Reader's Choice

THE LAST OF THE JUST (Atheneum, $4.95) won for its author, ANDRÉ SCHWARZ-BART, the Prix Goncourt, a remarkable honor for a young man who had never previously published anything and whose acquaintance with the formalities of French education was decidedly sketchy. Mr. Schwarz-Bart’s parents were immigrant Polish Jews who, before the boy was fifteen years old, had vanished into a Nazi extermination camp. Their son survived to write his sad, powerful, bitter tribute to all the persecuted Jews of history.
The novel begins as the legend of a rabbi, Yom Tov Levy, whose heroism in a pogrom was rewarded with God’s promise that each generation of his family would produce one of the thirty-six Just Men on whose simultaneous existence humanity dcpends. The Just Men are sages and moral examples, never warriors or businessmen, and their fate is suffering, poverty, and usually an early and uncomfortable death.
The twentieth century finds the Levys, solid human beings a little sheepish about their inherited distinction, established as Polish refugees in Germany. From this point, the book becomes something close to an orthodox, documented account of the rise of Nazi persecution, the bewildered Might of those Jews who could escape, and the coming of the war, which made escape impossible for most.
Ernie Levy, the last of his family, gets as far as unoccupied France, but there the nature of the Just Man descends on him. Ernie goes back to German territory of his own accord, to blarney his way into a concentration camp, help his people in the pitifully small ways that he can manage, and die with them in the gas chamber. The sick, battered, frightened little ex-stretcher-bearer is old Yom Tov Levy all over again.
Ernie’s fantastic heroism gives the end of the novel the same largerthan-life, mythical quality as its beginning, a quality that does not in the least soften the horror of the Nazis’ conduct or remove it conveniently into the past. On the contrary, since a good myth is always contemporary, it increases the horror of the story by making this sort of savagery seem as permanent a feature of the world as the Jews who suffer it, a principle of existence that has changed its shape over the centuries but never its malignant nature.


JOHN O’HARA’S SERMONS AND SODA-WATEH (Random House, $5.95) is a collection of three short novels, to which the author has affixed a preface. “I am perfectly well aware,” he begins, “that each of these three novellas could have been made into ai full-length, 350-page-or-more, novel, and since the question is bound to come up, I shall try to answer it in advance: why did I choose the shorter form?” As one who has suffered intensely from Mr. O’Hira’s works in the longer form, I am perfectly willing to applaud any reason at all for his abandonment of it and thank providence that, for whatever motive, he has decided to slay his hand.
The novellas in fact represent no change in Mr. O’Hara’s method. He normally puts everything into a novel, including the kitchen sink complete with stopped drain, plumber, and plumber’s mate, and does this not once but four or five times per book. The novella form has merely limited the author in a statistical way; one kitchen sink is all he can fit into his predetermined space.
The three stories are all told by the same narrator, an author from Pennsylvania whose acquaintance includes the middle-class friends of his small-town boyhood, a bit of Long Island high society, and the fringes of Broadway and Hollywood. All the stories contain drunken parties, long conversations in which people make improbable confidences to persons they have no reason to trust, and scenes in which a man and woman, left momentarily alone, begin without preliminary to discuss the pros and cons of falling into bed together, despite the faet that they haven’t met for years, loathed each other when they last did meet, and haven’t a bed handy. The common theme of the stones is that those who started out in the twenties made a hash of their lives.
The curium structure of Mr. O’Hara’s book in which a stolidly practical, unimaginative surface manner is combined with action and conversations that are almost insanely unlikely, is undentandable when one admits that the author is a cantankerous moralist, a hell-fire preacher who sees theft in every dollar bill and an assignation behind every smile. the peculiar world he describes is presumably as real to him as witches were to Canton Mather
The intention behind Mr. O’Hara’s work comes to the surface in his narrator’s remarks about prohibition: “we grew up listening to the grumbling, watching the small disobediences . . . the sealots’ attempt to force total abstinence on a temperate nation, made liars of a bundred million men and cheats of their children. the West Point cadets who cheated in examinations, the basketball players who connived with gamblers, the thousands of untcaught cheats in the high schools and colleges, We had grown up and away from our carller esteem of God and country and valor, and had matured at a moment when riches were vanishing for reasons that we could not understand We were the losing, not the lost, generation ”


