Reader's Choice

A long line of Americans stretching back to Thomas Jefferson have shared the sentiment reflected in the saying: “Everyone has two countries — his own and France.” Jefferson himself wrote: “France, freed from that monster, Bonaparte, must once again become the most agreeable country on earth. It would be the second choice of all whose ties of family and fortune give a preference to some other one, and the first choice of all not under those ties.” America’s long-standing love affair with France has in recent years shown signs of strain. We are exasperated by French politics; we are ready to argue that France’s cultural supremacy is a thing of the past; we are apt to complain that French prices have reached a new high and politesse to foreigners has sunk to a new low. But comes the season for travel, and Americans go on flocking to France by the hundreds of thousands — some of them for the second, the third, or the tenth time — thereby demonstrating that the lures of France retain a potent magnetism.
This magnetism is apparent, too, in the sphere of American publishing, where the French and their country continue to hold a fair share of our attention. In keeping with the theme of this issue, I propose to devote most of the notes that follow to books (either new or relatively recent) about France — its food and wine, its capital, its history, its politics, and its culture.


THE FOOD OF FRANCE (Knopf, $10.00) by WAVERLEY ROOT, the fruit of travels and research spanning three decades, is the best book on this subject available in English. Invitingly printed, liberally illustrated, and equipped with useful gastronomic maps, it is a handsomely produced volume of nearly 500 pages. Its considerable size and price may seem forbidding to prospective travelers, but to anyone intent on making the most of France’s gastronomic glories it can hardly fail to pay large dividends in added enjoyment.
Most contemporary food books and guidebooks are strictly objects of utility, but Mr. Root’s treatise is also a pleasure to read — so tantalizingly evocative that it fills one with an overwhelming urge to take off for France. The author approaches food “as an integral . . . element in the whole pattern oi the society in which it has developed.” Thus gastronomic lore and counsel are agreeably laced with notes on the landscape and with what Aldous Huxley has called “culture gossip": brief excursions into history, art, architecture, and local customs. When, for instance, Mr. Root is writing about Touraine — where “the fine, subtle cooking of modern France developed” — he gossips about its chateaux; about Rabelais and Balzac (natives of the province) and Leonardo da Vinci (who is buried there); about Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Médicis, and other “masterful mistresses" of the French kings.
The gastronomic information dispensed is encyclopedic in range. I learned, among other things, that there exist several red Champagnes; that Camembert should be tenderly protected from drafts; that restaurants as we know them came into being in the eighteenth century, after an enterprising bouillon maker had put up a sign advertising his
soups as “restaurants divins — heavenly pickups” and had done a roaring business.
Mr. Root’s gastronomic travelogue is divided into four main sections: The Domain of Butter, Flic Domain of Fat, The Domain of Oil, and the Pyrenees (where several traditions of cooking coexist). It concludes with two valuable appendixes: a guide to the best restaurants in the provinces, and a selection of restaurants in Paris which specialize in regional cooking (including that of the Paris region). Another admirable feature of the book is the attention it devotes to the many delightful and inexpensive vins du pays, which are virtually unknown beyond their own locality because they don’t stand up to travel. The treatment of other wines, though generally excellent, calls for one cautionary note — the vintage years which Root recommends sometimes go back too far and arc not sufficiently up-to-date, especially in the case of the white Burgundies and the Champagnes. The early vintages mentioned are unobtainable in most places, and they are also liable to be past their prime.
There exists a legend, which possibly owes something to nostalgia, that once upon a time it was possible to eat not only cheaply but extremely well in practically any bistro in Paris. This is definitely not true today: the average bistro’s biftek, pommes frites, and watery Beaujolais en carafe are nothing to write home about. But every knowledgeable Parisian has his own jealously guarded list of exceptional bistros, where the food is magnificent and the prices are decidedly lower than in the restaurants on the tourist circuit. The problem of tracking down these elusive places has been solved for us by ALEXANDER WATT, an English newspaperman who has lived twenty-five years in Paris. His PARIS BISTRO COOKERY (Knopf, S3.00) is both a guide to his fifty favorite bistros and a cookbook which gives receipts of their specialties. For good measure, Mr. Watt has included a glossary of French culinary terms and dishes, a vintage chart, and a list of French cheeses together with the wines best suited to each. In fact, he seems to have thought of everything that would give his book the maximum utility. He furnishes the addresses, telephone numbers, and closing days of his bistros; singles out the strong points of the cellar; indicates price, if it is above or below the average; and brings the ambiance crisply to life. On my next trip to Paris, this Baedeker of the bistro will certainly go with me.


