dogs. I rarely read them now but, at the time, they were perfect literary fodder for a horse-mad teenager—and a great antidote to the trials of Albert Camus.
Another book which, along with L’Etranger, stubbornly remains on my bookshelf as a testament to literary hard labour. Stirs memories of sitting in the university library late at night, painstakingly translating from the Russian to the English, word by word, wondering why I opted to study Russian rather than Italian.
“I was happy; charmed, drunk and beguiled like thousands of guests and invaders before me, in the land of hospitality. Steavenson’s quote aptly sums up the enduring allure of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Steavenson moved to Georgia on a whim in the 1990s. Stories I Stole is a series of vignettes of Georgian traditions, culture and society. This book inspired me to visit Georgia: I was enraptured by the people, the scenery and the food.
The first in a trilogy by the war poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon. This was originally published in 1928 and later became part of The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. A fictionalised autobiography, it conjures up a bucolic view of an upper middle-class English life that came to an abrupt end with the advent of the First World War. I confess that I don’t have the stomach to read the other books in the trilogy.
Madame de Sevigne
The letters of Madame de Sevigne, a shrewd observer of life at court in seventeenth-century France. A fascinating commentary on court intrigue and the issues of the day, interspersed with practical household instructions to her daughter. Beautifully and elegantly written. I bought this book in the early 1990s and still read it today. I prefer collections of letters and diaries over biographies and autobiographies; I also recommend Pepys and Woodrow Wyatt (!).
A gripping insight into the terrible and twisted logic of the Stalinist period. This is a true Russian epic, which spans the years 1925 to 1945 and charts the mixed fortunes of members of the Muscovite Gradov family. I first read this book in 2001 and still read it today.
A beautifully constructed cookbook, comprising fail-safe recipes from the Middle East region. It very much suits my ‘guess the measurements’, slapdash style of cooking. Reminds me of the food I enjoyed in Iran, years ago.
British Horse Society
Re-acquainting myself with the horse world helped to save my sanity post-divorce. This sounds like a book guaranteed to cure insomnia, but it is in fact an invaluable manual on equine management.
This book has it all ...the quintessential Byronic hero, Pechorin, a host of swashbuckling Cossacks, and beautiful descriptions of the Caucasus. I defy anyone who reads this not to fall in love with Pechorin.
Gretchen Ward Warren
The bible of ballet technique, and an invaluable guide to every ballet position and movement, written in a somewhat patronising manner. I started ballet five years ago and was completely blindsided by its arcane vocabulary. The first section of this book even describes what makes ‘good feet’ versus ‘bad feet’ in dancers. I was horrified and then amused to read that my feet fit all the criteria of a bad dancer’s foot. I persevere, regardless.
Konrad Onasch & Annemarie Schnieper
A comprehensive guide to icons from around the world. I collect all types of icon, but my personal favourite is any icon which depicts Nikolai Chudotvoa.
First published in RE: issue 10 (2016). Laura Shumiloff, London, is the publisher of RE.
© Norton Rose Fulbright LLP 2021