MARCARET KENNEDY’S A NIGHT IN COLD HARROR (Macmillan. $3.95) is an unexpected combination of romantic period novel and social protest Since it is difficult to protest the conditions of the early Industtrial Revolution with any sense of immediacy at this moment, the book has a delicate air of being in the wrong pew, It is neveribclcs a good story, full of sinister vagabonds and dire intrigues, and suggests at times that Mis Kennedy is diverting herself and the reader by attempting the simultaneous reincarnation of Jane Austen and Emily Bronic.
Why Miss Kennedy should be moved to write a book about an English gentleman who goes up frivolity for utopian whemes of assistance for the working class, and a nice old clergyman driven mad by his first view of the conditions in which laborers live, and a wicked damsel and a rebellious young tramp, I cannot imagine, but as a skillful, witty novelist, she makes their adventures continually interesting. The hero’s attempts to get the upper hand over his mother and sisters long enough to remove a miserable painting from the dining room are delightful comedy; the tramps and fugitives lurking on the hilltop produce an authentically Gothic chill.
Is there anything behind all these accomplishments but the desire to tell a tale? Probably not, and perhaps it is uncivil to raise the question at all. Few enough writers condescend to tell a good tale, and fewer still can do it half as well its Miss Kennedy.


In spite of the title, GOOD BYE, AVA (Atlantic-Lillte, Brown, $3.95) takes RICHARD BIHSELL out of show business and back to boats. The story is a raffishhly funny affair about a couple of house boaters, more or less permanently anchored on the broad bosom of the Mississippi at a town called Blue Rock. If this place really exists, it can sue for libel.
The action begins when the God Damned Dock Commission, a term of affection employed throughout the harbor area, leases a stretch of shore to a prospective industry and orders Frank’s cottage and Clyde’s castle to move out and make way for progress and the fertilizer company, frank is a peaceable fellow who owns a small factory that manufactures a particularly delicate contraption for making a particularly revolting sort of ice cream. He lives in unworried comfort; the six-blade retractable ice shaver doesn’t suffer from planned obsolescence, but its temperament has the same stimulating effect on sales. Frank spends his spare time loafing almut the river and dreaming of Ava Gardner and every other cinematic lcauty of the last thirty years. He evidently started this game at about the age of three, and emotional precocity has slowed him to a premature hobble.
Clyde has a beautiful wife, a gaggle of happy, healthy, dirty, profane brats, and an icebox with so many patented improvements on it that “you feel you should climb right in and make it your home.” He also has wild, waterfront notions of his rights as an American citizen. The __Dock Commission finds that it has cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
By the time things quiet down, Mr. Bissell has dismembered local government, public works, smalltown newspapers, motherhood, popular songs, rugged individualism, blondes, brunettes, business, advertising, and the machine age, with the exception of marine engines. The reader, left chortling among the fragments, may not know exactly where he has been, but cannot possibly say the trip was dull.


