Synopses & Reviews
A year in Paris . . . since World War II, countless American students have been lured by that vision—and been transformed by their sojourn in the City of Light. Dreaming in French tells three stories of that experience, and how it changed the lives of three extraordinary American women.
All three women would go on to become icons, key figures in American cultural, intellectual, and political life, but when they embarked for France, they were young, little-known, uncertain about their future, and drawn to the culture, sophistication, and drama that only Paris could offer. Yet their backgrounds and their dreams couldnt have been more different. Jacqueline Bouvier was a twenty-year-old debutante, a Catholic girl from a wealthy East Coast family. Susan Sontag was twenty-four, a precocious Jewish intellectual from a North Hollywood family of modest means, and Paris was a refuge from motherhood, a failing marriage, and graduate work in philosophy at Oxford. Angela Davis, a French major at Brandeis from a prominent African American family in Birmingham, Alabama, found herself the only black student in her year abroad program—in a summer when all the news from Birmingham was of unprecedented racial violence.
Kaplan takes readers into the lives, hopes, and ambitions of these young women, tracing their paths to Paris and tracking the discoveries, intellectual adventures, friendships, and loves that they found there. For all three women, France was far from a passing fancy; rather, Kaplan shows, the year abroad continued to influence them, a significant part of their intellectual and cultural makeup, for the rest of their lives. Jackie Kennedy carried her love of France to the White House and to her later career as a book editor, bringing her cultural and linguistic fluency to everything from art and diplomacy to fashion and historic restoration—to the extent that many, including Jackie herself, worried that she might seem “too French.” Sontag found in France a model for the life of the mind that she was determined to lead; the intellectual world she observed from afar during that first year in Paris inspired her most important work and remained a key influence—to be grappled with, explored, and transcended—the rest of her life. Davis, meanwhile, found that her Parisian vantage strengthened her sense of political exile from racism at home and brought a sense of solidarity with Algerian independence. For her, Paris was a city of political commitment, activism, and militancy, qualities that would deeply inform her own revolutionary agenda and soon make her a hero to the French writers she had once studied.
Kaplan, whose own junior year abroad played a prominent role in her classic memoir, French Lessons, spins these three quite different stories into one evocative biography, brimming with the ferment and yearnings of youth and shot through with the knowledge of how a single year—and a magical city—can change a whole life. No one who has ever dreamed of Paris should miss it.
and#8220;Proust's relationship with his mother, like much else to do with this greatest of all novelists, was exceptional. . . . .Bloch-Danoand#8217;s admirable biography paints a vivid portrait of a sensitive, cultured, sometimes sharp woman. . . . Bloch-Dano confidently charts the rituals of the Parisian haute bourgeoisie which Madame Proust, as the wife of an eminent professor of medicine, observed, along with her part in the genesis of one of the glories of world literature.and#8221;--Angus Trumble, Independent
"It is one of the many merits of this admirable biography of Proust's mother that it invites one to return to the novel with perhaps a fuller understanding of Proust's heredity, hinterland, and upbringing. . . . This fascinating book is full of interesting social and cultural observation, of information about French Jewish life, the position of Jews in society and, of course, the Dreyfus case. But it is essentially a study of one of the most remarkable and fruitful of mother-son relationships. As such it is a book that every Proustian will want to read."
and#8220;A vivid, if highly impressionistic, account of the life of Jeanne Weil Proust, a woman who outwardly lived the life of a typical Jewish bourgeoise of the Third Republic, but who succeeded in raising Franceand#8217;s unlikeliest literary giant. . . . Madame Proust
tempts us to read the big book in a new way: as the most fulsome possible answer to a motherand#8217;s wish to know what occupied her son.and#8221;
"Serious readers of Marcel Proust are aware of how close the writer was to his mother. Now, through Bloch-Dano's touching biography of Jeanne Weil Proust, translated by National Book Award nominee Kaplan, his many fans can better understand that closeness. . . . Bloch-Dano's splendid book offers great insight into this loving pair and illustrates Jeanne's influence on her son as a writer. Highly recommended to those interested in Proust and 20th-century French literature."
