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Lowe, Keith 1970-

Lowe, Keith 1970-

PERSONAL:

Born 1970, in London, England. Education: Graduated from Manchester University.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC2B 5HA, England.

CAREER:

Writer, novelist, independent scholar, and editor. Cassell, London, England, nonfiction book editor.

WRITINGS:

Tunnel Vision (novel), Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.

New Free Chocolate Sex (novel), Arrow (London, England), 2003, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, Scribner (New York, NY), 2007.

Author's works have been translated into several foreign languages.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Evening Standard.

SIDELIGHTS:

Keith Lowe is a writer and independent scholar with two novels and a nonfiction history book to his credit. He is also a nonfiction editor at book publisher Cassell. Upon publication of his first novel, Tunnel Vision, Lowe described his reaction as "overwhelmed" in an interview on the Going Underground Web guide. "I've been writing ever since I was a teenager, so this really was the realisation of a life-long ambition," Lowe told the Going Underground interviewer.

Andy, the protagonist of Tunnel Vision is a great fan of the Tube, the London underground subway system. He can't articulate exactly why he's so fond of it, nor can he make his fiancée, Rachel, understand his strange attraction to subway cars, Tube stations, and all the other elements of London Underground life. For Andy, there's little that can compare with the comfort and coziness of the perfect Tube car. Some of Andy's best friends are also Tube fans, including Rolf, a rough-and-tumble type with few other redeeming characteristics. The day before his wedding, in a haze of alcohol and subway fumes, Rolf issues a challenge and Andy accepts: he has twenty-four hours to board the Tube and ride it in its entirety, visiting and documenting every major stop and station along the way. Rather than making last-minute preparations for his wedding, Andy undertakes the nearly impossible subway ride. He has little choice: Rolf has hidden Andy's passport, honeymoon reservations, travel pass, and other important documents at key points along the way. With a furious Rachel waiting for him at home, Andy sets out with the help of Brian, a homeless man who lives in the Tube system, but who offers wisdom and assistance where needed. As Andy churns along the tracks, he comes to realize that the entire bet may have been a set-up by Rolf, who has long nursed a crush on the lovely Rachel. During his trip, Andy encounters shadowy figures who may be spies for Rolf; endures delays and derailments; and, with Brian's philosophical help, considers issues of what in life really matters. Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson called the book "a sweet, surprisingly suspenseful novel that makes perfect subway reading." The book's "movie-ready premise and Lowe's breezy, conversational style make for a light, enjoyable romp," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. The story "aims low," mused a Kirkus Reviews critic, "but hits the mark precisely."

Lowe's second novel, New Free Chocolate Sex, centers on the chocolate industry and its exploitative practices in cocoa factories along the Ivory Coast. Journalist Samantha Blackwood has seen the problem with her own eyes, along with her lover, filmmaker Paul. Upon returning to New York, she sets about trying to corner Matt Dyson, CEO of a posh family-owned chocolate company, T&B, and get him to agree to an on-camera interview. In the interview, Samantha plans to ambush him with information about the African factories. The workaholic Dyson is dedicated to marketing his company's product and keeping the luxurious chocolates flowing to his eager customers. Samantha is determined to expose the abhorrent practices and worker abuses she witnessed in T&B's foreign factories. Soon, great animosity has grown between Samantha and Dyson, even as he is manipulated into taking the blame for some of his company's more despicable practices. In an bizarre twist, Samantha and Dyson find themselves locked in one of the company's factories for a weekend. Their hatred of each other soon melts away while they work to make it through until the factory is reopened. Neither one can anticipate, however, how their ideological enemy will react once the status quo is restored. Booklist critic Maria Hatton called the novel a "delicious saga of self-discovery." Though a Kirkus Reviews critic found some of the characters' actions unbelievable and the plot mechanics weak, "what does emerge is an honest journalist's intent to expose the despicable practices of American marketing, and on that level Lowe's effort can be indeed useful."

In Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, Lowe reexamines an apocalyptic event from the history of World War II. During the war, Hamburg was a major industrial center and, as such, was a legitimate target for allied attacks. The city was home to an important port, significant German commercial interests, and manufacturing facilities. A military attack on Hamburg would inevitably result in many civilian casualties, yet the British and American commanders felt that an attack of great magnitude would demoralize the Germans and remove Hamburg's resources from the war. In July, 1943, the British and Americans began a ten-day bombing onslaught, code-named Operation Gomorrah, that saw more than 9,000 tons of bombs dropped on Hamburg, and the city itself reduced to ashes in the firestorm that followed. British air commander Arthur Harris believed that incendiary bombs would be more effective than regular high explosives, and his experience at Hamburg proved him right. The bombing turned Hamburg into the inferno of the book's title; people suffocated in their homes or cooked to death in the bowels of bomb shelters. People were sucked into the heart of the firestorm, city block after city block. Even the roads began to burn as a literal Hell on Earth erupted in this once-prosperous Germany city. The Allied bombers suffered heavy casualties, but their raid was devastatingly effective; some 40,000 people died as a result of the bombings and subsequent firestorm.

Lowe draws upon material from both British and American sources to show the effects of the Hamburg bombing and its terrible aftermath, how the Allies reacted to their victory, and how the Germans faced the devastation. He uses this historical material to "present a picture of atrocious human suffering, without seeking to be judgmental," noted London Observer reviewer Jonathan Bouquet. "What Keith Lowe manages to do with this brilliant book is to pick through the complicated ethical issues surrounding the horrific events of that week in July 1943 with an unparalleled sensitivity," remarked Bookbag Web site reviewer Jill Murphy. The book makes "good use of eyewitness accounts, skillfully integrates both into an engaging narrative," commented Roger Moorhouse in History Today. "It also admirably balances the testimony of the bombers and the bombed, in the process achieving the feat of making the reader sympathetic to both sides simultaneously," Moorhouse continued. A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked, "This balanced and evocative analysis makes a provocative contribution to moral studies of the air war over Germany." Lowe's book is a "balanced, thoughtful treatment and as such it deserves to be welcomed, not least as its subject matter is evidently still fraught with no little controversy and rancour," Moorhouse concluded.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 2001, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Tunnel Vision, p. 192; February 1, 2005, Maria Hatton, review of New Free Chocolate Sex, p. 942; May 1, 2007, Jay Freeman, review of Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943, p. 67.

History Today, April, 2007, Roger Moorhouse, review of Inferno, p. 64.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of Tunnel Vision, p. 1239; December 15, 2004, review of New Free Chocolate Sex, p. 1158; April 15, 2007, review of Inferno.

Observer (London, England), March 4, 2007, Jonathan Bouquet, "A Week That Hamburg Can Never Forget," review of Inferno.

Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2001, review of Tunnel Vision, p. 56; April 9, 2007, review of Inferno, p. 43.

ONLINE

Bookbag,http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/ (January 8, 2008), Jill Murphy, review of Inferno.

Going Underground,http://victorian.fortunecity.com/finsbury/254/ (January 8, 2008), interview with Keith Lowe.

PFD Web site,http://www.pfd.co.uk/ (January 8, 2008), biography of Keith Lowe.

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