THE SMUT PEDDLERS (Doubleday, $3.95), by JAMES JACKSON KILPVTRICK, purports to be an impartial survey of “the obscenity racket” and “the law of obscenity censorship.” The author, a newspaperman, works hard at being a nonpartisan reporter, but his disgust with the material that research brought into his hands quite naturally defeats the attempt.
Mr. Kilpatrick, hacking through the jungle of censorship laws, makes a persuasive case for the conscientious good sense of the courts in upholding the freedom of the press.
There have been some humiliating moments involving the works of Joyce and Lawrence, but, granting that censorship is to exist at all, it has been exercised in this country with considerable discretion.
On the details of the obscenity trade. Mr. Kilpatrick is less satisfactory He and his colleagues had a fine time inventing imaginary characters who ordered filthy pictures of all descriptions and got even worse than they had bargained for. He collected histories of the operations of a number of entrepreneurs who had been arrested for their activities. He quotes the opinions of J. Edgar Hoover and various police chiefs and juvenile court officers, all of whome insist that pornography into sexual crime because criminals often have such stuff in their possession. None of these gentlemo). including Mr. Kilpatrick, notices that nobody has yet established which is the cart, in this case, and which the horse. Burglars have jimmies in their possession, according to tradition: is it to be assumed that they are burglars became they came upon a jimmy, or that they procured a jimmy because they wished to burgle? I’ll waster I could keep a jimmy around the house for ten yearn and never commit a single burglary.
What Mr. Kilpatrick has not discussed in his survey of pornography is the people other than criminals who buy the stuff, and why they buy it, and how it affects them. He seems never to have met such an addict, and his disregard of psychiatrie and medical authorities outside the police field has done nothing to remedy the omission.
Mr. Kilpatrick’s conclusion is that Something Should Be Done. probably extensive repressive legislation. His advocacy of this measure is quarter-hearted, but it is there Now, I do not wait to appear to approve the ditinbuiton of obscene post cards to school children; the junk that Mr. Kilpatrick describes would give a buzzard indigestion. But repressive legislation against what people consider their private plesure has been tried trvrral times in this Country it was tried against liquor and failed. It it being tried agamtt gambling and dope and
shows little sign of succecding. In each care, its effect that been to take the proscribed trade out of the hands of humbling amateurs And to pul it into the hands of organized criminal groups. The thought of an efficient mob peddling stag movies frightens me even more than Mr. Kilpatrick’s descriptions of his current haul of films. For one thing. I don’t doubt that the mob would make better pictures.


MARCEL BRION’S BUBIB (Tudor. $5.95) is a well-illustrated and uwful biography. It includes considerable infotmation on Durrer’s training and technique And a great deal of histofical background, ranging all over Germany and Italy At the turn of the sixteenth cetury. As a bruk account of the artist a life work. and times, it could hardly be bettered for compactness and thoroughness
It does have some limitations, however. Many of the engravings are reproduced on a seat that requities a magnifying glass if the detail to which the text refers is to be wen The Author to prone to read a great deal into his subject’s drawings — what he makes of the first selfportrait is positively alarming — and is chary of quotation. No one would ever suspect, from this biography, that Dürer was a notable writer of comically feather-witted letters, much less a man with a maddening determination to wring more money out of his clients than the poor creatures had agreed to pay. Mr. Brion is a serious, admiring student of Dürer and has preferred to cast a romantic shadow over the more amusing aspects of his hero’s character.


The works of EDWARD GOREY are in a class by themselves, delicately macabre fantasies that begin arbitrarily nowhere and proceed to a similar destination. His latest venture is THE F1TAL LOZENGE (McDowell, Obolensky, SI.25), which naturally has nothing to do with a lozenge.
Itian alphabet in verse that rings demurely of McGuffey’s Reader but is aKo disconcerting kin to the interminable disasters that befell little Willie.
The BABY, lying meek and quiet
Upon the customary rug,
Has dreams about rampage and riot,
And will grow up to be a thug.
Naturally, with such a child about,
The GOVERNESS up in the attic
Attempts to make a cup of tea;
Her mind grows daily more erratic
From cold and hunger and ennui.
Not that Mr. Gorey’s cast of characters is entirely domestic; he takes due note of the RESURRECTIONIST, the XEN NOPHOBE, and the ZOUAVE.
MI. Gorcy’s unnerving little rhymes are illustrated with drawings in a similarly eldritch style, perverse descendants of those melancholy steel engravings which fluttred through the nineteenth century. George Washington, surrounded by sber worthies and ruffled bolsters, died in an obscure corner of our house for years until some idler actually looked at the thing and discovered that it represented the death of Oliver Cromwell. Patriotism being no longer involved, it was shuffled off to the attic. There is no shuffling off Mr. Gorey. His ghosts are dignified but unsuppressible, and they sneer elegantly at every sentimental fashion of the past hundred years.