Archive for 2010

Nabokov’s private tragedy and a call for suggestions

July 6th, 2010 | Alina Müller


I have started to compile a themed reading list for my summer reading. The theme is ‘works by authors who have spent a relatively big part of their lives living in a different country’. This would include both authors who spent only part of their lives abroad, like Julio Cortázar, and those who spent most of their lives in a different country, like James Joyce. It would also include authors that lived abroad but wrote in their first language, again like Julio Cortázar, or that lived abroad and wrote in the language of their new home country, like Herta Muller, Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad. The theme of the books doesn’t have to be the immigrant experience. I am more curious about finding out if these authors have something in common that could potentially be attributed to their shared experience as migrants, or  if they don’t at all. I would appreciate your suggestions!

And so I leave you with a few words of Nabokov, where he explicitly addresses one aspect of his experience, the language:

“My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses – the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions – which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way.”

London mapped out

May 21st, 2010 | Alina Muller

A few days ago, my better half  introduced me to Charles Booth’s amazing survey of life and labour in London, which documented in great detail the social and economic situation of Londoners between 1886-1903. One of the outcome of his ambitious empirical work are the Poverty Maps, which give a visual representation of his survey. Using the wealth of information he collected, Booth colour-coded the streets of London to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants. He used seven colours ranging from yellow for ‘the upper-middle and upper classes, wealthy’ to black for, in Booth’s words, the ‘vicious semi criminal’ ( I’m guessing that’s Victorian English for the really really poor).

It’s really quite interesting, and in some ways sad, to note that some areas in London seem to never really change. It would also have been interesting to document how much internal migration there was during this period. Was there any noticeable social mobility, with people moving to the better off areas when their economic situation improved, or did the ‘vicious semi criminal’ stay ‘vicious semi criminal’ and the ‘wealthy’  ’wealthy’, each in their part of town?

Below are some examples of the maps and you can browse some of them on-line here and here. The pictures are borrowed from the University of Michigan website, produced by Sabiha Ahmad. There is also an exhibition at the London Museum displaying the maps, which might be worth a visit.


Yellow in Marylebone.


Black in Hackney.

Anyone up for the challenge to do a map of London pre and post financial crisis?  I would be well up for contributing.