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THE DISCREET AMBITION OF ANGELA MERKEL

Marion Van Renterghem

(Les Arènes, 270 pages, 2017)

 

“I am not vain. I know how to use the vanity of men.” — Angela Merkel

 “It happens sometimes, but rarely, that a person is not only a product of her time but comes to define it . . . Historians will refer to the period in which we now live . . . as ‘The Merkel years.’” — Alastair Campbell

 In September 2017, Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor of Germany for the fourth consecutive term. “Mutti,” the affectionate nickname Ms. Merkel earned in Germany, has revealed herself to be a formidable politician with a rare talent for negotiation. For more than a decade, she has dominated European politics and has steadily, and without great fanfare, secured her place in history as one of the most powerful leaders in the world. Marion Van Renterghem, a senior reporter at Le Monde, does not hide her fascination for Merkel. In this insightful and lively biography, she sheds light on the personality and exceptional political journey of a remarkable woman.

Marion Van Renterghem traces the chancellor’s steps back to the small town where Merkel spent her youth, in what was then the German Democratic Republic, and where she still enjoys quiet weekends with her husband in their modest dacha. Van Renterghem interviewed childhood friends and former teachers, and the many who witnessed or accompanied her rise to power.

The story of the Merkel family is unusual. Her father, a pastor from Hamburg, was offered to train seminarians in the GDR a few years before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Unlike the millions who moved westward, he decided to stay. Merkel, well on her way to becoming a scientist, was drawn into the effervescence of a period of momentous historical change. She turned out to be the right person at the right time, a person from the East without embarrassing ties to the Stasi. Her steady temperament, quiet strength, and razor-sharp mind—and her unthreatening lack of charisma—were quickly noticed and led her to be chosen as the spokesperson of the first and last elected dirigeant of the GDR, Lothar de Maizière. Starting with her years as a minister under the Kohl government, and then as chancellor since 2005, she became one of the prime architects of the new unified Germany.

Van Renterghem follows the rise of Merkel, concentrating on her relationships, especially with world leaders, from Tony Blair to Vladimir Putin, and four successive French presidents. The anecdotes, always instructive and often amusing, underscore the personal dynamics that shaped and continue to shape the future of Europe. Merkel was perceived as a sanctimonious public accountant during the Greek debt crisis and as a courageous humanist during the Syrian refugee crisis. Van Rentenghem’s generous portrait argues convincingly that no matter how Chancellor Merkel’s actions are interpreted, she will be remembered as a key figure in the history of Europe, and the world.

Marion Van Renterghem is a writer and a journalist. She has written for the French daily newspaper, Le Monde, and is now an international reporter at Vanity Fair. She is also a contributing writer at the New European and the winner of the Albert-London and Françoise-Giroud Awards.

RESISTANCES: DEMOCRACY IN THE BALANCE

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi

(Éditions de l’Observatoire, 117 pages, 2017)

 

 

In Resistances, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi takes up the reflection on democracy that he initiated in the mid-1980s with Law Without the State. This was overall a happier time for democracy as Southern Europe, and other regions of the world, celebrated the fall of dictatorships. More than thirty years later, the political landscape has dramatically changed. Since the turn of the millennium, the world has been witnessing the retreat of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism and intensified nationalism. Western democracies have been shaken to their core by a series of political earthquakes, from the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom to the stunning presidential victory of Donald Trump in the United States.

 In May 2017, the election of the liberal and resolutely pro-European Emmanuel Macron as the new leader of the French Republic interrupted what seemed to be the unstoppable populist wave engulfing Europe and the United States. Macron’s victory may have allowed France to avoid the worst-case scenario, the election of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. But Cohen-Tanugi writes, “this fortunate outcome must not obscure the reality of a common diagnosis: a global crisis of liberal democracy, harboring a deliberate assault—political, ideological and geopolitical—on Western values and political systems.” Why, he asks, did three nations—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—“each in its own way a symbol of the democratic ideal, take or, in the case of France, nearly take decisions that were detrimental to the national interest and often contrary to the values that they have always embodied [?] It is this momentous fact that we must investigate: how could this have happened, and above all how can it be resisted and remedied in the future?”

