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Geoffrey Paul endorses a memoir’s title. David Herman is surprised by a literary selection No Room For Small Dreams
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25 Reviewed by Geoffrey D Paul
GIVEN A life so long and packed with historic events, this is a slim volume (237 pages plus photos). Shimon Peres signed it off in the very month last year that he died at the age of 93. But, then, most of it he or his biographer, Matti Golan, had said or written before.
Shimon Peres was never celebrated for his false modesty or sense of selfworth. This, in part, accounted for his lack of popularity “on the street”. He also lacked the Jew-as-soldier aura of a Moshe Dayan or Yitzhak Rabin. He seems always to have been a little jealous of Rabin’s standing with the public — though, by the time of Rabin’s death, they were close colleagues, possibly even friends.
It is from Peres’s moving account of the night Rabin was assassinated, having just attended a mass peace rally in Tel Aviv — one whose extent surprised them both given the prevalence of Palestinian intifadas — that I learned Rabin died with a smile on his face before Leah Rabin knelt to kiss her dead husband for the last time.
While so many others, in Peres’s account of great events, seem to play their parts at the periphery, he is always there at the centre, first as the favourite of David Ben-Gurion, later in his own right as ignition for this or another life-saving act that brought Israel arms when it had none, aircraft when it lacked any, a nuclear reactor when all in the world but France would Celebrity celebration: Peres on his 90th birthday with Barbra Streisand, Bill Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu
have denied this ultimate deterrent — a collaboration later to be nixed by De Gaulle, though it continued for two years after his order.
Planning, strategy and innovation lay at the heart of Peres’s initiatives for Israel. He tells the still astonishing story of the critical time when Israel allowed her attempt to liberate the Suez Canal from Nasser to be used by Britain and France as their excuse for intervening militarily.
On the back of Israel’s faux fox role, Peres secured support for the Dimona reactor from France. But the implementation of the agreement had still not been concluded when the governments of the Socialist, Christian Pineau, and then the Radical, Maurice
Bourges-Manoury — his two French protagonists — fell, in the sort of political debacles then common in France.
In an account that still makes the reader draw breath, Peres recalls how he went to see Bourges-Manoury the morning after the French leader lost the premiership: “He was now the former prime minister. I did not know what to say.”
Bourges-Manoury asked him to confirm that his predecessor as prime minister, Pineau, had consented to French help for the Dimona reactor.
“‘Wonderful,’ he said, ‘that should take care of it, then. He took a piece of stationery from a desk that was no longer his and drafted a letter to the chairman of the French Atomic Energy
Commission. The French government had approved the deal, he confirmed, and the chairman should fully co-operate in its execution. At the top of the page, he wrote the previous day’s date.”
Shimon Peres lived Israel, loved Israel. But, despite his best — some said occasionally risky — endeavours, he was unable to bring the country that peace it so desperately needs. In his end days, he consoled himself with the belief that science, technology and communications were advancing so rapidly that, one day, war would be irrelevant, borders meaningless. He never did have room for small dreams.
Geoffrey D Paul is a former editor of the JC
Boy (HarperCollins, £12.99). And it comes true — thanks to a falling star, seen from his tower block, Noam Chomsky House.
Sam enters a never-ending birthday cycle, impoverishing his family through constant gift-giving. Baddiel cranks up the comedy to its highest pitch, releasing it in a madcap ending as Sam and his friend Zada embark on a skateboard-powered boat named after Schrödinger’s cat. Their quest: to find Sam’s missing grandpa, whose dementia manifests itself in the use of outlandish swearwords (“boomdonking diphthong”) — and to reverse the birthday wish. Age seven to 11.
Elsie Pickles is just a house-sitter. Admittedly the house belongs to a famous witch and contains a talking raven, a magically-refilling larder and instructions for simple spells. But Elsie is absolutely not going to conjure eggs from the sky or try her hand at love potions, or anything else that would make her into a
(Simon and Schuster, £6.99). Is she? Traditional but never twee, Kaye Umansky’s book is full of charm. Age seven to 11.
Valor has been arrested for shooting at the Crown Prince. Now she is a Prisoner of Ice and Snow (Bloomsbury, £6.99) in the frozen jail of Tyur’ma, from which none returns. The attempted killing was a ruse — Valor wanted to gain entry to the cells to rescue her wrongly imprisoned sister, Sasha. Ruth Lauren creates a bitterly cold backdrop, with wolves and mines, and provides a strong female protagonist (talents include archery and key forgery). She keeps the story skating along briskly; even readers who dislike fantasy will be entranced. Age nine to 12.
Zack’s best friend Arthur is green, streetwise — and invisible. It drives Zack’s mother crazy. Twelve is too old for imaginary friends, she says, and mimes packing Arthur into a box and posts him to Scotland. When the “empty” box arrives, it is opened by eight-year-old Kirstie — and out climbs Arthur. Kirstie can see him. But can she keep him alive, until he is reunited with Zack, who is coming from London to find him? Losing Arthur by Paul A Mendelson (Book Guild, £8.99) is set in a Britain where the authorities are antisugar and anti-reading-for-pleasure. Not such a stretch. Age 11 to 16.
Witch for a Week