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This is London (1959)
By Miroslav Sasek
Universe Publishing Inc
Up until few years ago, if one had been looking for the work of the great Miroslav Sasek, then several long days trekking round London’s great secondhand bookshops would have been the order of the day. No bad thing, of course. The forgotten art of browsing, particularly in secondhand bookshops, is one of London’s great pleasures.
This is London, however, is such a special book that it deserves to be widely available. Thankfully, some bright spark came up with idea of re-releasing (and updating) his children’s classics – and now you can pick them up everywhere from independent book retailers (support your local bookshop!) to the gift shops at Tate Modern (see the Along the Thames Pub Walk) and Festival Hall (Somewhere Else London).
Sasek was born in Prague in 1916, which is where he trained as an architect. It is as the illustrator and writer of the wonderful This is… series of children’s books that he will be remembered by generations of young readers. How many children caught the travel bug from Sasek’s masterpieces?
The first – This is Paris – was published in 1958. The second, and our favourite, of course, was This is London published the following year. This is how the Times Literary Supplement of the day reviewed it:
“The colour is magnificent and uninhibited, the draughtsmanship brilliant but unobtrusive (one gradually realizes that these bold, stylized drawings are minutely accurate as well as true in general impression). The humour is characteristic and pervasive but always subordinate. The jokes are all pointed. Miroslav Sasek has drawn the visitor's London from foggy arrival to rainy departure. His book is a series of impressions, unrelated, one would think, but they add up to a remarkably complete picture of the modern city. The words and pictures are closely integrated; each has it terse style and humour.”
The affection in which he holds his star – London herself – creates an effect akin to a great director eliciting a once-in-a-lifetime performance from a famous actress of whom her public thought they had seen everything: only to be delighted all over again with a fresh and new take.
Visit the Miroslav Sasek website at www.miroslavsasek.com.