The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Old Man River

Forgotten, misunderstood, neglected, much maligned. Here is a man who did as much as Martin Luther King, but whose political views resulted in appalling abuse during the McCarthy witchhunts in America. For he was accused of being a Communist. As so often, my love of something - or someone - comes from a childhood memory, which is that of my father playing Paul Robeson's records. I have since collected many original 78 rpm records, and they are some of my most cherished things. This little book is not a biography. It is a statement. A personal explanation of Mr Robeson's views and reasons. It is a rebuff to those Americans who turned against him. And it is a sensitive and deeply moving insight into the racism and segregation suffered by black Americans in the 20th century.Perhaps Mr Robeson was naive. His reception in the Soviet Union and his observations of racial equality cast a long shadow on his homeland. Certainly the principles of a communist ideal must have been attractive. The reality was somewhat different and he in no way endorsed what Stalin did. Indeed he never joined the Communist party as such, but spoke out against racism so passionately - and used the Soviet system as an example of an alternative - that post-war America became nervous.

He was adored in Britain and celebrated all over the world. Back in American he and his audiences were - incredibly - stoned, leading to riots. He was dragged through courts, humiliated, stripped of his dignity and refused his passport. At the height of his career as a singer and actor (he played Othello to great acclaim in London), he was imprisoned in his own country. Today he isn't really celebrated as he should be. He risked everything for his people and I adore this book as it contains such humanity, such courage and emotion. He was a great speaker and a fine, good man. He paved the way for President Obama. But I don't believe this is a book that will ever turn up on Kindle...

"To be free - to walk the good American earth as equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil, to give our children every opportunity in life - that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny we hold in our hands." PAUL ROBESON: HERE I STAND.


  1. Hullo, found you via That Elusive Line (Thomas) and used a quote of one of your comments there on my blog, but I didn't know you had this blog so linked to one of your others!

    Anyway....I liked what you had to say versus the kindle and so thought I'd pop by and say so.

    I was moved reading this. It's a fitting tribute to a "fine, good man", one who should have been cherished by his country. But history is like that. Sad.

  2. Hi Rachel
    Lovely to "meet" you through Thomas, and thank you for saying "hello". It's good to find kindred spirits regarding the Kindle. Just this weekend in a sunday newspaper a journalist was saying how she was looking forward to "not having a dusty pile of books beside the bed". And I thought: I LOVE my pile of dusty books beside the bed, finding lost books, finding books I didn't know I had, finding letters or pressed flowers inside, inscriptions and postcards; memories of a previous reading in another place. All this quite apart from illustrations and the actual words intended by the author!

    Hence this new blog...

    Paul Robeson was a god amongst men I think, a gentle giant. His recordings are known to be magnificent; his campaigning is not so cherished and really should be.

    Best wishes