You can find on this page our nonfiction selection of 2018
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MICHEL LEGRAND: A MEMOIR
Michel Legrand with Stéphane Lerouge
Foreword by Damien Chazelle
(Fayard, 350 pages, 2018)
Michel Legrand has composed the scores for 160 films, winning Oscars and Grammys along the way. Many of his songs have become standards covered by artists as diverse as Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, and Sting. The prolific and highly versatile composer has worked with seemingly every legendary figure in popular music and film since the end of the Second World War, from Maurice Chevalier to Barbra Streisand, to Orson Welles, and to Jean-Luc Godard. Now at the age of eighty-six, he candidly evokes some of the most significant and memorable episodes of his remarkable life.
“The dazzling portrait of a life devoted to music.”
Michel Legrand: A memoir is conceived like a promenade in which past and present loosely intermingle without adhering to a strict chronology. As one memory leans into another, we discover the many facets of a life passionately devoted to music. Legrand shares aspects of his personal life but never strays too far away from the account of his many creative ventures. At every turn, he introduces the numerous artists—jazz musicians, singers and lyricists, film directors and music composers—whose paths have crossed his own on both sides of the Atlantic. More than simply offering an impressive portrait gallery of legendary figures, Legrand also reflects critically on a career that could have gone in many directions. Trained as a pianist, he was destined to pursue a classical music career until the jazz bug bit him in 1948, when he heard the great Dizzy Gillespie live in concert in Paris.
Legrand vividly recalls his most successful collaborations, composing masterpieces for films such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of ’42, and Yentl. He also speaks of rejections, fiascos, and missed opportunities, but in each case, he sheds light on the complex negotiations and compromises that take place between a composer and a director. Michel Legrand: A Memoir will be of interest to all Legrand fans, as well as to music lovers and historians, who will gain firsthand insight into the making of a music icon.
Michel Legrand has gained worldwide fame as a musical composer, arranger, and conductor. He is also a virtuoso classical and jazz pianist. He found early success with his 1954 best-selling theme album, I Love Paris, and scored films for French New Wave directors, including Jacques Demy’s celebrated film musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). Legrand won his first Oscar for the song “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Most recently, Legrand composed the score for Orson Welles’ posthumously released movie, The Other Side of the Wind (2018).
ANTONIO GRAMSCI: TO LIVE IS TO RESIST
(Armand Colin, 320 pages, 2017)
Today, Antonio Gramsci is widely celebrated as one of the greatest social thinkers and Marxist political theorists of the 20th century. First published in the 1950s, his Prison Notebooks continue to exert a strikingly diverse and lasting influence. Jean-Yves Frétigné, a specialist in Italian history, believes that too often Gramsci’s legacy has been reduced to a series of key words. How do we to restore the richness and depth of Gramsci’s intellectual journey beyond the routine invocation of a few of his most well known concepts? Frétigné’s answer is to comb through the events of Gramsci’s life, and to scrupulously retrace the evolution of his thought and political engagements within the context of his times.
“A meticulously well-documented biography by a specialist of Late 19th and Early 20th Modern Italian History.”
Frétigné retraces the successive phases in Gramsci’s life: from his impoverished youth in Sardinia, to his student years in the political and social ferment of Turin, to his departure to Moscow in 1922, and ultimately to his death in 1937. We first discover Gramsci as a brilliant young man who endured years of extreme poverty, solitude, and physical suffering. Frétigné pays a particularly close attention to Gramsci’s early intellectual influences, and shows how his knowledge of marxism came relatively late, in the wake of Russian revolution. While Gramsci did not have any oratory talent, he was a prolific writer, and first made a name for himself as a ‘marginal and original’ socialist journalist. In the wake of the Russian revolution, Gramsci threw himself wholeheartedly into political activism, a path that would eventually lead him to become one of the co-founders of the Italian Communist Party.
Frétigné offers a comprehensive account of the complex relationships Gramsci had with both the official Moscow line and his supporters in Italy and abroad. With remarkable precision, Jean-Yves Frétigné reconstructs the material and intellectual conditions in which Gramsci composed his famous Prison Notebooks. He includes a detailed study of the correspondence and network that Gramsci maintained from the ten interminable years of his incarceration in Mussolini’s jails, up until his death, a mere few days after his release.
Antonio Gramsci: To Live is to Resist is the meticulously researched biography of a man committed to translating the Russian experience into a project of political renewal adapted to his homeland, Italy. In doing so, and under harsh and tragic circumstances, Gramsci left behind an intellectual heritage still relevant to this day.
Jean-Yves Frétigné is a French historian and associate researcher at The Center for History at Sciences Po. He specializes in nineteenth and twentieth centuries Italian history. His most recent book is Histoire de la Sicile: des origines à nos jours (Fayard, 2018). His other publications include a critically acclaimed biography of Giuseppe Mazzini (Fayard, 2006) and Les Conceptions éducatives de Giovanni Gentile: Entre élitisme et fascisme (L'Harmattan, 2007).
The Second life of Mohamed: The Prophet in Literature
(C.N.R.S. Editions, 256 pages, 2018)
Legendary or not, historical or sacred, it is the narrative that, above all, feeds the imagination, and contributes to the dissemination of the image of the Prophet through time and space.
The profusion of stories and myths surrounding the life of the prophet Mohamed make it difficult for historians and biographers to determine historical facts. Their task is made harder because it is often considered a religious offense to question his life except in the ways considered traditional. Stepping outside this fraught context, Nedim Gürsel, a Turkish writer, has turned to literature, retracing changing perceptions of Mohamed and of Islam over the centuries. He carves a space beyond devotion and vilification; a place where we can appreciate the life of Mohamed as depicted and imagined through a rich variety of written perspectives.
