The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
by Larry Collins and Dominique
Simon and Schuster, $10.00
The ideal literary collaboration is the result of friendship and of emotional experiences in which both writers have shared. The friendship of Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre begins in the SHAPE headquarters to which Collins had been assigned, fresh from Yale, and in which Lapierre was serving as an interpreter. For a time they went their separate ways in journalism, Collins as a foreign correspondent in North Africa and the Middle East, Lapierre as a reporter and editor for ParisMatch. At a reunion in Paris in 1961 they were excited at the prospect of writing a book together that would interest both French and American readers, and, as Collins put it, “that each of us would write simultaneously in his own language.” Both had been deeply stirred by the Liberation of Paris in 1944; they remembered Hitler’s crazy order to destroy the city, wondered how it had been frustrated, and out of their research grew their first book, Is Paris Burning?
Their new book is also about a city, the most contentious and dedicated place in man’s memory. The name “Jerusalem” came from the ancient Hebrew, meaning “city of peace,” but it has been sacred to not one but three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; over forty centuries it has been fought for by David and the Pharaoh, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar, Ptolemy and Herod, Titus and the Crusaders, Tamerlane
and the Saracens of Saladin. In 1917, when General Allenby entered the Jaffa Gate, walking the sacred stones humbly on foot, he carried with him a British Mandate and two deceptive promises which precluded peace: the Balfour Declaration, promising a Jewish national home, and a rival promise to which T. E. Lawrence had dedicated his life, promising the Arab inhabitants a state of their own. It was inevitable that a new civil war would erupt when in November, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations proposed to cut this ancient territory (half the size of Denmark) into two states but denying to each the sovereignty of Jerusalem.
The authors have concentrated their narrative on the year 1948. The British Army, which had policed the premises for thirty years, was planning to evacuate in May; Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, foresaw that the hundred thousand Jews in Jerusalem would be overwhelmed by the Arabs unless they were armed, and the Arab Legion under Glubb Pasha was planning to spearpoint just such an assault. This, then, is the story of the siege of Jerusalem, the sixteenth siege in its history. and probably the bloodiest, which would decide whether Israel would emerge as an independent or as a captive state. The odds favored the Arabs 30 to l, but in unity and ingenuity the Jews had the better of it, as the authors are happy to relate.
In telling this epic Collins and Lapierre secured more than eight hundred interviews, piecing together, from the leaders and the led, the true story as the Arabs saw it before they turned to the Jews for their version. the tension between the two camps still so bitter that they could not shuttle back and forth. Ambush and bombing, endlessly repeated, destroy pity, as we know from the brutish record of Belfast. What relieves the bloodshed in O Jerusalem!, what makes it such a humane book, are the portraits of the dedicated on both sides: Ben-Gurion. wise, patient, farsighted; Golda Meir, sent to the United States to collect money for the arms so desperately needed, who arrived in New York with $10 in her pocketbook and left thirty days later with $50 million; Haim Slavine and Ehud Avriel, the one in the United States, the other in Europe, who found the war-surplus material and smuggled it in to Palestine: David Shaltiel, a former sergeant in the Foreign Legion, who took command of Jerusalem’s Haganah; and Abdullah Tell and Glubb Pasha, Shaltiel’s opponents. It is the endurance, the courage, and the compassion of the little people, the survivors of Dachau, those witnesses to the unbelievable persecution of our time, that one remembers. And Sir Alan Cunningham, that discerning, doughty Scot, who would have been a firmer referee had his government permitted.
by Stephen Birmingham
Lippincott, $10.00
Stephen Birmingham, the author of Our Crowd, had reason to be grateful to John Marquand, for John, out of friendliness, read the manuscripts of Birmingham’s first two novels, made constructive suggestions, and recommended them for publication. His biography is the work of a partisan who tends to exaggerate, who is unfamiliar with Marquand’s Boston and Harvard, and who evaluates John’s books as much by what they earned as by what they hold. His thesis is one which Marquand himself made public: that he was deprived by his improvident father of the advantages he might have enjoyed at St. Mark’s and at Harvard, and that his lonely adolescence in Newburyport, the Clyde of his future novels, where he was ashamed of the eccentricities of his aunts, accounts for his bitterness and for the emphasis on class distinctions which recur throughout his serious work.
Mr. Birmingham was not permitted to use the family papers, and he has made up for this omission by the testimony he garnered from the two women who exerted the most profound influence on Marquand’s writing: Conney Fiske. the wife of John’s best friend in Boston, and one of the few to whose taste and judgment he deferred; and, second, but of more intimate importance, Carol Brandt, the wife of Carl Brandt. Marquand’s literary agent, who became, with her husband’s acquiescence, John’s mistress and amanuensis. Marquand learned to dictate his fiction to Carol with greater freedom than he enjoyed with any secretary, and his life with the two Brandts formed a triangle containing greater happiness than he was to know with either of his wives. In a manner of speaking, Carol is the heroine of this book, and her contribution gives it strength and novelty.
