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Not being French herself but steeped in French culture may have made it easier for Némirovsky to achieve her penetrating insights with Flaubertian objectivity. She gives us startling, steely etched sketches of both collaboration and resistance among people motivated by personal loyalties and grievances that date from before the war.
The second part, "Dolce" (the title -- Italian for "sweet" -- derives from Némirovsky's plan to give the work a musical structure), covers the occupation by the Germans of a small village, from the so-called armistice in June 1940 to the Soviet Union's entry into the war a year later. One can forget that there was a period after the defeat of France when World War II could be seen simply as a war between Germany and Britain. The villagers yearn for peace, and many are indifferent as to who wins, England or Germany, as long as their own men come home. Némirovsky is superb in describing how fraternization comes about, including French girls and women giving in to the attractions of the handsome German occupants -- there are no other men around, most of the French men having been taken prisoner. But the unnatural situation also breeds fierce feelings of resentment and humiliation. Némirovsky embodies this conflict in the story of a woman who falls in love with a German officer and at the same time hides a villager wanted for the murder of another German -- a murder motivated partly by patriotic hatred and partly by marital jealousy.
One puzzling omission from the spectrum of conquered and cowering French society is the Jews -- the one group that was more endangered than any other, as Némirovsky knew only too well. Perhaps she wanted to save the fate of the Jews for the next part, which was to be entitled "Captivity." Even so, when one thinks of the threat the Jewish population endured even at this early stage of persecution, one feels the significant gap here.
Still, this is an incomparable book, in some ways sui generis. While diaries give us a day-to-day record, their very inclusiveness can lead to tedium; memoirs, on the other hand, written at a later date, search for highlights and illuminate the past from the vantage point of the present. In Némirovsky's Suite Française we have the perfect mixture: a gifted novelist's account of a foreign occupation, written while it was taking place, with history and imagination jointly evoking a bitter time, correcting and enriching our memory.
Reviewed by Ruth Kluger
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - $10.20 From Amazon.com: In his debut novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini accomplishes what very few contemporary novelists are able to do. He manages to provide an educational and eye-opening account of a country's political turmoil--in this case, Afghanistan--while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles and emotional triumphs resonate with readers long after the last page has been turned over. And he does this on his first try.
The Magic Christian by Terry Southern - $11.05 From the Inside Flap: One of the funniest, cruelest, and most savagely revealing books about American life ever written, The Magic Christian has been called Terry Southern's masterpiece. Guy Grand is an eccentric billionaire--the last of the big spenders--determined to create disorder in the material world and willing to spare no expense to do it. Leading a life full of practical jokes and madcap schemes, his ultimate goal is to prove his theory that there is nothing so degrading or so distasteful that someone won't do it for money. In Guy Grand's world, everyone has a price, and he is all too willing to pay it. A satire of America's obsession with bigness, toughness, money, TV, guns, and sex, The Magic Christian is a hilarious and wickedly original novel from a true comic genius.
"Terry Southern is the most profoundly witty writer of our generation."--Gore Vidal
"Terry Southern writes a mean, coolly deliberate, and murderous prose."--Norman Mailer
Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle - $11.62 - From Publishers Weekly: As fans of A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence may have suspected, Mayle's skills as a writer translate well into fiction. His first novel is as adroit, funny and charming as his previous works, and again it is set in his favorite region of France. Newly divorced, disenchanted and bored with his job as a director of a prestigious British ad agency, Simon Shaw is delighted when beautiful Frenchwoman Nicole Bouvier suggests that he rescue from bankruptcy a half-finished hotel in the drolly named town of Brassiere-les-Deux-Eglises. Taking a huge risk, Simon resigns from his agency and becomes patron of the new establishment in the picturesque Luberon region. In counterpoint, Mayle crosscuts to the escapades of a lovable band of criminals who are conspiring to break into the vault of a bank in the neighboring village of Isle-sur-Sorges. As the threads of the plot begin to converge, Mayle displays his satiric eye for social foibles by skewering advertising execs in England and the U.S.; he is equally adept at evoking typical Provencal villagers. Wickedly sharp and sympathetic at the same time, his characterizations are accurate down to nuances of class differences, voice, accent and vocabulary. The novel is as smooth as a sip of pastis, and one hopes that Mayle will find his segue into fiction equally addictive.
