James Thackara
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Dec. 7, 1944 Los Angeles, author is born to Swiss-Shanghai mother, and named after the US-Argentine father who had abandoned her.

45-‘46 Mother, Ellen Louise, exiled in a single story bungalow Glendale with one friend in city.

47 Buenos Aires, placed in Spanish language kindergarten.

49-‘50 Mother migrates to Cap d’Antibes and off-season house. Author’s French village schooling begins.

50-‘56 Mother returns to alma mater in Palo Alto, takes job at Stanford library. Son realises extreme deracination, mother’s alienation from reality. Piano playing ends with Judo and baseball; aeronautics and marine biology become new obsession.

56-‘59 Mother migrates again, this time to Rome. Author flunks out of a Jesuit Holy Cross School in severe depression. Leaves for Alpine boarding school of rejects. When mother goes to Nairobi for grandmother’s death, he briefly finds himself among unknown Zurich cousins, German and Jewish. Author returns nearer to mother at Rome boarding school among Aramco oil riggers’ sons. Author now a street rebel at height of Italian cinema, glimpses of dream factory, set of Ben Hur.

59-‘63 On the way to another school arrives in New York the day of Cape Man murder on Fifth Avenue. Author’s first normalcy among eighth round of unknown schoolmates in Connecticut forest. Terrorized by Cuba nuclear crisis. First sign of roots with summers by Winslow Homer’s studio, Maine.

63-’67 Harvard, the renegade finds first fellow travellers other than dead authors. Hangs around faculty circle of Peter Taylor and Robert Lowell. Weekends in Manhattan’s surfacing Viet Nam counterculture. Author flunks draft physical on Portland docks. Shuns Harvard graduation to pilgrimage around world. Returns to New York from Japan once again on the roll.

Oct. 18, 1967 Thackara disembarks at Southampton, three months before Tet offensive. Makes writer’s commitment to dedicate his obscure life to literary fathers; a possible adaptation to defend the great tradition amid the crisis of book publishing and the literary life. Author’s choice of London: for his own language, its post-imperial tragedy, its world catchment, its low cost living.

67-‘70 Sets up garret in World’s End flophouse, Chelsea. Writes The Company of Men; Hanuman in Decline; Rubicon Manifesto; The Discovery of America; Ice and Desert Stories - all far short of author’s as yet undiscovered subject. [Meanwhile, faces his generation’s dilemma of entertainment culture. He first writes Shogun (‘68) original Arthurian script for Kurosawa (director breaks down on set of Tora Tora); then America’s Children (‘70) both scripts under contract to World Film Services.] Author returns to Rome for Shogun meetings with Sergio Leone, followed by moral conflict of production values with literature’s high ground.

70 Back in London, alarmed by Bacon and Freud’s high-culture cynics at Soho’s Colony Room. Author redeemed as short-lived member of The Living Theatre tribe though broken leg prevents him from following them to Essouira. During that time falls in Donald and Ella Stewart’s McCarthy-era salon – Charlie and Oona Chaplin and their children, Hepburn, Dalton Trumbo, Kenneth Tynan, Sam Wanamaker, Edward Albee – embattled author comes closer to his lost generation masters in Don’s confidences to him about friends, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and Ella’s tale of meeting Lenin. Peter Taylor emerges as reliable mentor; while father’s third wife becomes lifelong friend who engineers rapprochement with father. Author is cultivated at lunches with T.S. Eliot’s executor Peter DuSautoy. Attends Jorge Luis Borges’ famous lectures introduced by di Giovanni at Westminster Central Hall.

71-‘71 Falls in love with Davina Millard, aged seventeen. Punishing puritan discipline sets in, and writer’s vision opens out. Hart Cooper, 1200 page spiritual autobiography, written in two years creating the trans-national mythology for future Book of Kings.

72-‘77 First 1700 page draft of The Book of Kings. Writer and wife drive through Maghreb from Tunis across FLN Algeria to Marrakech. Under deepening influence of Russian writers, argues Dostoyevsky vs. Tolstoy with Joseph Brodsky at Stephen Spender’s. Writer flees insoluble tedium of self into sufferings of humanity at large through human rights groups: Campaign Against Psychiatric Abuses and Index on Censorship. Pickets for Bukovsky at Soviet Embassy, friendship with psychiatric prisoner Victor Fainberg. Writer attends Allende rally at Royal Court for murdered Chilean singer Jara, gradually befriends early human rights loyalists. Christmas Eve ’76 on Royal Hospital Road, visits a great writer of the Americas, almost as buried as himself, the Creole Jean Rhys; they have dinners that spring, discuss Paris lost generation. U.S. Bicentennial weekend, returns to American folk culture morning on Washington’s Mall; first of two cross-continent drives with Davina and D. Bruce, Virginia round Mississippi to Key West, the second across Plains to southwest desert.

79 First meets Costa Gavras over old script America’s Children. Subsequently, writer decides to explore much deeper into nuclear theology through prose narrative; first draft of novel completed in five months.

