Disclaimer: This product was gifted. I received a free e-copy of this book for review purposes from the publishers, Quartet Books.
In Memories, Naim Attallah shares a series of vignettes, detailing his colourful past in publishing. While Attallah spent most of his adult life working in publishing, this memoir isn’t about publishing so much as it’s about Attallah himself. I did go into this expecting more of an insight into the publishing industry, but instead it was a fascinating insight into the life of Attallah himself, as well as stories upon stories about and from his contemporaries.
Politically, Attallah was a very interesting figure. As a Palestinian, he is understandably anti-Zionist, and Memories contains a fair amount of discussion about Palestine, most notably a section of the book that discusses Roald Dahl’s review of God Cried, the review having been published by The Literary Review, which was owned by Attallah. Attallah (and Dahl) received a lot of backlash from the publication of the review. The review itself was accused of anti-Semitism, and Attallah accused of using his businesses to push his own agenda, despite the editor of the review having approved the publication of the review. The accusation of anti-Semitism towards anti-Zionists is extremely prolific even in today’s world, 37 years after Dahl’s review, “Not a Chivalrous Affair”, was published. (While I am certainly not saying that no anti-Zionist is also anti-Semitic, it is important to remember that the two are not inherently mutual.)
Attallah was described by the Guardian as “a legendary adorer of beautiful women” (2000). He surrounded himself with beautiful women, hiring them at his company, taking photographs with them, and having them dress up for launch events. To the modern reader, this behaviour reads as very predatory, and extremely sexist. Even for the mid-20th century, it seems like a rather archaic way to treat women, though Attallah’s behaviour is generally passed off as one of his eccentricities. There is little in the way of apology for the way these women were treated, which is rather uncomfortable to read, though this was made slightly better through the inclusion of essays and vignettes from the women themselves, recounting their experiences.
The book is scattered with these asides from various figures from Attallah’s past. These sections were some of my favourite parts of the book. I felt that these gave a better insight into Attallah than the sections written by himself, offering an external perspective to his eccentric character. Throughout the book, many names are mentioned, both known and unknown to myself, and many of the names dropped also feature as guest writers. The majority of these guest writers were people I haven’t heard of before, so it was an interesting way to be introduced to some of the people who surrounded Attallah during his career.
As a series of vignettes, Memories makes for some very interesting reading. It is politically engaging, intriguing, and offers an insight into 20th century London, and the publishing industry specifically. Attallah does not try to paint himself as the hero of the story, sharing both the highs and lows of his career, and is unashamed of his past, no matter how controversial. While I certainly don’t agree with or condone all of Attallah’s behaviour (in particular towards women), the candid writing style is certainly gripping, and is definitely worth reading.
I would recommend Memories more to people interested in business, politics, and culture than to people who are looking specifically for insight into the publishing industry. While some insight into publishing specifically is offered, it is so unique to Attallah’s life that it offers little insight for those looking for any information on how they might get a career in publishing, or how their career trajectory may go. Over the last 40 years, the publishing scene has changed greatly, and Attallah’s experience, therefore, is definitely of its time, and is unlikely to be representative of the industry in the 21st century.