In PARIS SKETCHBOOK (Braziller, S3.95) RONALD SEARCH, the gifted English illustrator, has not gone hunting desperately for novelty: he has registered what is typical, and with very appealing results. His wife, KAYE WEBB, has accompanied his drawings with a commentary that is no whit less engaging. Mr. Searle’s sketches have grace and wit and charm. They show us street scenes, markets, fairs, the interiors of restaurants, a public convenience, the shop front of a horse butcher, the hats of middle-aged Parisiennes, the lovely, intimate places (such as the Place des Vosges) in which Paris abounds. There are vignettes of the many kinds of night life, and there is a fine gallery of Parisian types: the taxi driver, the policeman on his bicycle, the little girl with the hoop, the showgirl with a variant of the fig leaf, the patrons at cafés, the ice cream vender, the infinitely patient fishermen on the quais. By rendering these familiar signs with skill and style, Mr. Searle has succeeded in capturing the seductive essences of Paris.
Two volumes in the series, Famous Places as Seen by Great Painters, together form a unique pictorial history of the French capital. PARIS IN THE PAST (Skira, $6.50) extends from the fourteenth century to Daumier, PARIS IN OUR TIME (Skira, $6.50) from the Impressionists to the present. In both books, the text by PIERRE COURTHION is pleasantly discursive. The color plates (142 all told), though small, are of fine quality; and they have the merit of including a good many pictures in private collections which have never been reproduced before.


Two outstanding additions to the writings in English on French history have appeared within the past year: the up-to-date edition of ANDRÉ MAUROIS’S A HISTORY OF FRANCE (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, $7.50), and THE FRENCH NATION: FROM NAPOLEON TO RETAIN (Harper, $4.50) by D. W. BROGAN. M. Maurois, as everyone knows, has a genius for what might be termed serious popularization; and his chronicle — tinged with patriotism and the romantic outlook, but not to any reprehensible degree — comes reasonably close to being an ideal survey of France’s past for the general reader. Mr. Brogan works in an altogether different but also highly palatable vein. His style is astringent, his temper critical, and he has a racy sense of humor. A British historian and political scientist who is one of the foremost contemporary authorities on the United States as well as France, Brogan is a scholar in whom there is more than a spark of the professional entertainer.
Mr. Brogan’s concluding remark about the France of 1940 is only too true of France today: “A people which . . . had astonished the world in every held of achievement, which had known every form of glory . . . had yet failed to find institutions that united the French people and gave them a political way of life worthy of their genius.” What were the sources of this failure?
Mr. Brogan’s brilliant exposition of the historical record implicitly supports, in many respects, the thesis developed in HERBERT LUETHY’S FRANCE AGAINST HERSELF (Praegcr, $6.50; paperback, $1.45), which remains, three years after its publication, the most illuminating post-war study of the French social system. M. Luethy argues that the class which carried out the French Revolution — lawyers, notaries, members of courts, and counsels of every kind — was one which had risen to prominence as a result of the cumbersome machinery and parasitic practices of the ancien régime; and that this class became a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, which has tenaciously preserved many of the archaic and wasteful features of the old, highly centralized administrative structure. Thus the Revolution left France with a deeply split personality: a revolutionary ideology whose effect was to make citizens regard the state as an impostor, an enemy; and an implacably conservative bureaucracy, so solidly entrenched as to constitute the real government of France. This bureaucracy, and all sections of the electorate which have shared or absorbed its outlook, have opposed changes that would give France stronger cabinet government. They have been hostile to great leaders, great ideas, above all great effort and sacrifice. Napoleon boasted that the French preferred glory to bread. But now we find a French weekly saying that France is “le pays de la médiocrité” and that its ambitions are to have a pot belly at forty, a pension at sixty.
This appraisal of what de Gaulle has referred to as “the system” finds dismal confirmation in the story of the one post-war politician who squarely challenged the system: Pierre Mendès-France, the subject of ALEXANDER WEKTU’S LOST STATESMAN (Abelard-Schuman, $5.00).
Mendès-France rose to prorninence in the early nineteen-fifties as the most forceful critic of immobilisme. He was swept into the premiership by the desperate need for bold action to end the catastrophic war in Indochina. But the popularity his success won him was short-lived in France. The policies that made him something of a hero to the American and British press — his constructive handling of the Tunisian situation; his advocacy of concessions in Algeria; his proposals for cutting down subsidies to producers of alcohol, stepping up housing construction, and modernizing industry — ran into bitter opposition in the Assembly, and right-wing forces mounted a smear campaign which represented him its the “betrayer” of France. After the fall of his government, his struggle for ;t liberal settlement in Algeria made him increasingly unpopular.
His career suggests that a French politician with vision, and the courage not to play the game according to the bad old rules, is doomed to find aligned against him an invincible coalition of the defenders of immobilisme, irresponsibility, and corruption. In the densely documented pages of Lost Statesman, we see how pathological is the condition of the French body politic,


