The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

This poignant and crisply entertaining book is an elegy, written (or dictated) by a man with a brilliant mind but one trapped in a body declining rapidly into immobility. He was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neuron disease. He died in 2010, aged 62.

The book consists of a series of short essays, on varied topics, but each a drawer in an imaginary wooden structure, where the author has stored his memories – the Chalet.

He was an academic and a writer, clearly gifted intellectually but also grounded in humanity and, as he notes himself in the book, with an affinity for words and language far in excess of that granted to most of us.

His learning is vast and he summons it up easily and fluently, reminding us of Milosz’s view that “the man of the East cannot take Americans seriously because they have never undergone the experiences that teach men how relative their judgements and thinking habits are” before gliding into a quotation from Woody Allen.

The book is a celebration of a life lived to the full, intellectually. God – he was only 62. Makes you think.

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