Dear Sarah Bakewell,
It was with great pleasure that I worked through your latest book – At the Existentialist Café – although it is difficult to term such an exercise in reading as work when so much pleasure is involved. Enough to say that it brought me and, undoubtedly, many other readers, in closer contact with those philosophers we often hear about, but seldom make any connection to.
Having said that, I was slightly irritated by one point in your text, and amused by another while reading: that Simone de Beauvoir should find a certain man attractive, as it appears, merely on the strength of the fact that, when upset, he cried and vomited caused me to laugh. I appreciate that some people are inspired by certain bodily functions, by the weaknesses and failings of others, but I would never have imagined Simone de Beauvoir to be attracted to a man simply because he vomited when under duress.
The point which irritated me was your noting of Fallingbostel (in Lower Saxony) as being close to Magdeburg (Saxony-Anhalt). Stalag IIB was indeed in Fallingbostel – or between the town of Fallingbostel and the village of Oerbke – but this town is on the edge of the Lüneburger Heide in the administrative region of Hannover, and over one hundred and fifty kilometres away from Magdeburg. Fallingbostel was one of the concentration camps relieved by the British army as it moved toward victory, and Magdeburg, as those with a memory for recent history will recall, fell within the Russian zone after the end of the Second World War. It would be more correct to note Fallingbostel as being near Hannover or the Lüneburger Heide than a city some considerable distance outside of the region.