"Meticulously researched, Madame Proust offers a socio-cultural portrait of French and Jewish culture and how each intersected in Proust's lifetime. It not only explores Anti-Semitism, assimilation and naturalization of Jewish French Nationals, and theand#160;Dreyfus affair but also ably recreates the bourgeois milieu, familial and cultural context, and the physical layout of the Paris in which Marcel Proust lived. . . . Bloch-Dano's biography offers a sensitive, delicate evocation of the relationship Proust would describe as his life's 'only purpose, its only sweetness, its only love, its only consolation.' Madame Proust is a well-conceived and insightful tribute to a woman who lived quietly and whose ambitions and hopes centered fixedly on her family's well-being and her son's fulfillment."
and#8220;Evelyne Bloch-Danoand#8217;s Madame Proust
provides a wealth of new details about Marcel Proustand#8217;s formative years and illustrates, as never before, the importance of his Jewish heritage. She does so by concentrating on the most important love relationship in Proustand#8217;s life: the great affection he had for his mother. Carefully researched, richly documented, and skillfully translated by Alice Kaplan, this book deserves to be read by all who are interested in the life and works of Marcel Proust.and#8221;andshy;and#8212;William C. Carter, author of Marcel Proust: A Life
and#8220;Using previously unknown documents, Evelyne Bloch-Dano has made a first-rate contribution to our understanding of Marcel Proustand#8217;s mother, her Jewish ancestors and her familyand#8217;s social environment. Highly recommended.and#8221;--Jean-Yves Tadiand#233;, author of Marcel Proust: A Life
and#8220;If the wealthy Weils hadn't married off their daughter Jeanne to Dr. Adrien Proust in 1870, our sense of the past would be very different. Jeanne's story, seen hereand#8212;inevitablyand#8212;through the scrim of her sonand#8217;s immortal evocation of lost time, evokes the richly upholstered interiors of Paris in the late nineteenth century.and#8221;
"No one was more important in Marcel Proust's life than his mother. . . . By focusing on the mother, French scholar Bloch-Dano brings into relief the family's Jewish background, which the Prousts, like many French Jews at the time, downplayed in seeking assimilation into French society. . . . The limited number of sources available for the project . . . makes this book less an academic biography of Jeanne Proust and more a rich portrait of the bourgeois lifestyle in which Marcel Proust grew up."
"It is crucial to get the cultural and social facts of Proust's Jewish background firmly in focus before making claims about how they might have affected his writing, and Evelyne Bloch-Dano's carefully researched biography of Jeanne Weil Proust performs this task admirably."
"A welcome resource for Proust's many anglophile readers, and a useful companion to the several biographies of Proust."
"Madame Proust shows how painstaking research of literary and cultural information, finally synthesized and carefully evaluated, can result in illumination. . . . The book is packed with information that ranges from detailed historical backgrounds of individuals or groups, through the general status of the Jewish population in France."