81 Daughter Leila born.

82 The unpublished exile, finally bankrupt of last movie money, forced to sell one asset, ¾ acre in Maine. Costa Gavras asks him to adapt Malraux’s Condition Humaine, which author declines. Several visits to Peter Taylor in Key West, where he first encounters the indigenous American circle of Jimmy Merrill, R. Wilber, John and Barbara Hersey.

84 Chatto & Windus takes on America’s Children for £1500 advance, but editor departs before publication with as a result no major press reviews , neither is it sold to America.

85 Daughter Tess born

77-‘88 Working seven day weeks, Thackara rewrites Kings twelve times, compressing text to 1470 pages. Hamburg PEN Congress where he finds two cultural soul mates in the last living biblical writer, Alan Paton and Robert Jungk of Brighter Than A Thousand Suns. The author’s first visits to Berlin, enters eastern sector. Robert Jungk becomes first member of author’s group, Nuclear Emergency Trust.

88 Ahab’s Daughter, written in a year (Abacus ‘89). However, Abacus’ editor moved to Bloomsbury and book thus scarcely reviewed. Even so, sells well.

89 Complicated negotiation at Bloomsbury over mammoth Book of Kings. Anthony Shiel enters as agent. He wins $210,000 contract at Bantam Press. Out of loyalty to Borges, author invites di Giovanni to be Bantam’s oversight assistant during his final 1/3 shortening of the manuscript, as earlier agreed between author and wife.

89-‘95 Unforeseen disposition of di Giovanni to achieve editorial control leading to author’s withdrawal from contract. Author goes on to shorten and polish Kings to its final form. New publishing effort at Harper Collins aborted. The New Yorker interested in writer’s saga and John Walsh profiles Thackara. This appears in ’97.

96 Copyright finally cleared, Ed Victor intervenes, and in 1999 The Book of Kings published in New York by Peter Mayer, Duckworth UK, Spanish and Italian translations by Espasa Calpe (agent Carmen Balcells) and Baldini & Castoldi.

2000 United Kingdom publication and Colony Room cynics resurface as author comes under English critical crossfire. . Author’s divorce now well underway.

Sept. 1, 2001 The author's family divides. Sept. 20, Thackara live on BBCTV World - across four timebands as Bush and Blair shake hands - futilely warning 12 kilometres of battle groups to turn back from Afghanistan. “It is poignant to imagine aircraft carriers chasing men in sheepskins through the mountains”. “Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry can fall into hands of Bin Laden”. Thackara joins Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, to speak for the values of the Democratic Party, after 25 years on council of Democrats Abroad.

04-‘07 Thackara finishes draft novel of London as world city and turns to long-prepared San Francisco-Shanghai subject. In Jerusalem, author at last meets Mordechai Vanunu in St. George's Cathedral after 18 years imprisonment. Meets Vanunu in St. George’s, Jerusalem, and later has chance to speak apart with Court’s President at human rights gathering, London. Thackara is guest at ‘Dinner with Portillo’, televised from Disraeli’s cabinet table in Tory club: The Legacy of Bush.

2007 American author becomes British citizen. After three generations, Thackara begins repayment of family debt to China, becomes immersed in 3000 pages of Chinese history and documenta. Attends PRC Ambassador's banquet and meetings at Embassy on subject of comparative human rights.

2008 Joins Executive of Survival International, Thackara's first of many NGOs.

May - July 2008 Social Contact with Ambassador Fu Ying of Peoples' Republic of China, leading to British diplomats' banquet at Embassy followed by warm discussions of Edgar Snow and China's narrative, and later encouraging Madame Fu's unofficial exploratory meeting with Ken Roth of HumanRightsWatch.

Sept. 10, 2010 Mother dies at 95 by Zurichsee, ending uprooted wanderings over the world begun at age amidst savagery of Treaty Powers' Shanghai.

2011 Embarks on mid-Pacific narrative.
Complete renewed reworking of A Land You Don't Know.
December - At Sylvia's‎ invitation, attend the Paris funeral of Shakespeare & Co's George Whitman's at Père Lachaise.

2013 Author's epochal meeting in French with philosopher-director ‎Claude Lanzman of the unequalled Holocaust testament, Shoah, followed by Lanzman's dedication: "...avec amitié".

2015 I complete final manuscript of‎ A Land You Don't Know. Focus fully at last on the mid-Pacific legend of two revolutions, two people's, two family cities of Shanghai and San Francisco.


- Jan-Apr In Paris Quartier, I take Linda for reunion with Costa Gavras and Michelle on Rue St. Jacques.‎ My daughters Leila and Tess have moved to Brooklyn. Author begins homeward apotheosis across a lifetime's friends, the New York of Mailer, Ginzburg, Robert Stone, of Max's Kansas City, Casey's and Elaine's, of the Living Theatre, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, key West, the Connecticut forest, Harvard Square, and Prouts Neck. First inconclusive introduction to Pietsch of Hachette.