To round off this survey of readings about France, here is a check list of books dealing with things cultural. THE CULTURE OF FRANCK IN OUR TIME (Cornell University Press, $5.00), a symposium edited by JULIAN PARK, covers a broad field in ten well-packed essays. Symposia have a dismal tendency to be stodgy, but this volume has caught and communicated the vitality of its subject. The contributors convey an astonishing amount of information without merely cataloguing.
On French letters, there are three studies of current or recent vintage — THE CONTEMPORARY FRENCH NOVEL (Oxford University Press, $5.00) by HENRI PEYRE, chairman of the department of French at Yale; AN AGE OF FICTION: THE FRENCH NOVEL FROM GIDE TO CAMUS (Rutgers University Press, $5.00) by GERM VINE BRÉE and MARGARET GUITON; and A GUIDE TO CONTEMPORARY FRENCH LITERATURE (Meridian Books, $1.45) by WALLACE FOWLIE. The BrécGuiton and the Peyre studies of the novel have both served me well, and I’d be hard put to choose between them. The former, published in 1957, is more up-to-date by two years, while the latter is more comprehensive — it supplements the discussion of the major figures with “a panorama of [ninety-one] presentday novelists.”Mr. Fowlie’s treatment of the novel is not as lull, but he includes an interesting section on the theater and the cinema, plus chapters on poetry and the essay.
My appetite for reading about castles is, I’m afraid, small; but I can safely commend THE CHÂTEAUX OF FRVNCE (Hastings House, $7.50) to those who enjoy fugues describing battlements and towers, molded architraves and rusticated niches. The author, RALPH DUTTON, writes cun arnore; his learning is immense, and his book is graced with more than a hundred illustrations. The splendors of French religious architecture arc superbly reproduced in FRENCH CATHEDRALS (Houghton Mifflin, $7.50), which contains 196 magnificent photographs by MARTIN hÜRLIMANN and a brief interpretative text.
Several of the aspects of France that I have touched on, and a good many others, are lightly covered in a cheerful omnibus assembled and decorated by LUDWIG BEMELMANS: HOLIDAY IN FRANCE (Houghton Mifflin, $5.00). The contributors include Colette and Art Buchwald, S. J. Perelman and Maurois; and they take us roving from the low life of Marseilles to le higliffe of Deauville and Biarritz, from Paris night clubs to Notre Dame, from the maison Dior to the French Academy and the Palace of Versailles.