 In this urgent book, Cohen-Tanugi takes stock of the gravity of these unprecedented historical events and asks whether they were merely an aberrant parenthesis or the presage of a new and foreboding world. For him, “the answers to these questions vastly transcend electoral analysis and the dominant theory that the populist wave represents the revenge of the ‘victims of globalization.’ The ills at the origin of the political shocks of 2016–17 and their aftermath call for a much more fundamental reflection on the prerequisites of liberal democracy, on the impact of technology and geopolitics on its functioning, and on the ways to counter the multiple threats it faces. Despite its misleading reference to the ‘people,’ populism is not an avatar of democracy, but rather its most resolute adversary. To reconcile popular sentiment and the democratic ideal: that is the imperious challenge facing all democracies today.”

 

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi is a Paris-based international lawyer and public intellectual, and a recognized expert on European affairs and international relations. He has published several influential books on democracy and the rule of law, European integration, transatlantic relations, and globalization, including The Shape of the World to Come: Charting the Geopolitics of a New Century (Columbia University Press, 2008) and An Alliance at Risk: The United and Europe Since September 11 (John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

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LAW WITHOUT THE STATE: ON DEMOCRACY IN FRANCE AND IN THE UNITED STATES

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi

Preface by Stanley Hoffman

 (PUF, 288 pages, 1st ed., 1985; 3rd ed., Quadrige, 2016)

 

This is the most Tocquevillian work on the United States written since Tocqueville . . . Like Tocqueville, Laurent Cohen-Tanugi has the gift for capturing the very essence of a society.

—Stanley Hoffman

 

As Alexis de Tocqueville did so famously before him, Cohen-Tanugi turned his attention toward the United States in order to reflect on the failings of his native country. In particular, the author examines the fundamentally different roles that law plays in each country. Can France adopt, he asks, some of the most positive aspects of the American model without automatically assuming its flaws? Law Without the State is the starting point of Cohen-Tanugi’s decades-long reflection on the burning political and economic issues now facing our world

 First published in the mid-1980s, reedited three times, and now with a 2007 update, Law Without the State considers the interactions between the legal and political realms in France and the United States. A strong centralized state, Cohen-Tanugi writes, may have historically served France well on military, political, or diplomatic levels. Today, however, this model shows signs of wear and tear as it faces new economic challenges and cultural realities. How then, he asks, can we rethink the role of the state in France and reimagine an alternative model of social regulation?

 For Cohen-Tanugi, a public intellectual and internationally published author, the United States provides a useful point of comparison. In the United States, law serves as an innovative tool for social change. It is an expression of society and an outcome of the different, particular, and competitive interests that come to define the common good. In France, the state is the great architect of solidarity and social justice, and law is “nearly exclusively the product of an administrative . . . and monopolistic state.” Cohen-Tanugi’s comparative analysis avoids the pitfalls of preconceived ideas and all too prevalent generalizations on each side of the Atlantic and illuminates the differences between the ideological systems.

 Cohen-Tanugi’s reflections are not merely academic: In his view, France has no choice but to reform itself. Early on he foresaw that the rise of global governance, i.e., a multilateral international order based on the rule of law, the impact of new technologies, and the growth of Europe, would bring about the need for reforms. France, he hoped, would be pushed in the direction of a more contractual society. His latest thinking, on the impact of the book, notes its threefold contribution to the French debate: that of a deeper and more positive understanding of the role of law in American democracy; that of a less superficial vision of liberalism which greatly contributed to renovating reformist thought in France; and that of a new theoretical reflection on law and democracy.

 

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi is a Paris-based international lawyer and public intellectual, and a recognized expert on European affairs and international relations. He has published several influential books on democracy and the rule of law, European integration, transatlantic relations, and globalization, including The Shape of the World to Come: Charting the Geopolitics of a New Century (Columbia University Press, 2008) and An Alliance at Risk: The United States and Europe Since September 11 (John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

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DAILY LIFE IN A MESOPOTAMIAN TEMPLE

Dominique Charpin

(Les Belles Lettres, 256 pages, 2017)

 

A keen reflection on the incarnation of the sacred.  —L’Histoire

 

Since the rediscovery of Mesopotamian civilization in the nineteenth century, archeological excavations and the unearthing of vast libraries of cuneiform tablets have allowed generations of scholars to reconstruct an image of this ancient world. Temples were prominent features of the city landscape and believed to be the earthly homes of the many deities of the Mesopotamian pantheon. In this book, Dominique Charpin, one of the world’s leading Assyriologists, takes a global approach to demonstrate that temples fulfilled many more functions than previously thought. Through close scrutiny of a diverse array of clues—an accounting document, a Sumerian hymn, an Akkadian epic, and a bronze ex-voto—he takes us on a fascinating investigation that sheds new light on everyday life at the temples.