and#8220;A fascinating, compelling, and sometimes hilarious look at the Americans of the Right Bank: those who lived across the river from the Lost Generation and belonged to a world apart. Who knew that 90 percent of the interwar Americans in Paris rarely visited Shakespeares' and never heard of Gertrude Stein? Greens' wonderful book tells the untold story of the American businessmen, lawyers, renters, heiresses, and slackers who created the 'American colony' in Paris and never thought of writing the Great American Novel.and#8221;
and#8220;Historians of international migration are undoubtedly familiar with the literary Americans living in Paris in the 1920s but only rarely have they incorporated such migrants into their scholarly field of study. With The Other Americans in Paris, Green gives migration historians ample reason to re-visit and to re-think both Paris (as a unique host society) and Americans as emigrants and immigrants.and#160; Green appreciates and documents the individual idiosyncrasies of American businessmen, soldiers, wayward countesses, and#8216;expats,and#8217; and working-class wanderers, even while making mobility, community organization, and transcultural contacts and misunderstandingsand#8212;bread and butter issues for migration historiansand#8212;central themes in her very readable account of Parisand#8217;s American and#8216;colony.and#8217;and#8221;
and#8220;With her keen sense of the French American difference, her deep understanding of the vicissitudes of migration, and her incomparable wit, Nancy L. Green has transformed the literary clichand#233; about Americans in Paris into an original and compelling social history. Whether she isand#160;taking us into the territory of marriage and divorce, which inspired Edith Wharton and Henry James with their best plots, unearthing consular records of American misdeeds, or tracking down the capture of Baby Cadum soaps by Palmolive, she surprises and delights on every page. The Other Americans in Paris will captivate historians of business, cultural critics, political scientists and, most of all, tourists and expats discovering life in the City of Light.and#8221;
and#8220;and#8217;The other Americansand#8217; were a diverse and slippery crew of people on the move who fortunately had a predilection to organize, write, or at least come under arrest, and thus they could come under the purview of accomplished historian Nancy L. Green.and#160; This witty and deeply scholarly book makes a cogent argument about prewar Americans in Paris and#8211; the lovers, workers, corporate managers, the idle rich, soldiers, the and#8216;financially down and legally out,and#8217; complementing the better known left-bank intellectuals and jazz performers. Chockablock with entertaining tales of the famous and obscure, young and old, Green offers the reader a lesson in intellectual ingenuity and acumen as she analyzes yesterdayand#8217;s transnationals, united in location, but divided by class, circumstance, and interest.and#8221;
and#8220;Green has given us the most comprehensive, incisive, and entertaining account yet written of the and#8216;American Colonyand#8217; in Paris across the first half of the twentieth century. and#160;The conceptual sophistication and research skill Green brings to the study of this emigrant community sets new standards for the field, and will be much discussed and emulated by those working on other portions of the American and#8216;ex-patand#8217; global archipelago. and#160;A masterful and sparkling work of social history.and#8221;
"A thorough and perceptive study. . ."
andldquo;The present clear, readable, and relatively brief biography, in Reaktionandrsquo;s andlsquo;Critical Livesandrsquo; series, is the best available introduction to Sontagandrsquo;s life. Maunsell pays extended attention to her workandmdash;essays, novels, short stories, and filmsandmdash;as well as her life.andrdquo;
andldquo;Green has distilled an immense quantity of archival and printed sourcesandhellip;into a readable and lively narrative packed with thumbnail and often full dress portraits of many of the colourful figures who made Paris their home either permanently or transitorily.andrdquo;
andldquo;Maunsell presents a nuanced account of Sontagandrsquo;s intellectual development. He traces her ever-present subjects, above all the duty of the writer to direct attention, while seeing that her books arose andlsquo;out of self-correctionandrsquo; and self-contestation, the result of a continuing andlsquo;readiness to immerse herself in contemporariness.andrsquo; Indeed, the achievement of Maunsellandrsquo;s biography is that he makes sense of Sontagandrsquo;s responsiveness to the contemporary and the currency this gave her work for over half a centuryandmdash;a period long enough for her to repeatedly modify arguments or reason on the contrary. She was an oppositional writer, and the opposition was frequently wielded against herself. Maunsell champions her andlsquo;crucially misunderstoodandrsquo; early novels, judged as failures in realism rather than on their own terms as Duchamp-like andlsquo;endlessly reconstructable puzzles,andrsquo; designed to resist analysis.andrdquo; and#160;
andldquo;Above all, Sontag was a writerandmdash;with all the longing, doubt, envy, and occasional sabotage of her own talent that implies. She seems more, not less, of a sympathetic character now that we know how much energy she put into constructing a persona called Susan Sontag, then playing the role with panache . . . This [is a] short but instructive biography . . . a svelte account of Sontagandrsquo;s life.andrdquo; and#160;
andldquo;Maunsellandrsquo;s short biography covers both the life and the work [of Sontag] and integrates the two effectively. . . . Maunsellandrsquo;s book is highly readable, and, to date, is the best of the biographical writings.andrdquo; and#160;
and#8220;Impressiveand#8230;The very precision and extent of her research suggest an author whose dedication to her theme amounts to much more than an intent to document her acquaintance and proper use of archival sources. This is an extraordinary book.and#8221;and#8212;John Lukacs, Boston Globe
and#8220;A brilliant account. . . . Inventive, moving, and beautifully written, this is a major contribution to investigative history. Highly recommended.and#8221;
and#8220;A nuanced historical account that resonates with todayand#8217;s controversies over race and capital punishment.and#8221;
and#8220;American racism could become deadly for black soldiers on the front. . . . The Interpreter
reminds us of this sad component of a heroic chapter in American military history.and#8221;
and#8220;With elegance and lucidity, Kaplan revisits these two trials and reveals an appallingly separate and unequal wartime U.S. military justice system.and#8221;
"A highly readable introduction to the underside of Allied/French relations at the Liberation."
