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 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' Shaghai.

2011 Embarks on mid-Pacific narrative.

Complete renewed reworking of A Land You Don't Know.

August, 2016 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.

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James Thackara
Photo: Samantha Nundy
Ecuadorian rainforest. August 2016



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