 Within their high walls, temples were long thought to be self-sufficient entities and a world unto themselves. Drawing on the latest discoveries, Charpin broadens this view and describes how different temples performed functions akin to those of our contemporary public or government agencies. The temples of Gula, goddess of medicine, he writes, served as healing centers where patients’ wounds were licked by dogs, and then dressed with herbal ointments. The temples of Samas, the god of justice, functioned as courthouses; the temples of the goddess Nungal served as jails; and those of the goddess Kittum were a sort of Bureau of Weights and Measures. In the chapter dedicated to the deities of writing, the goddess Nibasa and the god Nabu, Charpin discusses the training of scribes, the constitution of archives, and the establishment of libraries. And in the temples of the well-known Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, there was space for taverns and pleasure houses. Most important, key and sometimes mundane aspects of daily life—funerary practices, beer brewing, dairy production, and even the crafting of perfumes—were placed under the patronage of a deity or deities, whose temple served as the center of the activity.

 At every turn, the author reminds us of the danger of projecting our own categories onto the past. It was not so much that temples fulfilled secular functions but that every human activity was imbued with a sacred dimension. One of the great pleasures of this book is following Charpin, step by step, on his deductive path. With his fluid style, he makes accessible a body of highly specialized research and offers to a larger audience a vivid portrait of the activities, conflicts, and concerns of people living in ancient Mesopotamia.

 

Dominique Charpin is Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History and Director of Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne, Paris. An internationally recognized authority on the Ancient Near East, his books translated into English include Hammurabi of Babylon (I. B. Tauris, 2012), Reading and Writing in Babylon (Harvard University Press, 2010), and Writing, Law, and Kingship: Essays on Old Babylonian Mesopotamia (Chicago University Press, 2010).

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THE COLOR OF AIR

Odile d’Oultremont

(Éditions de l’Observatoire, 222 pages, 2018)

For more than ten years, Adrian has led a well-regulated life centered on his job at Aquaplus, the city water management company. He is a compliant employee, courteous to a fault but with no meaningful human contact aside from his demanding mother. During one of his professional visits, he meets the endearing and whimsical Louise, a painter for whom daily life is the source of endless enchantment, and never a dull routine. They marry and share nine years of happiness under the guidance of Louise’s radiant disposition and exuberant creativity. But is imagination enough to counter the weight of reality?

When the novel opens, Adrian is sitting in the dock in a courthouse. It is not clear what offense he might have committed, but there is no doubt that he has lost Louise. As he waits for the judge to interrogate him, he reminisces about his wife and their life together:  How he threw himself without hesitation into Louise’s magical universe, where the dog is called The Cat, where morning rituals are turned into joyful performances, and the most mundane objects are transfigured by the power of Louise’s fanciful mind. Thanks to Louise, the unadventurous Adrian learns to master “a new keyboard from which he has replaced the keys one after the other,” and on which even “unexpected new functions have appeared.” 

 Following a corporate downsizing, Adrian is retained but relegated to, and then forgotten in, an obscure cubicle at the end of a ghostly corridor. Adrian bears the alienation of this Kafkaesque administrative decision, because since he can still continue to act as the “sponsor of Planet Louise.” And when she is diagnosed with cancer, his invisibility in the office allows him to devote himself fully to her care.  No one even notices his absence.  

 Louise’s descent into illness and the way she faces it makes for some of the most moving passages of this book. Far from being just eccentric or childish, she is above all “a qualified worker of the imaginary.” Thanks to her endless curiosity, she faces the medical apparatus and the slow deterioration of her body with lucidity, courage, and resolute cheerfulness.

The Art of Unreason has been compared to Boris Vian’s masterpiece, The Foam of the Daze. They are both poignant love stories haunted by death and infused with poetry, and in which the surreal elements do not prevent the reader from experiencing an authentic and emotionally convincing world. But in this first novel, d’Oultremont has found her own unique voice. Her dazzlingly original prose never ceases to surprise us at every turn, whether she evokes the dehumanized environment of twenty-first-century corporations or the intimacy of true love.