and#8220;Compelling. . . . [Kaplan] manages to weave a human story. . . . The two cases are so very different, however, that the conclusions Kaplan reaches appear somewhat tenuous.and#8221;
"A fascinating analysis of soldiers, lawyers, commanders, and racial conditions in the Brittany area of France after the Normandy invasion. . . . Kaplan researches and writes well in creating a powerful book."
Marcel Proustand#8217;s In Search of Lost Time
opens with one of the most famous scenes in literature, as young Marcel, unable to fall asleep, waits anxiously for his mother to come to his bedroom and kiss him good night. Proust's own mother is central to the meaning of his masterpiece, and she has always held a special role in literary history, both as a character and as a decisive influence on the great writerand#8217;s career. Without knowing much about her, we think of her as the quintessential writer's mother.
Now Evelyne Bloch-Danoand#8217;s touching biography acquaints Proust fans with the real Jeanne Weil Proust. Written with the imaginative force of a novel, but firmly grounded in Jeanne and Marcel Proustand#8217;s writings, Madame Proust skillfully captures the life and times of Proustand#8217;s mother, from her German-Jewish background and her marriage to a Catholic grocerand#8217;s son to her lifelong worries about her sonand#8217;s sexuality, health problems, and talent. As well as offering intimate glimpses of the Proustsand#8217; daily life, Madame Proust also uses the family as a way to explore the larger culture of fin-de-siand#232;cle France, including high society, spa culture, Jewish assimilation, and the Dreyfus affair. Throughout, Bloch-Dano offers sensitive readings of Proustand#8217;s work, drawing out the countless interconnections between his mother, his life, and his magnum opus.
Those coming to In Search of Lost Time for the first time will find in Madame Proust a delightful primer on Marcel Proustand#8217;s life and times. For those already steeped in the pleasures of Proust, this gem of a biography will give them a fresh understanding of the rich, fascinating background of the writer and his art.
The largely untold story of Americans on the Right Bankand#151;who outnumbered the Left Bank writers and artists by ten to oneand#151;turns out to be a fascinating one. and#160;These were mostly businessmen, manufacturersand#8217; representatives, and lawyers, but also newly-minted American countesses married to dashing but cash-poor foreigners with impressive titles, though most of the women were spouses of the businessmen. Thanks to Nancy Greenand#8217;s superb archival research, this new cast of characters emerges with singular vitality. and#160;While Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and other writers all appear here, and do so in a new light, the focus is on the men and women who settled into the gilded ghetto of the Right Bank. and#160;and#160;Greenand#8217;s story of these overseas Americans is a way of internationalizing American history (it is also a way of questioning the meaning of and#147;Americanizationand#8221; in the 20th century).and#160;
While Gertrude Stein hosted the literati of the Left Bank, Mrs. Bates-Batcheller, an American socialite and concert singer in Paris, held sumptuous receptions for the Daughters of the American Revolution in her suburban villa. History may remember the American artists, writers, and musicians of the Left Bank best, but the reality is that there were many more American businessmen, socialites, manufacturersand#8217; representatives, and lawyers living on the other side of the River Seine.and#160; Be they newly minted American countesses married to foreigners with impressive titles or American soldiers who had settled in France after World War I with their French wives, they provide a new view of the notion of expatriates.
