The London Author Hardly Anyone Knows
He is one of the greatest London authors you’ve never heard of. He wrote possibly the best Second World War novel of them all, and his masterpiece of London life is virtually unknown – reading ‘King Dido’ I finally understood the missing links in the London before me. So what happened to Alexander Baron?
This is the story of London’s most forgotten author.
Alexander Baron is one of the most consistently underrated British novelists. A liberal and soldier who read Jane Austen in the bomb-craters of Normandy, he was interested in the psychological aspects of war, and wrote about the lives of essentially decent people caught in extraordinary circumstances.
Hackney-raised Alexander Bernstein was born toward the end of one world war and served in another. He was among the first troops to land in Sicily during D-Day, using the experience to write his first novel ‘From the City, from the Plough’. He followed this with ‘There’s No Home’, about British soldiers waiting out a lull in the war. The third part of the now highly acclaimed trilogy was ‘The Human Kind’, a series of linked vignettes that act as an overview of the entire war.
The books benefitted from being in the first wave of popular Pan paperbacks. ‘The Human Kind’ was turned into a Hollywood travesty called ‘The Victors’, with Americans replacing British war heroes.
Although he had been convinced by Jonathan Cape to lose his Jewish name, he now chose to write about the tumultuous lives of gamblers and prostitutes on the streets of the East End, and the migration to suburban 1960s North London in ‘The Low Life’ and its sequel ‘Strip Jack Naked’.
But his epic novel of Edwardian life, ‘King Dido’, remained a personal favourite. This postwar work was proof that serious literature could also be popular, but the shy, courteous Baron’s private failure of nerve prevented him from attending his own launch party.
New London Editions have brought out ‘King Dido’ for a new generation. It starts with a terrifying fight in the streets and climaxes with a scene of heart-wrenching poignancy. It’s a book that deserves to take its place beside ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Crime And Punishment’.
Baron’s fresh style and warm sense of humanity secured a reputation that’s now enjoying a revival. Happily, ‘King Dido’ is once more available. Trust me – if you love London, you’ll love this.