- Aug With fiancée Linda Etchart and Amazon Watch's Leo Cerda, interviewing tribal leaders‎, UN Monitors, Pachakutik politicos and the Correa regimes buen vivir Ministers in Quito, Latacunga, Puyo, and Sarayaku, deep rainforest of Amazonia...uniting a half century's witness beside ten human rights militancies over indigenous and biodiversity issues worldwide, Soviet dissidents and expansionism , Latin America's desaparecidos, Middle East‎ nuclear jurisdiction and retro-colonizing, Wikileaks, and capitalist oil and mineral extraction industries in the aftermath of China's revolution.

- Sept Amidst Brexit crisis - also year's Assange negotiation on behalf of NYTimes - we rebook Quito-London return via Manhattan to repatriate. The first morning at Harvard Club, Wikileaks is on NYTimes front page - the struggle for the Security Screen as it haunts me from the nuclear Los Alamos of my America's Children. For two weeks I pilgrimage beside Linda the real estate beat of one's lost hometown ... first in Harlem, Westside, finally Eastside. Exile's end emerges ... to transplant one's Hampstead Heath to Central Park within walking distance of an estranged mother's and father's extravagant homes. Ishmael makes offer on modest rooms near Lycée Francais, overseeing exhaust-plumed FDR Drive and tidal strait of schooners and ocean going barges.


- April 22. After fifty years' VietNam exile, since Ishmael disembarked from the Bremen at Southampton harbour Oct 8 1967, I fly in with Linda to Idlewild Airport.

- It has been renamed for JFKennedy, assassinated during my Harvard Freshman Thanksgiving lunch at Westport with Broadway's Arthur Kennedy, off the movie set of Seven Pillars Of Wisdom. The mourning at his home was the first taste of the countrymen I would later meet at Don Stewart and Ella Wynter's 'Hollywood Ten' salons in Hampstead. The original furniture pieces from that first exile on Kings Road, along with the well loved art from Patricia Withofs, are transmogrified to Manhattan's riverside. It is the first American perch I own.‎

- Author brings with him internationalism landscape of Chatham House, Frontline Club's war dialectic of further US invasions, connections in mother country Parliamentary class wars, rights initiatives from within Survival International, Index on Censorship, Campaign Against Soviet Psychiatric Abuses, Russia's Free trade-union SMOT, Amnesty International, NET (Nuclear Emergency Trust) - Article 19, HumanRightsWatch, Association Civil Rights Israel, Pugwash, Amazon Watch.

- July 13. James marries Linda Etchart at New York City Hall, witnessed by daughters Leila, Tess, half-sister Lucy.

- We join resistance to antebellum race mobs' slow Coup against the founders' Constitution, as prophesied in my VietNam Reichs epic The Book Of Kings. This manuscript evolves beyond Tolstoy's great feudal architecture - to project into 21st Century's Faulkner-García Márquez post colonial grassroots of North and South America, Maghrebi north and (friend Alan Paton's) south Africa, and of the Soviet writers transcending Glasnost. ‎

2018 May Voices of Latin America published.

2019 With Jean Rhys specialist Elaine, I complete extensive book interviews on my séances with Jean in her last three years, after our mutual friends Stephen Spender and Bernice Ruben resurrected Rhys from obscurity - as had long before Maddox Ford - to Royal Hospital Road. I thus fulfill Peter's and Eleanor's ex-slave state Tennesseans' fascination with Dominican Jean Rhys.

2018-2020 By one's first American summer, my publisher Peter Mayer and the three agents of a lifetime, Gillon Aitken, Anthony Shiel, and Ed Victor are dead. While fathoming my generation's personalities and a draconian writing schedule, I return now on the East River to the mid-Pacific manuscript‎. A truly deep-depth education in my lost America becomes the next life. Great biographer friend Gerald offers plaudits for a fate resurrected.

2018 One reaches, now a short walk down the street, the faltering internationalist mecca of the United Nations. Here a writer of parables can attend conferences on post-colonial conflicts of the Maghreb which emerge as much from The Book Of Kings as America's and the world's continuing revolution and counter revolution. We may even reunite, around the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, with our Kichwa and Houarani tribal allies of Ecuador headwaters.

2019 Jan 3 An American, coming home to his own people amid Germano-Russian convulsion, attends at Library of Congress an HRW and Rights Secretary's swearing-in to the House of Representatives‎.

2019 Sept 26 Grandaughter Maeve born. In January author returns, for first time since mother's death, to the Switzerland of my German and Jewish relations in Lenin's Zurich, from which Hagar's serial banishments began with her father's marriage to his brother's wife. To the Saanenland valley where author's family came into being and a village he first saw in 1953, as McArthur threatened invasion of The Peoples' Republic.

2020 June Before favorable winds from insider allies, and by Peter's loyal editor long ago at The New Yorker, ‎the decision comes for a homecoming writer at last to enter America. To align The Book Of Kings with his patria's Constitutional crisis, a bottle afloat on seas not transformed since the book presses of Cervantes, instead to appear electronically on screens worldwide.

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James Thackara
Photo: Samantha Nundy
Ecuadorian rainforest. August 2016



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