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Memories of a Skinny Girl

Michael Wood: Mario Vargas Llosa

9 May 2002
The Feast of the Goat 
by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Edith Grossman.
Faber, 404 pp., £16.99, March 2002, 0 571 20771 5
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The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America in the Cold War 
by Jean Franco.
Harvard, 323 pp., £15.95, May 2002, 0 674 00842 1
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... enchantment not real, or are these not the real reasons? Perhaps there is a banality of political conversion, as well as a banality of evil. ‘Different time lines run through these chapters,’ JeanFranco says of The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City. ‘The rapid time of modern communications, the frozen time of military dictatorships, the retrospective time of memory, and the strange ...

Nodding and Winking

Stephen W. Smith: Françafrique

11 February 2010
... the task’. In the early 1990s, he was known for his nocturnal exploits in Libreville, where he cruised the town in a pink Rolls Royce, sometimes accompanied by François Mitterrand’s eldest son, Jean-Christophe, then in charge of Africa at the Elysée. ‘Our interests would be better served if someone more competent, with fewer genetic links to the old regime, were to take over in Gabon,’ a ...
25 June 1992
The Conquerors 
by André Malraux, translated by Stephen Becker.
Chicago, 198 pp., £8.75, December 1991, 0 226 50290 2
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The Temptation of the West 
by André Malraux, translated by Robert Hollander.
Chicago, 122 pp., £8.75, February 1992, 0 226 50291 0
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The Walnut Tree of Altenburg 
by André Malraux, translated by A.W. Fielding.
Chicago, 224 pp., £9.55, April 1992, 0 226 50289 9
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... with convincing personae who might reasonably have taken part in it’. Faint praise indeed. But then, ‘all his life long Malraux was an actor playing Malraux.’ A conscious echo, no doubt, of Jean Cocteau’s remark that ‘Victor Hugo was a mad-man who thought he was Victor Hugo.’ But Lottman’s – and others’ – objection to Malraux was less that he was mad than that he was misleading ...

De Gaulle’s Debt

Patrice Higonnet: Moulin, the French martyr

4 December 2003
Jean​ Moulin: Le politique, le rebelle, le résistant 
by Jean-Pierre Azéma.
Perrin, 507 pp., €24, April 2003, 2 262 01329 2
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... By 1995, there were 37 monuments and 113 plaques dedicated to Jean Moulin in France; 978 boulevards, avenues, streets, squares, bridges and stadiums were named after him, as well as more than 365 schools, including one university. There are even more today; only de ...

Someone like Maman

Elisabeth Ladenson: Proust’s mother

8 May 2008
Madame Proust: A Biography 
by Evelyne Bloch-Dano, translated by Alice Kaplan.
Chicago, 310 pp., £16, October 2007, 978 0 226 05642 5
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... or lawyers). The match seems to have been Jeanne’s father’s idea; as Bloch-Dano suggests, assimilation must have seemed desirable in 1870, as the Second Empire came crashing down during the Franco-Prussian War. The wedding took place the day after the French defeat at Sedan. Marcel was born ten months later, on 10 July 1871. Robert, the brother famously absent from almost everything Proust ...

To the Manure Born

David Coward: An uncompromising champion of the French republic

21 July 2005
Memoirs of a Breton Peasant 
by Jean-Marie Déguignet, translated by Linda Asher.
Seven Stories, 432 pp., £17.99, November 2004, 1 58322 616 8
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... Jean-Marie Déguignet was born near Quimper, in Brittany, in 1834, the fifth of ten children born to an illiterate tenant farmer. A succession of bad harvests drove the family off the land into the town ...

Candidate Macron

Jeremy Harding: The French Elections

16 March 2017
... Paris every year by plane from Algiers, perhaps another 100,000 – in cars and trucks crammed with goods – toing and froing by ferry. But the war of decolonisation – 1954-62 – still dogs the Franco-Algerian partnership and alluding to it in an election campaign, as Macron has, is risky; in this election especially, where sensitivities are heightened by an ongoing state of emergency declared ...

To kill a cat

Anthony Pagden

21 February 1985
Settecento Riformatore. Vol. IV: La Caduta dell’Antico Regime 1776-1789. Part One: I Grandi Staii dell’Occidente 
by Franco​ Venturi.
Einaudi, 463 pp., lire 45,000, July 1984, 88 06 05695 6
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Settecento Riformatore. Vol. IV: La Caduta dell’Antico Regime 1776-1789. Part Two: II Patriotismo Repubblicano e gli Imperi dell’Est 
by Franco​ Venturi.
Einaudi, 1040 pp., lire 55,000, July 1984, 88 06 05696 4
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The Great Cat Massacre, and Other Episodes in French Cultural History 
by Robert Darnton.
Viking, 284 pp., £14.95, July 1984, 0 7139 1728 8
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Rousseau, Dreamer of Democracy 
by James Miller.
Yale, 272 pp., £25, July 1984, 0 300 03044 4
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... It is the fortune, or perhaps the misfortune, of the Enlightenment that its historians frequently write very long books. Franco Venturi’s Settecento Riformatore, which must surely be one of the longest, has now reached its fifth and final volume. As an enterprise it can have few parallels even among dixhuitièmistes. It ...