The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré. - $7.99 paperback - I found it hilarious, and the movie was also. Amazon.com said: John le Carré, the greatest spy novelist of the Cold War era, continues his post-Cold War quest to define the genre he helped perfect. The classic spy novel was essentially a story of good (England, the United States) vs. evil (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union), in which good more or less prevailed. The Tailor of Panama is something else entirely: a spy novel with no spies in which the bad guys reap most of the rewards. It is also a viciously funny satire. The novel is set in Panama, where a plot is in place to make void the Panama Treaty, which would return control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians in 1999. At the center of events is Harry Pendel, the tailor of the title. Coerced into working for British Intelligence, he concocts out of whole cloth a left-wing movement with the goal of luring the American military to do the dirty work--invade Panama à la 1989 and nullify the treaty. From the characters to the setting, le Carré has succeeded in setting new parameters for an old genre
The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré. - $10.20 paperback - Amazon.com said: British diplomat Justin Quayle, complacent raiser of freesias and doting husband of the stunning, much younger Tessa, has tended his own garden in Nairobi too long. Tessa is Justin's opposite, a fiery reformer, "that rarest thing, a lawyer who believes in justice," whose campaigns have earned her a nickname: "the Princess Diana of the African poor." But now Tessa has turned up naked, raped, and dead on a mysterious visit to remote Lake Turkana in Kenya. Her traveling companion (and lover?), the handsome Congolese-Belgian doctor Arnold Bluhm, has vanished. So has Quayle's complacency.
Tessa had been compiling data against a multinational drug company that uses helpless Africans as guinea pigs to test a tuberculosis remedy with unfortunately fatal side effects. Her report was destroyed by her husband's superiors; was she? It's all somehow connected to the sinister British firm House of ThreeBees, whose ad boasts that it's "buzzy for the health of Africa!" John le Carré symbolically associates ThreeBees with an ominous buzz in the Nairobi morgue: "Over [the corpses], in a swaying, muddy mist, hung the flies, snoring on a single note."
The home office tries to take Quayle in out of the cold. He cleverly eludes their clammy embrace, turns spy, and takes off on a global chase to avenge Tessa and solve her murder. Le Carré has lost none of his gift for setting vivid scenes in far-flung places expertly described: London, Germany, Saskatchewan, Kenya. His sprinting thriller prose remains in great shape. And thanks to his 16 years in the British Foreign Office, his merciless send-up of its cutthroat intrigues and petty self-delusions is unbelievably good--or rather, believably so. This is global do-gooder satire on a literary par with Doris Lessing's The Summer Before the Dark.
But you want to know if The Constant Gardener is as good as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Very nearly. Africa's nightmare is more complex than the cold war chess match, and the world pharmaceutical circus is tougher to dramatize than the old spy-versus-spy-versus-spymaster game. Still, le Carré can write a smart, melancholy page-turner, and his moral outrage (the real subject of his books) burns as brightly as ever.
The Night Manager by John Le Carré. - $7.99 paperback - From Kirkus Reviews: Le Carré‚ returns to the same subject as his disappointingly episodic The Secret Pilgrim--the fate of espionage in the new world order--but now looks forward instead of backward, showing a not-quite innocent mangled between that new order and the old one, whose course le Carré‚ has so peerlessly chronicled for 30 years. Jonathan Pine, night manager at a Cairo hotel, helps Arab playboy Freddie Hamid's mistress Madame Sophie photocopy papers linking him to arms mogul Richard Roper and, while he's at it, makes an extra copy to send to a friend in the Secret Service--only to find that the leak has gotten back to Freddie and that Jonathan's belated, guilty devotion to Sophie can't protect her from a fatal beating. Six months later, Jonathan, now working in Geneva, meets Roper in person and, vowing revenge, volunteers for Leonard Burr's fledgling government agency as the inside man who can supply actionable details of Roper's next arms- for-drugs deal. With the help of Whitehall mandarin Rex Goodhew, Burr sets up a plausibly shady dossier for Jonathan and stages the kidnapping of Roper's son so that Jonathan can foil the snatch and get invited aboard Roper's yacht. But even as Jonathan, still grieving for Sophie, finds himself attracted to Roper's bedmate Jed Marshall and overriding Burr's orders to stay out of Roper's papers, the boys in Whitehall--divided between independents like Goodhew, who want the old agencies broken up, and his cold-warrior nemesis Geoffrey Darker, who insists on maintaining centralized authority--are squabbling over control of the mission, with dire results for Jonathan, whose most dangerous enemies turn out to be his well-meaning masters back home. Despite the familiarity of the story's outlines, le Carré‚ shows his customary mastery in the details--from Jonathan's self-lacerating momentum to the intricacies of interagency turf wars--and reveals once again why nobody writes espionage fiction with his kind of authority.
