The Grim Reaper decided that he would bookend the month of April with two big literary figures. Yevgeny Yevtushenko (pictured in main image right), the fierce and controversial Russian poet, died from a heart attack at the age of 84 on 1 April; and on 30 April Jean Babette Stein, the author and one time editor with The Paris Review, jumped from the ledge of her Manhattan apartment, aged 83. Interspersed between those two were some fascinating, although less familiar names, such as Agga Maha Pandita Davuldena Sri Gnanissara Thero, who was 101 when he died on 3 April. A senior Buddhist monk, he was buried with full state honours in Sri Lanka, with the government calling for people everywhere to raise a yellow flag on their homes in his honour. We failed to check to see how many actually did so.
I am frequently astonished to see yet another member of the House of Hapsburg pop out of the woodwork, only to pop their clogs; after all, a quick check tells me that the House of Hapsburg died out in the 18th century. And the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, one of the more barbarous regimes in its treatment of minorities, finally bit the dust, unmourned, at the end of the First World War. No matter. One of the last things aristocrats are prepared to let go of is their title, the grander the better. Thus Joseph Árpád Benedikt Ferdinand Franz Maria Gabriel breathed his last on 30 April, in Madrid, to his end enjoying the title of Archduke and being addressed as ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness’. Never heard of him? Me either. Another equally obscure aristocrat was Mary Katharine Mumford, 15th Lady Herries of Terregles, a Scottish peeress, who died on 7 April aged 76.
One of the last things aristocrats are prepared to let go of is their title; the grander the better
On 29 April a 15 year-old American boy was shot in the back of the head, through a side window of a car that was driving away, by a policeman in Texas. The incident is such a cliché in today’s America: the boy, Jordan Edwards, was African American; the cop, Roy Oliver, white. Oliver fired three rifle shots into the car, which was full of teenagers who had been drinking at a party; he was fired from his job. A similarly stupid death was that of the US rapper Zoe Realla (aka Lorenzo Dixon), shot several times on the afternoon of 28 April in Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. He was 32; nobody has (yet) been arrested for the murder.
Another month, another death of someone who dared to raise the possibility that Vladimir Putin might not be as clean as a freshly-unwrapped toothbrush
Makoto Ōoka, the Japanese poet and critic, died on 5 April aged 86: his column on poetry was published without a break for more than 20 years on the front page of the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Hard to imagine any English-language national newspapers giving poetry such prominence. Bernard Millant, expert maker of bows for musical instruments and author of the definitive book on French bows, died on 5 April, aged 87. At the age of 90 Don Rickles (pictured) – who voiced Mr Potato Head in the Toy Story movies, and was a great comic actor – died from kidney failure on 6 April.
Life ended for some remarkable women this month. Switzerland has many qualities – chocolate, mountains, money-laundering, plentiful gold shipped there by the Nazis, stolen from the murdered of the concentration camps – but it wasn’t until 1971 that Swiss women gained the right to vote in federal elections. As late as 1991 the smallest Swiss canton (by population), Appenzell Innerrhoden, still barred women from voting in local elections. Marthe Gosteli died aged 99 on 7 April; for more than 30 years she was at the forefront of the fight for female suffrage in Switzerland. The Polish-born memoirist Alicia Appleman-Jurman, who escaped the fate of her family (all murdered) in the Holocaust by being thrown from the window of a cattle-car as a child, was 86 when she died on 8 April.
How young lives are ruined by the actions of their elders is a perennial indictment of the human race
Suicide is not necessarily disheartening; one can understand the suicide of Karel Schoeman, in his eighth decade and after a successful career. After all, who of us wants to live into decrepitude? Yet the decision by František Rajtoral (pictured), an excellent footballer for the Czech Republic’s national squad, to hang himself at home on 23 April at the age of 31, cannot but leave his friends and family feeling utterly bereft. He’d been playing for the Turkish team Gaziantepspor since August 2016. Similarly, Lin Yi-han, who had a promising career ahead of her after publishing this year a best-selling novel in her home of Taiwan, chose to end her life aged 26, again by hanging, on 28 April. Her novel – about a young girl who is raped by her teacher – was apparently largely autobiographical. How young lives are ruined by the actions of their elders is a perennial indictment of the human race.
Yip was the first to use an AK-47 to commit armed robbery in Hong Kong
I must pay homage to someone who died in April, and cheered my otherwise bleak Saturday mornings for years – Leo Baxendale, a self-taught artist. He died from cancer at the age of 86 on 23 April. A gifted strip cartoonist, Baxendale worked on the comic The Beano for many years, creating endless brilliantly anarchic icons such as the Bash Street Kids, Lord Snooty, and Minnie the Minx. By 1959, at the height of his and the magazine’s success, The Beano was selling two million copies a week. Perhaps not surprisingly he gave up drawing in 1992, suffering from repetitive strain injury. His work lives on in the form of many early years Beano annuals – which have given much joy to my own children, and no doubt will to their children in turn.
Until next month: RIP all.