Semiotics Right and Left

Christopher Norris

4 September 1986
On Signs: A Semiotics Reader 
edited by Marshall Blonsky.
Blackwell, 536 pp., £27.50, September 1985, 0 631 10261 2
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... theory to the concerns of American politics and cultural critique. His book contains essays by the novelist and film-maker Edmundo Desnoes, on First World perceptions of Third World politics; by JeanFranco, who writes about El Salvador and the link between militarisation, mass murder and the destruction of traditional symbolic spaces, like church and home; and by Michel de Certeau on the ‘long ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

Peter Campbell: 273 Fabiolas

11 June 2009
... the life described by Jerome, it was intended as a contribution to the mid-19th-century Protestant/Catholic controversy in England. The novel is a more likely reason for the French academic painter Jean-Jacques Henner to have turned to the subject than Jerome’s letter. Henner exhibited his Fabiola in the Salon of 1885 (its present whereabouts are unknown). It shows a woman’s head, covered by a ...

Too Much Gide

Douglas Johnson: French writers (1940-53)

15 November 2001
La Guerre des écrivains 1940-53 
by Gisèle Sapiro.
Fayard, 807 pp., frs 220, September 1999, 2 213 60211 5
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Correspondance: Marcel Arland – Jean​ Paulhan 1936-45 
edited by Jean-Jacques Didier.
Gallimard, 397 pp., frs 140, March 2000, 2 07 075789 7
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Dialogue des ‘vaincus’: Prison de Clairvaux, janvier-décembre 1950 
by Lucien Rebatet and Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, edited by Robert Belot.
Berg, 285 pp., frs 120, March 2000, 2 911289 22 6
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The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach 
by Alice Kaplan.
Chicago, 320 pp., £9.50, December 2000, 0 226 42415 4
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... the defeat: the same arguments were to be heard, the same gestures were made, and often the same antagonists took further issue with each other. One of the figures with whom she’s most concerned, Jean Paulhan, the editor of the Nouvelle Revue française before the Occupation, exchanged letters during this period with his friend and fellow author, Marcel Arland, and this correspondence has now been ...
19 February 1987
De Gaulle. Vol III: Le Souverain 
by Jean​ Lacouture.
Seuil, 870 pp., frs 145, August 1984, 2 02 006969 5
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... La France Libre,’ de Gaulle wrote to Jean Marin, who’d been his companion in London from the summer of 1940 and was now the Director of the Agence France-Presse, ‘that was the finest thing we ever did.’ He believed this. Many of his ...

The Next Fix

Lara Pawson: African Oil

7 February 2008
Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil 
by Nicholas Shaxson.
Palgrave, 280 pp., £15.99, May 2007, 978 1 4039 7194 4
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Oil Wars 
edited by Mary Kaldor, Terry Lynn Karl and Yahia Said.
Pluto, 294 pp., £17.99, March 2008, 978 0 7453 2478 4
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Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil 
by John Ghazvinian.
Harcourt Brace, 320 pp., $25, April 2007, 978 0 15 101138 4
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... leader threatened to switch to US oil partners. In the end a compromise was reached – Mitterrand agreed not to interfere with the Elf networks – and the French left joined ‘the Clan’, as the Franco-Gabonese elite was known. It took another twenty years, and the biggest fraud investigation in Europe since the Second World War, for the scale of Franco-Gabonese corruption to come to light. The ...

Communiste et Rastignac

Christopher Caldwell: Bernard Kouchner

9 July 2009
Le Monde selon K. 
by Pierre Péan.
Fayard, 331 pp., €19, February 2009, 978 2 213 64372 4
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... celebrated investigative journalist published an exposé accusing Kouchner of various intellectual, political and financial misdeeds. Pierre Péan is best known for having revealed that the dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, of the Central African Republic, had given diamonds worth millions of francs to Giscard d’Estaing, and for uncovering the extent of Mitterrand’s work for the Vichy government as a ...

In Search of Monsters

Stephen W. Smith: What are they doing in Mali?

7 February 2013
... country, observers tended to explain whatever internationally jarring decisions were taken in Paris in terms of delusions of grandeur. They were not always wrong. But they rarely commented on the ‘Franco-African state’ (a term coined by the anthropologist Jean-Pierre Dozon), which then existed in all but name as a result of the slow-motion decolonisation orchestrated by Paris and African elites. In ...

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