There is always a temptation for a young biographer to adopt, perhaps unconsciously, the mannerisms of the man he is writing about. As a raconteur and mimic Marquand was a master, and exaggeration was part of his performance. Perhaps this is responsible for the innumerable, often silly exaggerations with which the biography is strewn. “The bold young blades,” as Birmingham calls the clubmen in the Harvard of 1914, did not swagger with “silk hats and walking sticks,” and the awkward Marquand was too shrewd to suspect that he ever had a chance for the Porcellian Club, which, incidentally, is referred to not as “the Pig,” but as “the Pore.” There was never an “old quota system” of Jews at Harvard. Alfred McIntyre, John’s publisher and the first to perceive the potential in The Late George Apley, was not a “timid” man; he was not accustomed to consuming “six martinis for lunch.” and if there was ever talk at Little, Brown of publishing Apley anonymously, it was certainly not McIntyre who prompted it. In the famous trial in which John was pitted against the Hales in the disposition of the family properties. John’s lawyer, F. Murray Forbes, did not appear “wearing a cutaway and a silk hat,” nor, according to his lawyer, did John himself take the stand.
True, these are trivia, but the tendency to exaggerate goes still deeper in the portrayal of Christina Sedgwick and Adelaide Hooker, Marquand’s unhappy wives, who lend themselves to ridicule. John’s cruel streak, his parsimony, his prickly aloofness from his children must have made him, as he once told me, “a hell of a man to live with,” and the Sedgwicks’ disdain for his popular writing could not have improved his temper. But in this disparagement his father-in-law, Alexander Sedgwick, who is never mentioned in the book, surely proved more of an irritant than “Uncle Ellery.” the editor of The Atlantic.
Mr. Birmingham’s judgment of John’s novels is not mine; I pick Wickford Point and Point of No Return as the two best because of the sympathy which underlies the satire. But I agree that the secret of Marquand’s appeal was the “absolute rightness” of the dialogue, as Clifton Fadiman puts it; “his special way of mixing merriment and melancholy,” which Birmingham praises.
by Walter Lord
Norton, $8.50
The War of 1812 was an uphill fight for the sorely divided Republic. The invasion of Canada had resulted in a bloody nose, and in the early months of 1814, after Napoleon’s defeat, Wellington’s Invincibles were released and on their way to teach America a lesson. The British blockade had strangled our economy as the Federalists’ opposition to the war had disrupted our unity; Washington, the half-built capital presided over by a President who lacked force, was ripe for the plucking.
Walter Lord, with his flair for depicting people caught in a sudden crisis, has followed the swing of fortune which began with the capture and burning of Washington, then moved to the spirited repulse of the British at Baltimore, and ended with General Jackson’s well-planned, crashing victory at New Orleans. All three of these major engagements were amphibious operations in which at the outset the American militia, poorly trained and ill armed, were no match for Wellington’s veterans.
As a narrative, The Dawn’s Early Light is handicapped by a weak beginning. It requires a special skill to describe the movement and encounter of troops, and this Mr. Lord possesses to a limited degree, with the result that the first third of his text reads like a chicken yard where the roosters are being decapitated. The characterization of President James Madison and his Cabinet members is superficial; it is never made clear why Secretary of War John Armstrong was so inert, why Secretary of State James Monroe dashed about placing the defenders of the Capital in the wrong spots, and why the commanding officer. Brigadier General William Henry Winder, was such a diligent muddlehead. The burning of Washington was a disgrace, and there are times when the author sounds as confused as its defenders.
The defense of Baltimore was an altogether different affair thanks to Major General Samuel Smith, a veteran of the Revolution and a shrewd driver for the short haul. Baltimore, a community of 45,000, was a rich prize. Its privateers had captured or sunk more than five hundred British ships, and the British, intoxicated with their success in Washington, were hot for revenge. But American troops, regular and volunteer, were now flocking to the city and over the ramparts of Fort McHenry flew the largest flag then on record, four hundred yards of broad stripes and bright stars, cut and sewn by Mary Pickersgill at the cost of $405.90. General Smith had planned shrewdly and had fired up the gunners at Fort McHenry; and in this assault the British suffered from a divided command, and when General Ross, who had the final say ashore, was killed, the attackers retired to the fleet. Francis Scott Key, sent under a flag of truce to exchange a prisoner of war. watched the fighting from the British side, and out of his anxiety and exaltation came our national anthem.
The stiffening resistance at Baltimore aroused the country and gave Andrew Jackson of New Orleans the men, the firepower, and the warning he needed, and when Admiral Cochrane, the British C-in-C, with fresh reinforcements, sailed in for the biggest prize of all, the dice rolled against him and the British blunders led to a shocking defeat. Mr. Lord’s narrative accelerates in interest and confidence in the latter half of the book, and his account of the reaction in London, where the level-headed Wellington had from the first taken a dim view of the British armada, bears a distant parallel to our distress in Vietnam.