Odile d’Oultremont is a screenwriter and filmmaker. Les Déraisons is her first novel.

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THE STRANGE CASE OF BENJAMIN T.

Catherine Rolland

(Les Escales, 352 pages, 2018)

 

Benjamin Teillac’s wife has left him, and his only son has rejected him, and now epileptic seizures may make it impossible for him to continue as a paramedic. His neurologist offers him an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of a revolutionary new drug, and he accepts. The side effects are immediate: He is assailed by vivid, life-like hallucinations. The year is 1944.  He is in a small village in the French Alps plotting to blow up a bridge. And then he is back in the present day. We are all somewhat more than one person, but Benjamin really lives two lives.

The Strange Case of Benjamin T. starts with a description of Benjamin T.,  the  antihero, and his less than exciting life. But the tone changes in unison with the increasing pace of his dramatic seizures. Rolland is a fine storyteller who  skillfully guides the reader through the intricacies of the plot making us  empathize with Benjamin’s confusion and fear. She draws a believable picture of a man who has lost control over his body, and whose mind is invaded by the deeds and emotions of another life. 

As the novel progresses, Benjamin’s visions become more frequent and coalesce into the storyline of a life as real as his own.   He is living two lives at the same time:  In one, he is called Benjamin Teillac and, in the other Benjamin Sachetaz. The second Benjamin fights bravely alongside his brother in the French resistance, and the first avoids confrontation at all cost. As Benjamin S. he falls in love with Mélaine, who loves him back; BenjaminT. however, continues to long for Sylvie, who no longer loves him.  The Benjamin of 1944 knows the future, while the Benjamin of 2014 remembers the past. In each case, these lines across space and time have dangerous consequences for both of them. In the midst of his distress and confusion, Benjamin is presented with a rare opportunity to alter—much for the better—the course of destiny.  To do so, he may have to decide which of these two Benjamins he is to be.  

Catherine Rolland is an emergency doctor and a writer. Originally from Lyon, she has been living in Switzerland for a few years. The Strange Case of Benjamin T. is her fifth novel.

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BRISA

Bénédicte Martin

(JC Lattès, 150 pages, 2018)

*** NOMINATED FOR THE 2018 FRANÇOISE SAGAN PRIZE ***

Bénédicte Martin lives with her son in the Parisian apartment that belonged to her grandparents, Pierre and Brisa. She inhabits the very same rooms, pushes the same doors, and opens the same windows as they did. But Martin’s intimate connection with her family history goes deeper than the tangible legacy of these walls. There is another, more elusive inheritance that she feels compelled to explore and claim as her own in order to come to terms with the woman she has become.

Martin’s family memoir begins with a woman who, although not a blood relative, played a central role in the life of Pierre and Brisa. Born in the Mediterranean harbor of Toulon at the turn of the twentieth century—Eleonore Madame Yvonne as she was later known— was the illegitimate daughter of an heir and a laundress. She came into a large inheritance, which she immediately used to settle in a luxurious Parisian hotel and throw herself into the dazzling nightlife of the capital. There, at last, she could live openly as a woman who loves women. After World War II, she became a madam, the informant and friend of Pierre, a former resistance fighter turned police chief. Madly in love with his idle wife Brisa, she inserted herself permanently into their lives.

As she retraces the past, Martin interposes reflections on her life. She does so seamlessly and without warning. Martin finds inspiring, yet also disquieting, similarities between the singular lives she reimagines and her own, and her exercise in uncovering points of multiple identifications feels at times like a form of exorcism. Inheritance is, for Martin, much broader than blood alone. It has a moral dimension that is transmitted not just through our family histories but also through our collective past.

Martin’s language is impassioned when she invokes the right, but also the suffering and challenges, of living differently. It is merciless when she speaks of unreciprocated desire, raw when she depicts the sadness of bought sex and lucid when it comes to the dirty money upon which Madame Yvonne’s largesse is built upon. With Brisa, Martin has written an incandescent and corrosive family memoir with a subversive absence of sentimentality.

