Sheer impulsiveness accounted for my meeting with Tamara von Schenk at a cocktail party. I must have sensed I would be on the same wavelength as Tamara, a striking blonde of German stock, for I homed in to speak to her without waiting for an introduction. Why overlook such an opportunity, I reasoned, when I was fortunate enough to be caught in her magnetic field? I found myself talking to an elfin-like creature who was elegant without being sensational, sultry without being threatening, and who possessed an aristocratic look that was apparent even if you knew nothing of her background. Tamara was every inch an aristocrat, with the sort of complexion and comportment men dream about. She cast a light, unobtrusive shadow for one with such a rich, distinctive aura. I felt comfortable in her presence. It was nothing like a first-time encounter but felt as if our paths had crossed many times before. Each responded to the other with the sort of ease that usually develops after many years of acquaintance. I firmly believe in the concept of our destiny preordaining every step we take and that it is pointless to fight it, but I am equally convinced that we can help it along in our chosen direction. This may sound like a paradox, but the undeniable truth of it emerges as the years pass. Tamara’s life took on a new dimension after our first meeting. I offered her a job at Quartet. She was not trained for it, but proved equal to the challenge. She accompanied me to Cologne for a chocolate fair to act as my translator, and later performed a similar role at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In the piece that follows, Tamara gives her recollections of her time with Quartet and the friendship that developed between us.
Dealing with Variety
Tamara von Schenk
It wasn’t too difficult to establish who the infamous Naim was the evening I met him in 1993. One man alone managed to dominate a large group of charmed women. His body language, enthusiastic and energetic, coupled with colour flashes from his vibrant suit lining, matching tie and large ring adorning his left hand, singled him out as some exotic species among the rest of the grey and drab business-suited men. I decided to take a closer look and forty minutes later walked away, slightly stunned, as I had just been hired, having had no experience, as publicity manager for Quartet. I tried to dismiss his reputation as a serial womanizer and the fact that I was a slightly overweight blonde in heels and put the whole thing down to utter madness. It was only later that I understood that this was part of an extremely generous, if somewhat obsessive, and spontaneous nature which made up the complex persona of Naim Attallah.
The glamorous reputation of the Attallah posse of well-bred, rich, partying girls had worn off by the time I joined Quartet in May 1994. From day one my friendships with Georgia de Chamberet, Pickles and especially Susie Craigie Halkett were sealed. I felt lucky to be working with three such strong individuals in one of the last remaining independent publishing houses that still adhered to the original ideas of publishing. The variety of material that came through our doors ranged from the avant-garde to more traditional material covering the latest in photography, gay literature and a mixture of undiscovered gems from Europe. Naim’s roots were important to him, and this was strongly reflected in the extensive Middle Eastern list, which was quite a novelty at the time.
A week-long trip to Cuba to compile an anthology of young Cuban writers was an unforgettable privilege. The days were spent collecting a wide breadth of material from a stream of struggling and often highly talented writers, desperate to smuggle out what they had written to bypass the harsh restrictions of the Castro regime. Those we met came from all walks of life and our journey was a tremendously humbling and thought-provoking experience and definitely a sharp contrast to the madness and predictability of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which came a few months later.
Of the many books that passed through my hands, the one I worked on in my last few months at Quartet was the most memorable. It involved a close association with the author herself, Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose work and private life fused together with her hugely successful book, Prozac Nation, which besides being my last was also my most challenging project. I went beyond the call of duty as publicity manager when I invited Elizabeth, depressed, paranoid, self-obsessed and highly complicated, into my home, where she stayed far longer than expected. I chaperoned her day and night during her publicity tour – an interesting experience to say the least. This title was the first personal account of a life of depression eased by the wonder drug Prozac, and as such both marked a turning-point in Quartet’s history and an end to my time there.
To this day I have the valued friendship of Naim, a fiercely loyal man who in return expects no less from those close to him. Being the colourful character he is, he has so often been misunderstood and surrounded by rumours. Those who know him well are aware of his extreme vulnerability. In difficult times, he has maintained his dignity and the high standards he sets for himself. I can truly say that I am happy to have met such a man.