Rising Above the Ruins in France

by Corinna Haven Smith and Caroline R. Hill. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1920. 8vo, xx+ 247 pp. With 88 Illustrations. Price $3.50.
THIS sound, readable, and illuminating book, which aims, in the words of its sub-title, to be ‘an account of the progress made since the Armistice, in the devastated regions, in reëstablishing industrial activities and the normal life of the people,’ comes at a very opportune time. Month after month, the spiritual bonds which once united us with our sister republic have been growing weaker and the idealized France of wartime is giving way to a hateful conception of France as reactionary, egotistic, battered, greedy, and incredibly vindictive. Were it not for a few enthusiasts in both countries, a cynical attitude regarding the value of blood shed in common as a seal of friendship might well be pardoned.
This is a very sinister tide, and it is good to discover a book which will be a strong bulwark against it. Best of all, there is no stirring of the fading embers of the old idealization in these pages — an idealization which, on the whole, worked harm to France; for by making her more than human, it caused her intensely human personality to be grotesquely misunderstood. The narrative, abundantly supplemented by photographs which really inform, deals, without pretense or rhetoric, with perhaps the most terrible struggle any modern nation has ever had to carry on — a struggle that asks from us every aid, sympathy, and toleration. Moreover, it reminds us of two facts of which we ought not to lose sight - that the gigantic sweep of destruction in France has become visible and appreciable only since the peace, and that the damage that was done is quite possibly without its parallel in history.
The France which this book shows us is the France that Americans would do well to bear in mind. Robbed of her young manhood, desperately poor, with few resources, and her people too often a prey to wandering jackals of the commercial world, she is struggling in the bravest manner to re-create her shattered cities, and plough her terrible fields. It is good to read of the capable American aid which is being extended by societies and individuals.
Those little children who are being born in the huts, the improvised dugouts, and the leaky cellars — what kind of a world is theirs to be ? If the spirit of France works its will, it will be a brave patrie that will receive them. But France cannot carry on the struggle alone, especially if she feels that the world’s understanding sympathy is not hers in her hour of trial. When America understands, she will help even more than she has done. And the significance of this book is that it will enable America to understand.
H. B. B.