In the fall of 1955, SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR spent six weeks in China as a guest of the government, and now she confronts us with a 500-page incantation celebrating the achievements and moral virtues of the Communist regime. As readers of this department may have noticed, I have always been in sympathy with the critics of Chiang Kai-shek; and I am prepared to believe an openminded observer such as James Cameron (Mandarin Red) when he reports that the Communist regime has in certain respects improved the lot of the Chinese people. But Simone de Beauvoir is so doctrinaire a thinker, so fervently committed to revolutionary utopianism, that the findings presented in THE LONG MARCH (World, $7.50) are not much more reliable than official Communist propaganda.
The Hungarian revolt and its suppression have not ruffled de Beauvoir’s faith in the syllogism which governs her political outlook and which runs as follows: One’s duty to the future is to support the cause of the proletariat, and this cause is that of the Communist Party; therefore one must support Communism, the only ideology which stands for progress. Although she is a high priestess of Existentialism, a philosophy in theory diametrically at odds with Marxism, de Beauvoir now shamelessly deploys the whole squalid lexicon of Marxist-Leninist doublethink and gobbledegook. She says that a policy was “implemented too radically" instead of saying that it led to an orgy of executions or other excesses. Imprisonment is referred to as “re-education”; critics of the regime are “counterrevolutionaries”; Chinese novels are discussed in terms of rightist and leftist “deviations.”The Communist concept of freedom of thought, we are told, is preferable to that of the “bourgeois” democracies: we should admire it for penalizing “negative” criticism and thereby protecting the people from being confused and corrupted. This kind of verbal and doctrinal sewage is spattered throughout the book, and it gave me a bad case of nausea.
The Chinese Communists, according to de Beauvoir, have avoided most of the costly mistakes which were made by the Russians through overimpatience to liquidate the past. Conscious of the force of tradition, the Chinese are carrying out a “cautious” revolution, whose slogan is “Let us use yesterday as a steppingstone to tomorrow.” Already, however, the achievements of the Communist regime seem to de Beauvoir nothing short of spectacular. It hasdone a tremendous cleaning-up job — has made China sanitary and eliminated beggars. It has greatly improved the condition of the peasantry and the status of women, is making impressive progress in the industrialization of China, is waging an energetic and successful campaign against illiteracy. Like all apologists for Communism, de Beauvoir is infatuated with statistics, and she bombards us with such data as the rise in the catties of rice harvested per mu. How much of her stuff is reasonably true and how much of it is false is impossible to judge. All I can say with certainty is that her effusions are for the most part a suffocating bore. She is probably the most longwinded woman writer currently in business and definitely the most humorless.
JOHN GUNTHER’S INSIDE RUSSIA TODAY (Harper, $5.95) is the timeliest of his books and to this reader the most fascinating. “The lesson of Soviet science,” Gunther writes, “is that the Russia of today is a strong country . . . and that the democratic world must acknowledge this . . . and face the future with a hard, imaginative new look.” Gunther’s point of view is simply that, however repugnant we find Soviet institutions, we must adjust to the necessity of coexisting with them; and if only as a matter of self-preservation, we must learn more about the Russians. Well, a great many Americans are going to learn a lot more about them from John Gunther, who remains the world’s champion reporterencyclopedist. As a political analyst, he betrays that he is unsure of himself by his constant hedging; but from the standpoint of reporting, he has done a miraculous job of accumulating massive amounts of information And in the case of Russia, every bit of information helps — whether it be that the Russians dote on ice cream (one factory makes thirty-six flavors), or that they have 41,000 teachers of English, or that they have had an industrial atom power plant in operation for more than three years.


The behavior of human beings under the extreme pressures of war is the central concern of three otherwise altogether different novels: TWO WOMEN (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy. $4.95) by ALBERTO MORAVIA; THE MOUNTAIN ROAD (Sloane, $3 95) by THEODORE WHITE; and THE UNDERGROUND CITY (Random House, $4 95) by H. L. HUMES.
Moravia’s story is told by a widow who owns a grocer’s shop in Rome, The food shortage and the fear of bombings prompt her to set out with her seventeen-year-old daughter for the home of her parents in the country south of Rome, where she plans to stay until peace is restored. But the two women fail to get through, and are forced to spend months in a desolate mountain region, where they suffer terrible privation and indignities. The novel’s theme is that war destroys innocence and principle — the daughter becomes a prostitute, the mother a thief. But Moravia also asserts the resilience of the human spirit; its capacity to emerge from numbness and degradation and to be, as it were, reborn. The story is deeply felt, for Moravia himself and his wife were refugees in the same region during the war. Two Women is less probingly analytic and less provocative than Moravia’s other works, but it has more compassion and more warmth.
The framework of The Mountain Road, a Book-of-theMonth Club selection, is the great retreat in East China in 1944. The story is pinpointed on an American major in charge of a demolition squad which is withdrawing from Liuchow along the only road leading northward into the mountains. Major Baldwin’s orders are to hold up the Japanese advance by demolitions along the route, which is clogged with refugees, and the dilemmas dramatized in the action have to do with the use and the misuse of power.
Mr. White writes in a tradition derived from Hemingway, whose fiction has given his readers precise instructions on how to fish, shoot big game, blow a bridge, or make love in a gondola. The Mountain Road is another example of the how-to-do-it novel: it reads like a painstaking report on the work of a demolition squad (where to put the gelignite, and so forth) rather than like a work of the imagination. This does not prevent it, however, from being a gripping and moving affair which vividly records the tragic complexities of the chaotic Chinese situation in the last years of the war.
The Underground City is a long, ambitious first novel, whose spiritually battered hero, John Stone, is a former American secret agent who worked with the French underground. The hub of the plot is the affaire Dujardin. Thanks to Stone’s testimony, Dujardin has been sentenced to death for collaborationism and is awaiting execution; but now the Communists — to make trouble for the Americans — announce that they have a witness who can prove Dujardin’s innocence. The novel has power, energy, and suspense. But it also struck me as overinflated, a bit on the pretentious side, and guilty of gratuitous mystification