In brief: The Greatest: The Times and Life of Beryl Burton; Homeland; Beautiful Place – review

In brief: The Greatest: The Times and Life of Beryl Burton; Homeland; Beautiful Place – review

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William Fotheringham hails a trailblazing cyclist, Walter Kempowski explores the eastern European psyche, and Amanthi Harris explores notions of home and identity
Beryl Burton
 

She was a multi-world champion, record holder and the subject of a Maxine Peake radio play and popular stage show. Yet, as the author writes in his latest fascinating cycling book, while Beryl Burton was “well known… no one truly knew her”. William Fotheringham explores the complicated life of an incredibly driven sportswoman, offering some timely comments on equality and sexism. Burton wasn’t just interested in competing with men, she wanted to beat them. That she also wanted to beat her daughter to the national road race title in 1976 – she didn’t – is the most intriguing part of a book that confirms Burton as a genuine trailblazer.

It’s taken 27 years for this picaresque novel by celebrated German author and historian Kempowski to be translated into English (by Charlotte Collins). One wonders why: it is a funny, thoughtful and empathetic journey into the eastern European psyche, as seen through the eyes of a Hamburg-based freelance journalist on a somewhat bizarre commission to write about a Japanese car event in Poland that will entail going back to where his parents died in alternately heartbreaking and gruesome circumstances. The shadow of Germany’s involvement in the second world war lurks on every page. “All for nothing,” says Jonathan as he ponders his father’s resting place – a nod to the futility of life and, maybe in this translation, Kempowski’s final novel of the same name.

Sri Lankan-born Amanthi Harris won the Gatehouse Press new fictions prize for her novella Lantern Evening in 2016, but Beautiful Place is an altogether more ambitious work. Set around the Villa Hibiscus guest house on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, itBeautiful Place features a global cast of characters who are all in some way searching for identity, family and a place to belong. It’s something of a quiet epic,Image result for In brief: The Greatest: The Times and Life of Beryl Burton; Homeland; Beautiful Place – review

a lengthy novel to relax into, but with a seismic event that forces everyone to reassess their loyalties and what a better life might mean. As the title suggests, Harris has a keen eye for a sense of place, and though the pace is slow, the mood and emotion are compelling.

 

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