Nancy L. Green thus introduces us for the first time to a long-forgotten part of the American overseas populationand#151;predecessors to todayand#8217;s expatsand#151;while exploring the politics of citizenship and the business relationships, love lives, and wealth (and poverty for some) of Americans who staked their claim to the City of Light. The Other Americans in Paris shows that elite migration is a part of migration tout court and that debates over and#147;Americanizationand#8221; have deep roots in the twentieth century.
and#147;My idea of a writer: someone interested in and#145;everythingand#8217;and#8221;, declared Susan Sontag (1933-2004). Essayist, diarist, filmmaker, novelist, and playwright, her own life seemed to match this ideal. As well as writing in an unusually broad array of genres, Sontag wrote about a startling range of topicsand#151;from literature, dance, film, and painting to cancer, AIDS, and the ethics of war reportage. Few have captured the 20th century in the same manner.
In this new biography Jerome Boyd Maunsell follows the astonishing scope of Sontagand#8217;s life and work, tracing her growth during her academic career at Chicago, Oxford, and the Sorbonne, through her short-lived marriage to Philip Rieff at the age of 17, to the birth of her son David and her subsequent relationships with women. The extraordinary arc of Sontagand#8217;s life provides the structural backbone of the book; from her literary life in New York to her diagnosis with cancer in the mid-1970s and her miraculous rebirth as a novelist and critic in the 1980s and and#8217;90s. The biography puts intellectual development hand-in-hand with personal, providing a fully integrated picture of Sontag as private person and as public figure.
On February 6, 1945, Robert Brasillach was executed for treason by a French firing squad. He was a writer of some distinction—a prolific novelist and a keen literary critic. He was also a dedicated anti-Semite, an acerbic opponent of French democracy, and editor in chief of the fascist weekly Je Suis Partout
, in whose pages he regularly printed wartime denunciations of Jews and resistance activists.
Was Brasillach in fact guilty of treason? Was he condemned for his denunciations of the resistance, or singled out as a suspected homosexual? Was it right that he was executed when others, who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands, were set free? Kaplan's meticulous reconstruction of Brasillach's life and trial skirts none of these ethical subtleties: a detective story, a cautionary tale, and a meditation on the disturbing workings of justice and memory, The Collaborator will stand as the definitive account of Brasillach's crime and punishment.
A National Book Award Finalist
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
"A well-researched and vivid account."—John Weightman, New York Review of Books
"A gripping reconstruction of [Brasillach's] trial."—The New Yorker
"Readers of this disturbing book will want to find moral touchstones of their own. They're going to need them. This is one of the few works on Nazism that forces us to experience how complex the situation really was, and answers won't come easily."—Daniel Blue, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
"The Collaborator is one of the best-written, most absorbing pieces of literary history in years."—David A. Bell, New York Times Book Review
"Alice Kaplan's clear-headed study of the case of Robert Brasillach in France has a good deal of current-day relevance. . . . Kaplan's fine book . . . shows that the passage of time illuminates different understandings, and she leaves it to us to reflect on which understanding is better."—Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
Brilliantly uniting the personal and the critical, French Lessons
is a powerful autobiographical experiment. It tells the story of an American woman escaping into the French language and of a scholar and teacher coming to grips with her history of learning. Kaplan begins with a distinctly American quest for an imaginary France of the intelligence. But soon her infatuation with all things French comes up against the dark, unimagined recesses of French political and cultural life.
The daughter of a Jewish lawyer who prosecuted Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg, Kaplan grew up in the 1960s in the Midwest. After her father's death when she was seven, French became her way of "leaving home" and finding herself in another language and culture. In spare, midwestern prose, by turns intimate and wry, Kaplan describes how, as a student in a Swiss boarding school and later in a junior year abroad in Bordeaux, she passionately sought the French "r," attentively honed her accent, and learned the idioms of her French lover.
