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The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

The Memory Chalet (edition 2011)

by Tony Judt

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Title:The Memory Chalet
Authors:Tony Judt
Info:Penguin Books (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt



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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
The second of these essays which discusses what it is like to live with advanced ALS, was revelatory for me and profoundly moving. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
So far I am having trouble mustering the interest. It is well written, but the nostalgia is lost on me. It is best appreciated by the generation before me, and especially those with a connection to England and Europe. The links of personal experience to how it fits in with the broader narrative and culture of England/Europe/world are not as strong or developed as I expected. ( )
  BCbookjunky | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is a lovely book, and a very moving one, by one of the few public intellectuals who seemed capable of changing his mind. It's very different in tone from most of his work -- private rather than public, and very funny in spots (the story about French intellectuals is classic). It does treat some of the key themes that appear in Judt's historical writing, and some of those that he controversially addressed in periodicals.

The point of "The Memory Chalet", however, is not to persuade, but to reflect. Judt's prose is graceful and apt, a delight to read, his opinions illuminating, and his recreation of his own past a glimpse into another world. Finally, the way he discusses and deals with his illness and impending death is (as ever) enlightening, as well as inspiring. If I face an end that is anything half as difficult as his, I will try to remember to use this book as a guide. ( )
  annbury | Nov 3, 2012 |
This is alas the final book by historian Tony Judt, a memoir in a series of self-described feuilletons called The Memory Chalet (London: Penguin Books, 2010). The title refers to his method of composing these essays, which accumulate steadily in depth and importance: in his long wakeful nights he composed them, organizing their paragraphs and mentally stowing them at this site or that in a country hotel fondly remembered from his youth; then the following days retrieving them, one by one, and dictating them to an amanuensis.

The writing itself is always graceful, rather conversational, informal, yet elegantly contoured and distributed. (It reminds me of other work similarly made: for example, the paragraphs of Alberto Moravia's first novel Gli indifferenti, or — very different — the visions recalled and re-stated in Sam Francis's lyrical, light-filled paintings.)

But skillful, artistic as his expression is, it is Judt's substance, concepts, insights that make his work in these books so significant — imperative, I would say. His observation is detailed and retentive; his intellectual organization of the results is careful and logical; his conclusions, it seems to me, both inescapable and utterly persuasive.

His training was the result of a fortunate confluence of opportunity and ambition, tempered by a healthy amount of typical adolescent male curiosity and adventure; and much of The Memory Chalet is a dying man's retrospection on the luck that made his career. Central: the conviction that meritocracy and social democracy, which underlay his own development, represent the best possible organizing principles of contemporary society.

Judt sadly shakes his head at the increased attraction of abstraction, the diminished concern for pragmatics, among journalists, academics, politicians, and the public at large. Unthinkable things happened throughout the Twentieth Century because of that confusion of social values. For a few years after the end of World War II, chiefly in western Europe, it looked as if a meritocracy of social technocrats might prevail, but the end of Communism, in 1989, gave way not to Social Democracy but the return of “free-market Capitalism.” Judt died, of ALS, very soon after completing The Memory Chalet; it stands as a fond, generous, often funny appreciations of the good events of his life and mind, but also an elegy on the premature relinquishment of the power to further such events. Ut tempora, ita homo. ( )
1 vote pieterpad | Jul 17, 2012 |
Tony Judt was a public intellectual, diagnosed in 2008 with ALS. He describes it in hauntingly beautiful and poignant language in his memoir of the subtle details of his life, The Memory Chateau:

”I suffer from motor neuron disorder, in my case a variant of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): Lou Gehrig’s disease…What is distinctive about ALS is firstly that there is no loss of sensation (a mixed blessing) and secondly that there is no pain. In contrast to almost every other serious or deadly disease, one is thus left free to contemplate at leisure and in minimal discomfort the catastrophic progress of one’s own deterioration. In effect, ALS constitutes progressive imprisonment without parole. First you lose the use of a digit or two; then a limb; then and almost inevitably, all four. The muscles of the torso decline into near torpor, a practical problem from the digestive point of view but also life threatening, in that breathing becomes at first difficult and eventually impossible without external assistance in the form of a tube-and-pump apparatus.” (Page 16)

This is where Judt is at as he dictates the essays that make up The Memory Chalet to his assistant. The next step in the disease will leave him incapable of speech. The dread of this and the heaviness of the progression of the disease hang over every word in the narrative. It serves to make you sit up and take notice of every statement, every detail, every finely crafted utterance that has been put down on paper. This is a book of beautiful language and a book of memories. Because that is how Judt went about creating this slim volume. He remembered a chalet in Switzerland where he had stayed as a child and produced one like it in his mind and it is in it that he has stored the memories of his life, to be retrieved now, in the final throes of this insidious disease.

