Which book finally dislodged The Horse Whisperer from the #1 spot on Australia's bestseller lists? Basically its opposite: Robert Dessaix's Night Letters was a surprise sensation, an intellectual queer novel compromised of twenty letters written in a hotel in Venice in the mid-1990s by an Australian man newly diagnosed with HIV. Echoing literary travelers from Marco Polo and Dante to Casanova and Sterne, contemplating life, death, love, and the passage of time, the narrator R. discourses on cathedrals and museums, seduction and sex, hell and heaven, Venice and Venetians. Despite the character's dire future, critics hailed his "wry, chatty, surprisingly cheerful voice" (NYTBR) finding him "seductive, charming, and always thought-provoking" (Kirkus). The San Francisco Chronicle called it a "luminous gem" and the Cleveland Plain Dealer "a story exquisitely told." Dessaix's second novel, Corfu, also describes gay ex-pats in Europe and again rings with literary echoes: Homer, Sappho, Chekhov, Cavafy. His nonfiction includes a memoir called A Mother's Disgrace about his own adoption and subsequent wanderlust; Twilight of Love, a book about retracing Turgenev's steps as he followed a married opera star and her husband for years; and an anthology, Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing. Invited to the Shanghai International Literary Festival in March 2010, he was denied a visa, probably because of his HIV+ status. In April 2011 he published On Humbug. More recently came As I Was Saying: A Collection of Musings [Kindle]. After a failed marriage to a woman, Dessaix wrote a personal ad in 1982 and met Peter Timms, who is still his partner. As for longevity and dedication, Dessaix created a complex language when he was eleven and continues to speak it to himself even now, as he turns 70 today.
Born 160 years ago today, heir to a 300-year-old dynasty and a newer steel, weapons, and ammunitions empire, Friedrich Alfred Krupp, known as Fritz, preferred marine biology but took over the family firm in 1887 when he was thirty-three. Also against his inclination, he married a woman. He spent as much time as he could in Capri, pursuing his first loves of oceanography and men. For the times when he had to be in Germany, he arranged for his favorite Italian youths to work at a luxury hotel in Berlin, where he often stayed for their service and where other guests complained about the noises coming from his inner sanctum. Accustomed to enormous power -- by the turn of the century he had built Krupp into the largest company in Europe -- he ignored others' objections. This may be why his wife was institutionalized. The media, however, could not be quelled forever. An Italian newspaper was preparing to print accounts of his famous island orgies, with photos. Vorwärts, the Social Democrats' magazine, beat them to it, outing the forty-eight year-old Fritz on November 15, 1902. Seven days later he killed himself. Emperor Wilhelm II blasted his political opponents and defended Fritz against the "slander," and his wife immediately "recovered" to continue raising their two daughters. The eldest inherited the firm which became a Nazi juggernaut. The dynasty endures as does fascination with them: In 2009 a four-and-a-half-hour tv miniseries Krupp - Eine deutsche Familie showed a dandified Fritz flaunting his rough trade. Photos after the jump.