When, as a graduate student, her passion for French culture turned to the elegance and sophistication of its intellectual life, she found herself drawn to the language and style of the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine. At the same time she was repulsed by his anti-Semitism. At Yale in the late 70s, during the heyday of deconstruction she chose to transgress its apolitical purity and work on a subject "that made history impossible to ignore:" French fascist intellectuals. Kaplan's discussion of the "de Man affair" — the discovery that her brilliant and charismatic Yale professor had written compromising articles for the pro-Nazi Belgian press—and her personal account of the paradoxes of deconstruction are among the most compelling available on this subject.
French Lessons belongs in the company of Sartre's Words and the memoirs of Nathalie Sarraute, Annie Ernaux, and Eva Hoffman. No book so engrossingly conveys both the excitement of learning and the moral dilemmas of the intellectual life.
No story of World War II is more triumphant than the liberation of France, made famous in countless photos of Parisians waving American flags and kissing GIs as columns of troops paraded down the Champs and#201;lysand#233;es. But one of the least-known stories from that era is also one of the ugliest chapters in the history of Jim Crow. In The Interpreter, celebrated author Alice Kaplan recovers this story both as eyewitnesses first saw it, and as it still haunts us today.
The American Army executed 70 of its own soldiers between 1943 and 1946and#8212;almost all of them black, in an army that was overwhelmingly white. Through the French interpreter Louis Guillouxand#8217;s eyes, Kaplan narrates two different trials: one of a white officer, one of a black soldier, both accused of murder. Both were court-martialed in the same room, yet the outcomes could not have been more different.
Kaplanand#8217;s insight into character and setting creates an indelible portrait of war, race relations, and the dangers of capital punishment.and#160;
and#8220;A nuanced historical account that resonates with todayand#8217;s controversies over race and capital punishment.and#8221; Publishers Weekly
and#8220;American racism could become deadly for black soldiers on the front. The Interpreter reminds us of this sad component of a heroic chapter in American military history.and#8221; Los Angeles Times
and#8220;With elegance and lucidity, Kaplan revisits these two trials and reveals an appallingly separate and unequal wartime U.S. military justice system.and#8221; Minneapolis Star Tribune
and#8220;Kaplan has produced a compelling look at the racial disparities as they were played outand#8230;She explores both cases in considerable and vivid detail.and#8221; Sacramento Bee
About the Author
Evelyne Bloch-Dano is the author of many books, including Madame Proust: A Biography, which is also published by the University of Chicago Press.Alice Kaplan is the author of French Lessons: A Memoir, The Collaborator, The Interpreter, and Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, and the translator of OK, Joe, The Difficulty of Being a Dog, A Box of Photographs, and Palace of Books. Her books have been twice nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, once for the National Book Award, and she is a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She holds the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale. She lives in Guilford, Connecticut.
Table of Contents
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Part One
1 A Daughter to Marry
2 Monsieur Proust and Mademoiselle Weil
3 Very French Israelites
4 At number 40 bis
5 Mother and Daughter
6 A Change of Regime
7 Mother and Son
8 Summers at Auteuil
9 The Goodnight Kiss
10 A Small World
11 Mistress of the House
12 The Sickly Child
13 Taking the Waters
14 A Model Couple
15 From Treble to Bass
16 A Woman of Forty
17 Vergiss mein nicht
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Part Three
18 A Woman in Black at the Beach
19 The Broken Glass
20 On Guard!
21 The Soul of Venice
22 Jeanneand#8217;s Address Book
23 A Wedding and a Funeral
24 La Vie and#224; Deux
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 1. Questionnaire Sent to the Jewish Elite in 1806
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; 2. Napoleon and the Central Consistory
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The Weil Family
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; The Berncastel Family
and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; and#160;Karl Marx and Marcel Proust