His memories take us back to his boyhood school days; his college days; his time spent on a kibbutz in Israel. We hear him speak about the sounds and smells of trains; the early Beatles; the austerity of the post-war years in Britain; fast cars and radical politics and when he talked about the upheaval of the sixties I could only nod my head in agreement. Yes, that was my time too. I lived through it too. You’re so right.

”The night porter was hammering angrily at a bedroom door, incoherently sputtering a man’s name. I brushed him aside, announced myself, and was let in. Lizbeth was standing on the bed wearing nothing much. ‘He’s going to kill us!’ she hissed. Us? She pointed at the cupboard from which emerged a blonde-haired young man in underpants: the sous-chef. ‘It’s me he wants,’ the boy explained sheepishly in German. I conveyed the situation to his American host; she was utterly bewildered. ‘There are men,’ I clarified, ‘who are attracted to other men.’ Magnificently indifferent to her diaphanous appearance, Lizbeth stared at me in disgust: ‘Not in Biloxi there aren’t.’ This was July 1968. In Munich later that month, I instructed our Germen bus driver to take us to the Dachau memorial. Horst refused point-blank: nothing worth seeing there, he assured me, it’s all American propaganda. The holocaust and the camps were not yet a universal moral reference, and there were no homosexuals in Mississippi. It was a long time ago.” (Page 132)

He goes on to talk about his years at Berkely and NYU where he finally finds he has a home. And when he finally wraps it all up I could only find myself a little teary eyed, thanking this man I didn’t know for taking me with him on this tour of reminiscence. Tony Judt died in August 2010. His like will not be seen again. ( )
9 vote brenzi | Jun 8, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
In this way the pieces in “The Memory Chalet” — most of which first appeared in The New York Review of Books — form a mosaic of autobiographical fragments and a restatement of views more or less familiar from his earlier, less personal writings...With his own life drawing to a close Judt sees the era of social mobility, of which he was the beneficiary, and uncompromisingly high standards, of which he was the embodiment, coming to an end. The elegiac tone is more than simply personal: it’s a reminder that England, for all its failings, will never lose its capacity to generate lament.
These essays, which he couldn't write down for himself, are nevertheless wonderfully written. They capture his 1950s childhood in Putney, the dour, didactic direct grammar school that drove him on to Cambridge, his days of devotion and disillusion on a joyless kibbutz, his restless trek from one university and one country to another – and one wife to another – until New York finally came to seem like home. And Judt, start to finish, could never write a boring sentence.
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'I love trains, and they have always loved me back.'
'I reject the authority of the rabbis - all of them (and for this I have rabbinical authority on my side).'
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“It might be thought the height of poor taste to ascribe good fortune to a healthy man with a young family struck down at the age of sixty by an incurable degenerative disorder from which he must shortly die. But there is more than one sort of luck. To fall prey to a motor neuron disease is surely to have offended the Gods at some point, and there is nothing more to be said. But if you must suffer thus, better to have a well-stocked head…” –Tony Judt

The Memory Chalet is a memoir unlike any you have ever read before. Each essay charts some experience or remembrance of the past through the sieve of Tony Judt’s prodigious mind. His youthful love of a particular London bus route evolves into a reflection on public civility and interwar urban planning. Memories of the 1968 student riots of Paris meander through the divergent sex politics of Europe, before concluding that his generation ‘was a revolutionary generation, but missed the revolution’. A series of roadtrips across America lead not just to an appreciation of American history, but to an eventual acquisition of citizenship. Foods and trains and long-lost smells all compete for Judt’s attention; but for us, he has forged his reflections into an elegant arc of analysis. All as simply and beautifully arranged as a Swiss chalet — a reassuring refuge deep in the mountains of memory. [Amazon.co.uk]
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The author reflects on the sights and events of the twentieth century, both impactful and trivial, and places it in context with his personal experiences and analysis of society.

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