A Radical Romance, by Alison Light

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Raphael was ‘Raph’ when I met him. He was everybody’s property; he could be phoned or called on at his home at any time (dropping in to use his lavatory was not unheard of). Comrades from across the world would turn up at short notice, expecting a bed or a floor, a meal and a conversation that went on half the night. ‘Another twelve Italian Marxists for breakfast!’ I would joke, or half joke – he had once entertained such a group and wowed them with sausage, bacon and fried eggs. God’s motley came and went: elderly Party members and fellow travellers; those who belonged to – the distinctions had to be mastered – the ‘old’ New Left and ‘new’ New Left from the late 1950s and the 1970s respectively; anarchists, Trotskyites, Eurocommunists, militants and contrarians; all manner of trade unionists, railway men and miners, and Labour politicians, many of whom were or had been students of Ruskin; local East End villains, whose life stories Raphael was busily recording; sophisticated French scholars of memory bearing silk scarves from Paris; American and Australian leftists; postmodernists and eager postgraduates from all over; publishers, writers, journalists, conservationists, museum workers, archivists, teachers, the History Workshop editorial collective and old Workshop hands; dear friends, old lovers, extended family and friends of family – many with lives and histories interwined [sic].

This was the first book I finished in 2022, and it's a great start to the year. I had previously hugely enjoyed Light's Common People, the history of her own immediate ancestors; here she goes even more personal, into her marriage to fellow historian Raphael Samuel, from their first meeting in 1986 to his death in 1996. He was twenty years older, and Jewish; she had studied English at Churchill College, Cambridge (fellow Cambridge alumni will wince in sympathy) and gradually drifted into history and commentary, which was what brought them together. The first half or so, about the development of their relationships with each other and with their very different families, is lovely. But the strength is in the second half. I think even for someone less interested in history as a discipline than me, this would still be a tremendous memoir of love and loss; in particular, when she gets to Samuel's illness and death, she is sparing with the details but eloquent in her sparseness. She goes into much more detail on the funeral arrangements, but of course that's something that a surviving partner can control and direct unilaterally, unlike most aspects of a relationship, which have to be negotiated. A great book, strongly recommended. You can get it here.

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