Death In Ten Minutes, by Fern Riddell

Death In Ten Minutes is a biography of Kitty Marion, militant suffragette and campaigner for birth control.

In this book, Fern Riddell tells a story that seems to have been largely brushed under the carpet, not least by leading suffragettes who sanitised the movement’s history after they had achieved their objective of getting women the vote. I was not previously aware that in the years before the First World War a branch of the suffragette movement had been carrying out what we would describe as acts of terrorism. There was arson, there were bombings. Emily Davison throwing herself under the King’s horse in the Derby was far from the worst act of this provisional wing.

Kitty Marion was a leading militant. She was imprisoned several times, and brutally force fed when on hunger strike.

Her story has additional interest. Being of German parentage, she was deported in the war, and went to New York, where she became a campaigner for the growing birth control movement.

Fern Riddell writes Kitty’s story as part of the story of feminism. As a music hall artist, Kitty had experienced sexual harrassment from impresarios and agents. Ms Riddell is able to relate this to the current “Me Too” movement.

This is a very interesting and readable book, a very accessible piece of history writing. 8 out of 10.

17. Scattered Ghosts, by Nick Barlay

Nick Barlay is the son of Hungarian Jewish refugees.  His parents left Hungary for the UK in 1956, in the aftermath of the uprising against the oppressive Soviet rule.  That is when my parents left Hungary.

In this book, Nick Barlay tells the stories of his family members going back several generations.  Those who made something of themselves in the times of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Those who fought in the Great War. And those who were sent to Auschwitz.

The detail becomes greater as he tells the stories of those in living memory, as is only to be expected.  But clearly the book has been very carefully researched.

As the son of Hungarian emigres, I found a lot in this book that I could relate to, and I will be passing it on to my daughter and my mother.  Not being Jewish, however, no one in our family died at Auschwitz.  I visited that place a few weeks ago. Just horrible. I would have found it hard to cope had I lost family there.

A very interesting book, bringing all the characters in Nick’s family to life.  No doubt about it – 10 out of 10.


1. Agrippina, by Emma Southon

A tough woman in a world run by men

(my 4 star Amazon review)

Being a member of the Roman Imperial family in the first century AD must have been tough. You were liable to be murdered just so the Emperor of the day could eliminate rival claimants.

And being the granddaughter, niece/wife (yes, both) and mother of different Emperors did not make Agrippina immune from danger. In the midst of all the family carnage around her, she survived, and for a while actually ran the Empire. Until her son, the lovely, charming Nero decided that she had to be killed.

Emma Southon brings together the often patchy historical sources to tell the story of this tough woman. The record is far from complete – there are often gaps of a few years simply because Agrippina’s name does not come up in Tacitus or others.

And Emma Southon brings us Agrippina from the perspective of a 21st century feminist. She works really hard to counterbalance the misogyny of the Roman historians, who did not approve of women doing more than being wives and mothers.

So, all in all, an interesting book, about an amazing woman.

Why only 7 out of 10? Some of the conversational asides and comments to the reader are very much of here and now, and may require explanatory notes in 15-20 years time. Hopefully by then David Cameron will have been deservedly forgotten, as well as what he may have got up to with dead pigs.

***DISCLOSURE*** I have not met the author, but she gave me a digital copy by way of thanks for an introduction I made via social media.

7 out of 10.