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THE FAKIR’S NEW ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF IKEA

Romain Puértolas

(Éditions Le Dilettante, 298 pages, 2018)

"“[A] comic strip of a novel. . . . Strewn with laugh-out-loud jokes.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A philosophical odyssey. By turns slapstick and serious.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Entertaining and original.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A delightfully silly confection.” —The Seattle Times

“Combines farce worthy of Laurel and Hardy with socio-political satire.” —The Washington Times

“Who would have thought that a comedy that mixes flat-pack furniture with magic could tackle some of the biggest subjects of our time? With a big heart, a brilliant sense of humour and an excellent translator, that’s what French writer Romain Puértolas achieves.” —The Independent

Two years after his adventures in The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod is no longer that tall, thin man, gnarled like a tree, with a huge mustache running across his face. He is clean shaven, has put on a little weight, and wears polo shirts with little crocodiles on the chest. He lives with Marie in a comfortable apartment in the affluent 16th arrondissement, and is sinking slowly into a cushy, insipid routine. And then one day adventure again knocks at his door.

Romain Puértolas takes the reader on a ride in the fast lane from France to Sweden. The story alternates from the fakir’s turbulent childhood at the school for fakirs in the heart of Rajasthan and his present life, thirty years later, as he searches in Viking territory for Hertzyorbac, the mythical bed of nails. But Ajatashatru is not just looking for that bed of nails; he is also searching for a subject for his next book. The deeply entertaining farce is filled with comedy and confusion; it’s a silly and serious philosophical consideration of flat-pack furniture and other modern-day sociopolitical concerns.

Romain Puértolas is the best-selling author of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, which was sold in thirty-eight languages and will soon be released as a film. It was published in the United States by Knopf/Vintage in 2015/2016.

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WHO WAS ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET?

Alain Robbe-Grillet

(Éditions EHESS, 204 pages, 2018)

 

“Robbe-Grillet’s theories constitute the most ambitious aesthetic program since Surrealism.” ―John Updike

“Robbe-Grillet is important because he has attacked the last bastion of the traditional art of writing: the organization of literary space.” ― Roland Barthes

“I doubt that fiction as art can any longer be seriously discussed without Robbe-Grillet.” ― New York Times

Alain Robbe-Grillet was an emblematic figure of the postwar French avant-garde. As one of the originators and key theoreticians of the Nouveau Roman or New Novel, he wrote experimental works of fiction that rejected conventional storytelling. As a filmmaker, he is best known for his work on Alain Resnais’s 1961 cult film, Last Year at Marienbad. As the five interviews in this book reveal, he remains, even in his later years, not only a fiercely opinionated provocateur, but also a warm host and an avid ex-agronomist who never stopped cultivating a love for the world of plants. The interviews, conducted between 1991 and 2000 by Roger-Michel Allemand, show vividly both Robbe-Grillet’s polemical verve and conceptual depth and the lesser-known aspects of his life and personality.

In the first interview, “Autobiography,” Robbe-Grillet discusses his conception of autobiography and how his approach marks a rupture from the literary devices that have traditionally characterized the genre. Autobiography, he said, is not an exposition of facts whose significance has been determined in advance. For him it had to be, first and foremost, an open-ended exploration: “I do not know where I am going nor who I am,” he said, “and that is precisely why I start writing about myself.”

In “Encounters,” Robbe-Grillet talks about his family background, the value of his early education, and his literary preferences. He evokes the encounters that led him to become a literary advisor at Editions de Minuit, the publishing house that famously launched many of the New Novelists. But his more important encounters were with works of literature, and, in particular, his determinant discovery of Franz Kafka.

In “Enigmas,” he shares his predilection for Breton legends, ghost stories, detective novels, and his fascination for the mysteries of Number Theory. And that brings him to a discussion of intertextuality and his practice of making collages, sometimes in collaboration with artists such as René Magritte and Robert Rauschenberg.

In “Theories,” he returns to the early days of the New Roman, which was, in his eyes, an adventure more than a movement. He shares anecdotes on the various writers now identified under that label and critically evaluates their works.

 Finally, in “Sentiments,” the reader is invited into the intimacy of the artist. Robbe-Grillet details his writing habits, the things he loves, from botany and cactuses to Gustave Flaubert and German culture. The intimation of aging and death is delicately touched upon in the retelling of the traumatic loss of his beloved garden devastated by a storm.

Roger-Michel Allemand, a French literary critic and specialist of the New Novel, is a worthy, and not easily fazed, interlocutor. His brilliant and, at times edgy, conversations with Robbe-Grillet―often interrupted by Robbe-Grillet’s invitation to share a meal―offer rich insights into Robbe-Grillet’s personality, life, and thought.

Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was a novelist and filmmaker, and the pioneering spokesman of the Nouveau Roman. His early novels include A Regicide (Oneworld Classics, 2015), The Erasers (Grove Press, 1994), The Voyeur (Grove Press, 1994), Jealousy and In the Labyrinth published together in 1994, by Grove Press. Robbe-Grillet’ s other works translated into English include For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction (Northwestern University Press, 1992) and La Belle Captive: A Novel, written in collaboration with René Magritte (The University of California Press, 1996).

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LIBERTY AND EQUALITY

Raymond Aron

(Éditions EHESS, 63 pages, 2013)

Aron is the supreme destroyer, not of hopes, but of confusions and illusions.

—Stanley Hoffman, New York Review of Books

Aron scrutinized political life with indefatigable attention until his last day, because he could not retire from the place where humanity makes the test of itself.

—Pierre Manent

Raymond Aron (1903–1983) was one of France’s prominent intellectual and influential figures—a sociologist, journalist, political commentator, and, not least, an independent-minded liberal known for his fierce critique of ideological orthodoxies. In this, his final lecture at the College de France, in April of 1978, Aron concluded his long teaching career by reflecting on the nature of Western democracies and the challenges they face in reconciling their founding concepts of liberty and equality. Those challenges are as relevant today as they were at the time of this lecture, which eloquently sums up Aron’s philosophical legacy.

Raymond Aron preferred to speak of liberties rather than liberty: “We all enjoy certain liberties,” he wrote, “and we never enjoy all of the liberties.” Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers based their definitions of liberty on speculations about theories on human nature. But Aron was not interested in abstraction. Rather, he examined how liberties are actualized—or not—in specific sociological and historical contexts. Well aware that the definition of freedom has varied across space and time, Aron cautiously confined his observations to his own Western, liberal, and relatively prosperous democratic society.

In this lecture, Aron classifies liberties—political, personal, and social—in a clear and accessible manner, and discusses the ways they intersect or conflict with one another, all without losing sight of the unrelenting quest for equality. Aron sees signs of the “moral crisis of liberal democracies” in intellectual developments characterized by “the detestation of power as such.” Liberty, Aron observes, has come to be mostly understood as the liberation of individual desires. This worries him, not because he objects to individuals expressing their personality and realizing their intimate desires, but because, for him, a liberal democracy, in order to be sustainable, needs to include as it did in the past a definition of “the virtuous citizen.” In spite of these concerns, Aron reminds his audience that it is still a privilege to live in societies, how imperfect they may be, “with a deep tradition of seeking liberty in equality or equality in liberty.”

Raymond Aron was a political scientist, sociologist, and journalist who made major contributions to the study of totalitarianism, liberalism, Communism, and international relations. In 1945, he co-founded with Jean-Paul Sartre the journal Les Temps modernes; and, a year later, Combat with Albert Camus. Prolific and versatile, Aron produced thousands of journalistic columns, hundreds of essays, and many scholarly books, some of which were published posthumously and appeared in at least nine languages. Of his books translated into English, the most famous is The Opium of the Intellectuals (Norton, 1962; Routledge, 2001). Others include The Century of Total War (Praeger, 1981), Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations (Anchor Press, 1973; Routledge, 2003), Clausewitz: Philosopher of War, (Simon & Schuster, 1983), Main Currents in Sociological Thought (Routledge, 1998), The Imperial Republic: The United States and the World 1945–1973 (Little, Brown, 1974), and The Dawn of Universal History: Selected Essays from a Witness to the Twentieth Century (Basic Books, 2003). He also wrote Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection (Holmes & Meier, 1995).

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JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE: ALONE BEHIND THE CAMERA

Bernard Tessier

(Fayard, 272 pages, 2017)

 

In Melville's films, there is an aesthetic that gives you the feeling that ... if you truly enjoy movies with all your heart, you cannot but succeed in making a good one simply by having spent time watching them. Le Doulos is my favorite scenario of all time. First, you do not understand anything and then, in the last twenty minutes, everything is explained.                      —Quentin Tarentino

The French master Jean-Pierre ... shot great, extremely elegant and complex gangster movies, made with love,  and in which criminals and cops adhere to a code of honor like feudal knights.                                                                                              —Martin Scorcese

Melville is a god for me. When I saw The Samurai for the first time, it was a shock: Melville technique and his very cool narrative style felt incredibly novel ... I love how Melville manages to combine his own culture with Eastern philosophy.     —John Woo

Jean-Pierre Melville, beloved by the best of modern directors, is considered the godfather of the French New Wave influencing generations of international filmmakers with such movies—now cult favorites—as The Red Circle, The Army of Shadows, or The Samurai. More than forty years after his untimely death at age fifty-five, his biography remained to be written. Bernard Tessier has now filled the gap with this new biography in which he draws the portrait of a man who was passionately dedicated to his art and who persisted in making movies on his own terms.

Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach in a Jewish Alsatian family, Jean-Pierre Melville fought in the French Resistance during World War II and adopted the nom de guerre Melville as a tribute to his favorite American writer. In the first chapters of Melville, Tessier highlights the significant biographical elements that influenced the course of Melville’s life. In particular, he details, with the help of previously unseen documents, Melville’s impressive war record. Coupled with a great admiration for Hollywood gangster pictures of the 1930s and ’40s, the experience of war was a determining factor in Melville’s work that inspired both the themes and the filmmaking style of his movies.

Tessier shows the tortuous process that accompanied the conception and production of Melville’s fourteen movies: the never-ending financial struggle, the endless negotiations and stormy relationships with authors, producers and actors. Melville decided early on in his career to go his own way and, unwilling to compromise, he started making films on a very low budget. Then, in the early 1950s, he built his own film studio in Paris  – a legendary place visited by aspiring film directors like Godard, Chabrol, Malle or Truffaut and many of the most celebrated actors of post-war French cinema – from Simone Signoret to Jean-Paul Belmondo and, of course, Melville’s iconic actor, Alain Delon.

Melville, as Tessier describes him, was difficult, obsessive, and perfectionist, but many looked up to him nonetheless as someone who inspired, and encouraged, them to make movies in a different way. From the production side, Melville was, in many respects, a pioneer of independent film making, and the notion of home movies, in his case, could be taken literally: his studio on Rue Jenner was where he lived.  On the creative side, he reinvented the rules of cinematic convention with slow-moving entry scenes, minimalist dialogue, and innovative editing techniques.

Tessier reveals how Melville transformed French cinema in his own, individualistic, way. This book presents the reader with a fair, respectful, yet not indulgent portrait of a man through the one thing that mattered the most to him: the making of a memorable cinematographic universe. 

Bernard Tessier is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and the author of numerous biographies of French actors and singers.

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GABRIELLE OR THE REDISCOVERED GARDEN

Stéphane Jougla

(Denoël, 218 pages, 2017)

*** Sold to Droemer in Germany ***

When a secret garden holds the key to healing a broken heart.

 

In the suburbs of Paris, Martin loses the woman he loves, Gabrielle, in a traffic accident. Inconsolable, he sinks deeper and deeper into the denial of her brutal disappearance. Gabrielle had two passions: reading and gardening. Martin, who had barely opened a book in his life, begins to read the passages she had underlined in her books and to care for the garden she had shaped. In the process, he discovers the secret that, out of love, Gabrielle had kept hidden from him. A secret that will lead him to some extraordinary characters and forever change his life, while helping him to overcome Gabrielle’s death in the most unexpected ways.

Transformed by the dual powers of nature and literature blossoming within him, Martin begins writing poetry, and reconnecting with his body and his senses. The process, however, soon turns into an obsession A Robinson Crusoe-like recluse in this garden, an earthly paradise that protects him from the harshness of reality and the outside world, Martin may not survive the friction with society knocking ever louder on his door. But the garden is indestructible…

A dramatic narrative, this tender and sometimes absurdly comical variation on the themes of undying love and crippling grief will keep the reader turning pages with every brisk chapter. An ode to the power of literature and a moving reminder of the resilience of life in all its shapes.

Stéphane Jougla, born in Toulouse in 1964, is the author of three other novels: L’idée (Gallimard, 2003, winner of the Prix Méditerranée des lycéens), Portrait d’une absente (Gallimard, 2005, translated into Polish and Korean), and La petite philosophe (Éditions du Seuil, 2009). He also writes for the social sciences journal Sigila and is the author of the Fleurs d’encre school textbook collection, published by Hachette. Jougla studied law and literature, and currently teaches modern literature at a middle school in the suburbs of Paris.