Double Play by Robert B. Parker - $7.99 - From Publishers Weekly: Set in 1947, Parker's superb new novel imagines what it was like for Jackie Robinson, and more centrally for Robinson's (fictional) bodyguard, to see the color barrier broken in Major League baseball. This isn't Parker's first foray outside the mystery genre, though he remains best known for his Spenser PI series (this year's (Bad Business, etc.); in 2001 he dramatized Wyatt Earp in (Gunman's Rhapsody, and earlier he excelled with Perchance to Dream, Wilderness and Love and Glory. In an unusual gambit, however, this time he mixes his storytelling with his firsthand reminiscences (in chapters titled "Bobby") of growing up as a devoted Dodgers fan, a move that adds resonance and a sense of wonder to the taut narrative. The fiction, told in the third person, focuses on Joseph Burke, a WWII vet grievously wounded physically and emotionally by combat and its aftermath. Burke is a hired gun who allows himself no feelings, but when he signs on with Dodger owner Branch Rickey to protect Robinson from racist violence during the ballplayer's rookie season, he comes to respect, then love, the proud, controversial player. Burke also falls for Lauren, a self-destructive society girl with mob connections whom he worked for before Robinson, and it's from Lauren's troubles and the threat of violence surrounding Robinson that the novel's hard, smart action arises. Burke is a tough guy, and the narrative not set around baseball fields takes place in the white and black underworlds as Burke plays various gangsters against one another to protect both Lauren and Robinson. Parker, always a clean writer, has never written so spare and tight a book; this should be required reading for all aspiring storytellers. Parker fans will recognize with joy many of the author's lifelong themes (primarily, honor and the redemptive power of love), and in the Burke/Robinson dynamic, echoes of Spenser/Hawk (the PI's black colleague). Here they will treasure the very essence of Parker in a masterful recreation of a turbulent era that's not only a great and gripping crime novel but also one of the most evocative baseball novels ever written.
The Main (Paperback) by Trevanian - $11.44 - The Main is Montreal’s teeming underworld, where the dark streets echo with cries in a dozen languages, with the quick footsteps of thieves and the whispers of prostitutes. It is a world where violence and brutality are a way of life. To the people of the Main, police lieutenant Claude LaPointe is judge and jury, father confessor and avenging angel. Montreal’s police force has changed over time, but LaPointe has not. His commitment to justice is total, as is his devotion to the Main and its underworld community. But when a cold-blooded murderer invades LaPointe’s territory, he is forced to examine his long-held beliefs and secrets and to confront his own loneliness and mortality. With a cast of unforgettable supporting characters and an unusual and remarkable hero, The Main is another gripping tale of death and danger, of action and mystery, by the incomparable Trevanian.