The second life of the Prophet of Islam begins with his death in 632 in the arms of Aïcha, his young wife. Mohamed’s life exemplifies, in the eyes of the faithful, the highest ideal for human conduct. By contrast, at the height of the Muslim conquest, Christian Europe saw in Mohamed an Antichrist and in Islam a heresy and a scourge sent by God. Gürsel shows how medieval literature, and its deeply prejudiced representation of Mohamed, would set the tone for centuries to come. Dante, for example, in his influential Divine Comedy, condemned Mohamed to the eighth circle of Hell. But by the twelfth century, the first translation of the Koran into Latin appeared in the monastic libraries of Europe. Western authors could turn directly to the source. Enlightenment-era writers like Voltaire and Goethe took a closer interest in Mohamed as a historical figure. They, and the Romantic poets who followed, recognized Islam as a universal religion, one that offered an alternative viewpoint from which they could reflect and reimagine their own world. In the twentieth century, Mohamed became a fictionalized character in the works of North African writers such as the Moroccan Driss Chraïbi, or the Algerian novelist Assia Djebar. Each evolution in the representation of Mohamed shows a broader, less restrictive view of the man and his life, and demonstrates the changing history of the relationships between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
Gürsel, once the subject of a blasphemy trial in Turkey, hopes that the knowledge of Mohamed through the prism of literature can brighten a horizon clouded by fanaticisms. He shares with Salman Rushdie the conviction that the power to determine the grand narrative of Islam must and should be shared by all. This courageous book is a celebration of the power of literature and imagination.
Nedim Gürsel is a Turkish writer. In 1976, he published A Summer Without End, a collection of stories for which he received Turkey’s highest literary honor, the Prize of the Turkish Language Academy. In 2008, Gürsel published The Daughters of Allah. This book prompted the Turkish authorities to charge Gürsel with blasphemy, but he was eventually acquitted. Gürsel is a founding member of the International Parliament of Writers and a recipient of the Freedom of Expression and Publishing Award. Today, a citizen of France, he teaches contemporary Turkish literature at the Sorbonne and works as research director in Turkish literature at C.N.R.S. He is the author of some forty novels, short stories, essays, and travel stories, including The Last Tram (Comma Press, 2012) and The Conqueror (Talisman House, 2010), which have been translated into English.
WHEN ISRAEL DREAMED: THE LIFE OF RACHEL BLUWSTEIN
(Les Éditions du Cerf, 233 pages, 2018)
Celebrated as the matriarch of modern Hebrew poetry, Rachel Bluwstein is one of Israel’s most beloved cultural icons. Her portrait graces the new twenty-shekel note, and her most famous poems have been turned into classic songs that are now an integral part of the national heritage. Simply known by her first name, Rachel, her life—and her solitary death at forty-one—took on mythic proportions. She was the muse of a small group of Zionist thinkers and visionaries who, like her, belonged to the Second Aliyah—the second historical wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine between 1909 and 1914. In this lyrical and evocative biography, Martine Gozlan retraces the poet’s poignant personal journey while evoking the cultural, social, and intellectual ferment that gave birth to the state of Israel.
Born in the Russian town of Saratov, Rachel was nineteen years old when she first visited Palestine on her way to Italy. She intended to study art but, swept into the Zionist pioneering spirit, she decided to stay. She first worked in the orchards of Rehovot and then in an agricultural girls’ school on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. During those early, happier years, she met, and mesmerized, men who left their mark on the nation’s history: Noah Naftulsky, an ecologist avant la lettre; Zalman Shazar, the third president of the future state of Israel; and Aaron David Gordon, the prophet of the first kibbutz to whom she dedicated her first Hebrew poem. Rachel was to leave Palestine one more time, to study agriculture in Toulouse. But the war came and she was forced to return to Russia.
The tuberculosis she contracted during those harsh years shifted her destiny. Back in Palestine, she joined the kibbutz of Dagania, but was evicted because of fear of contagion. After years of wandering, she eventually settled in Tel Aviv, and it is there, in a simple room facing the sea, that she wrote most of her work between 1925 and 1931. Berl Katznelson, the theorist of Labor Zionism, invited her to contribute to his newly founded newspaper, Davar. The publication of her poems and weekly columns gave her some measure of recognition among the male-dominated intelligentsia of the times. Yet she died alone, admired but also reproved as a woman without a husband or children.
Martine Gozlan’s eloquent and limpid prose conveys the joys and sorrows of Rachel’s life, her love for the landscape of Galilee, her beauty and fierce intellect, and her solitude. She was fully committed to the Zionist dream yet she remained at a distance, a “free bird landed on the land of Israel.” For the author, who has spent years covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rachel remains a much-needed inspiration, the face and voice of an Israel dreamed by “the poets, the lovers and the Just.”
Martine Gozlan is the Editor-in-Chief of the weekly Marianne. She has covered the Middle East and the Maghreb as a major reporter since 1988. She has published a dozen of books included Les Rebelles d’Allah (L’Archipel, 2014), Israël contre Israël (L’Archipel, 2012), a series of books on Islamism for Grasset, Le Sexe d’Allah (2004), Le Désir d’Islam (2005), L’Imposture turque (2011), as well as a biography of Hannah Szenes (L’Archipel, 2014.)
JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE: ALONE BEHIND THE CAMERA
(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.
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.
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.
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.
"A delight for Melville fans. A sober yet powerful portrait of a man' s unbridled passion for cinema as an art form."
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.