This past Saturday I attended a tiger-related cupcake sale (don’t ask; it’s a long story) at a friend’s house. They grilled sausages and poured wine and introduced people who would never otherwise meet and, in some cases, renewed acquaintances. On such reunion for me was with Fraser, the host’s father, to whom I’d been introduced but not really spoken much. As we ate and drank in the backyard, talk turned to books, and specifically recommendations thereof. Fraser suggested a few, and I mentioned I was always on the lookout for something to switch off with the book I’ve been reading for some time: Tony Judt‘s Postwar. While it’s more gripping than any 800-page history of the past 65 years has the right to be, it remains nonetheless a daunting read requiring frequent forays into the light (like Tom Rachman‘s The Imperfectionists) or the brutally simple (like Cormac McCarthy‘s Blood Meridian), and so I welcomed his suggestions. As it happened Fraser had also read Judt’s book, so we spent a few minutes discussing it, praising Judt for his writing and devotion in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Little did Fraser or I know that, only the day before, Tony Judt had passed away, finally succumbing to ALS.
Earlier this year — during another Postwar break — I read Judt’s Ill Fares The Land. I mentioned this too; Fraser, who had also read it, called it Judt’s cri de couer, as surely it was: his frustration at the deliberate dismantling in the U.S. and UK of the social safety nets set up in the wake of the second World War, and his plea for their rescue from further attack. The book did not specifically target Canada, but as John Geddes wrote today on the Maclean’s blog, “the questions [Judt] raised should trouble citizens in any rich Western nation.”
I highly recommend reading Ill Fares The Land and, if you’re up for it, Postwar. Also, The Guardian has a fine obituary (if there can be such a thing) and his four-year-old piece in the London Review of Books entitled “The Strange Death Of Liberal America” — including a glancing shot at one Michael Ignatieff — is not to be missed.
R.I.P., Mr. Judt.