I’m proof-reading the book backwards, starting with the afterword, on the principle that I’m less likely to get caught up in the narrative flow. But it does make the process somewhat surreal, a life lived backwards. And the final sections still make me a bit teary, even now. Now I’m reading the Jerusalem section. It’s almost exactly a year since I went there with my cousin Liz, who knows it well having visited many times in the course of her work for Amnesty International. She made sure I didn’t just see the places that were connected with my research, and we went across to visit friends in Ramallah. It was the bleakness on both sides of the checkpoint that struck me most forcibly – endless concrete buildings, rubbish, grey hopelessness.
And we also got to do the usual touristy things.
This man’s T shirt seemed to sum up the variety on offer in Jerusalem.
The main reason I had gone was to meet Lotte Geiger, a remarkable woman who knew Nancy when she was there from 1942-47. She was incredibly welcoming and plied us with cakes.
She had remained friendly with Mr Spaer, the long-suffering solicitor who steered Nancy through her divorce from Larry. When he was clearing out documents towards the end of his life he gave Lotte the file concerning their divorce, and she passed it on to Penelope. It makes painful reading, but there are also moments of real humour, like the missive Larry sent him on four business cards, which the poor man had to staple to a sheet of paper in order to keep it in the file. Larry never dated anything, my mother was pathologically unable to answer his letters – they were obviously Mr Spaer’s least favourite couple.