Gone Bamboo (Paperback) by Anthony Bourdain - About $10 - It didn't get great reviews from the literary press, but if you remember SXM from the early 90's (or want to know a bit about the island at that time), it's amusing. I don't believe the major theme, but the background material seems pretty accurate. From Kirkus Reviews: For his second course, Bourdain, novelist (Bone in the Throat, 1995) and chef (at Sullivan's, in Manhattan), dishes up a sorry, soggy mess of a stew in which a good-hearted hit man finds himself on the spot with both mob chieftains and law-enforcement agencies. Hired by an ambitious cross-dressing mafioso named Pazz Calabrese to eliminate his two immediate superiors, Henry Denard dispatches one but only wounds the other, D'Andrea (Donnie Wicks) Balistierian aging capo di tutti capi in New York. After returning to Saint Martin, the idyllic West Indian haven he calls home, the hired gun (a decorated Vietnam vet who went on to work for the CIA) learns his wounded target has turned informant and will testify against former partners in crime. What's more, an accommodating interpretation of the Witness Protection Act allows Donnie Wicks (and a small army of US marshals) to take up residence on Saint Martin. Concerned that he and his hardcase wife Frances may have to find another place to live, Henry talks his way inside the former don's compound for a meet. Not to worry, the elderly outlaw has the nothing-personal aspect of gangdom's business down pat, and he soon takes a shine to the professional killer as well as to his lovely, lethal lady. In the meantime, the expatriate godfather's former underlings mount a deadly campaign to silence him. In the wake of a furious assault on his island home (which costs six feds and a like number of Dominican nationals their lives), Donnie Wicks (now under the protection of venal French officials) is reported dead. As a favor to the American authorities cheated of a show trial, Henry heads north to waste the kinky Calabrese and his top lieutenants with a light anti-tank weapon on a New Jersey construction site. At the close, he's drinking and living it up with Frances and Donnie Wicks at his Caribbean hideaway.
Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk - About $8 - a rare comedy by the always talented Herman Wouk, chronicles the travails of a middle-aged Jewish man who wants to start his life afresh as the owner of a hotel on a (ficticious) sleepy West Indies island. Everything seems to go wrong, but eventually through ingenuity and luck (and the "carnival spirit") all turns out well in the end. Wouk observes the island lifestyle, warts and all, with great accuracy. A very enjoyable read: comedy and pathos are well-blended.
Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres - an engaging tragi-comic tale about a backward Greek community and its relations with the Italian and then German occupiers during the Second World War. There is not much on war, but a lot on the interaction of the ordinary people caught up in its foolishness. Much better than the movie.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - It was a Literary Fiction and Classics Editor's Recommended Book in 1996. They said: "I once went to the French Quarter in New Orleans, and there they were: the old, dented hot dog carts, designed and painted to look like giant rolling frankfurters, exactly as described in A Confederacy of Dunces. You'll have to read the book to find out why I spontaneously cracked up there on the street, laughing at the memory of the book's hero, misunderstood genius Ignatius Reilly, eating through his cart's inventory. That's only one hilarious moment among many from this novel, one of the cornerstones of the newly recognized Southern Wacko school of literature. " I agree. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has sold over three-quarters of a million copies and continues to earn critical acclaim. It is the story of Ignatius J. Reilly, a "Don Quixote of the French Quarter," and is a masterpiece of human folly and tragedy.
The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester - Amazon says: "A gorgeous, dark, and sensuous book that is part cookbook, part novel, part eccentric philosophical treatise, reminiscent of perhaps the greatest of all books on food, Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin's The Physiology of Taste. Join Tarquin Winot as he embarks on a journey of the senses, regaling us with his wickedly funny, poisonously opinionated meditations on everything from the erotics of dislike to the psychology of a menu, from the perverse history of the peach to the brutalization of the palate, from cheese as "the corpse of milk" to the binding action of blood. Martha says she liked it. She's the chef, she should know.
Andorra by Peter Cameron - Amazon says "Andorra, the tiny storybook nation snug in the Pyrenees between France and Spain is the setting for Peter Cameron's third book, a lyrical tale that begins as a charming story of manners and romantic relations in the tiny township of La Plata, but develops into a darker (though still comic) story of deception and psychological intrigue. The author's earlier invocations of Proust and Austen give way to impulses akin to Kafka or Camus. When should you stop trusting your narrator's memories and figure out what is really going on in this place? All is not what it seems, as the dark past of several characters returns to dim the brightness of the present surroundings. The hyper-reality of the charming mountain town Cameron creates is the ideal setting for this engaging tale, told in perfect measure, tightly stitched, with no extra bits hanging loosely.