The Peripatetic Reviewer
by Edward Weeks
MALRAUX: PAST PRESENT FUTURE
by Guy Suarès
Little, Brown, $15.00
by Guy Suarès
Little, Brown, $15.00
As l’homme engagé, André Malraux, born in 1901, has been by turns intrepid and reflective. Educated in Oriental languages and archaeology, his first expeditions to Indo-China and China exposed him to the state in rebellion and resulted in his novel Man’s Fate, which won the Prix Goncourt in 1933. He organized the Loyalist air force in the Spanish Civil War, and his missions as a machine gunner, before the final defeat, led to his next major novel, Man’s Hope. In World War II, where he met his hero, General de Gaulle, he was wounded and twice captured by the Germans, and his heroism with the Maquis was followed by the thoughtful years in which he wrote monumental works, The Psychology of Art and The Voices of Silence. When the Algerian Rebellion of 1958 brought De Gaulle back to power, Malraux, as Minister for Cultural Affairs, lifted the French morale with fresh confidence in the arts. He has lived with the desire “to transmute as wide an experience as possible into conscious thought.”
Knowing that Malraux is the most exciting conversationalist in Paris, Guy Suarès, a playwright in his forties, planned this book as an intellectual revelation, and the text is illustrated by photographs of Malraux from his boyhood to the present with an inner frame of movie shots taken while the novelist was responding to Suarès’ questions. The questions did not take Malraux by surprise, for a long series of them had been sent in advance for him to contemplate. In the interchange, Malraux’s answers have spontaneity and depth. He speaks of his feeling that “this civilization of ours was unprecedented . . . because it was the heir to all the others. . . .” He cites, as two of the most important events, the atomic bomb, and in its aftermath, the worldwide demonstration of young people in May of 1968, a demonstration of the collective, negative emotions of our time. He says, “For ten years or so now the world has been sensing and murmuring to itself that something is about to happen in the spiritual sphere. . . . What is going to come above all is a conscious grappling with the feeling of‘Things can’t go on like this.’ ”
Because of the exciting impact of Malraux’s ideas, this is a book to be read with pauses for assimilation. The two extended dialogues with Suarès, and a third with Malraux’s friend, the poet and Spanish intellectual José Bergamin, are packed with unexpected flashes of history, glints of Malraux’s humor, expressions of his admiration for Mao, Gide, and De Gaulle, his probing of contemporary religion, again and again his fascinating appraisal of the artists whose work he most admires—“I know the art galleries of Europe picture by picture”—and finally, most impressive, his aspiration. or as he puts it, “A will to participate in history, is also, after all, a will to belong to mankind.”
by Lawrence Durrell
by Lawrence Durrell
The first part of this stylish novel is the story of a trinity of lovers, told with subtle hints of sexual mysteries and the luminous, lovely passages of description one expects of Lawrence Durrell at his best. The trio are the French diplomat, Piers de Nogaret, his dark, beautiful sister, Sylvie, and her earnest English husband, Dr. Bruce Drexel, who has accepted an indefinite assignment in British diplomacy. His marriage to Sylvie was prompted by her surprising pregnancy, and the doctor, who is the narrator at the outset, is frank to admit that “it was only a mask for the hold I had on her brother through his affections.” This curious triangle of the homosexual lovers and the spouse between, so reminiscent of the Harold Nicolson menage, is at its happiest at Piers’s ancient château, Verfeuille, to which the three of them return on holidays, and the Provençal Christmas which they share with Piers’s tenants is a rare instance of their unselfish pleasure. Since Sylvie’s child was aborted, there is no youngster to distract their privacy, and it seems not to worry the watchful Bruce that his promiscuity as the family lover may be contributing to Sylvie’s increasing dementia.
When the two diplomats are posted to Egypt, a more serious disturbance occurs. A devil’s disciple, Akkad, invites the three of them and their friend Toby, an Oxford don who has been researching for his book on the Knights Templar, to attend a gnostic initiation at the oasis of Macabru. The rites are magical: a giant cobra, bowls of mummy flesh, powerfully drugged wine leading to the illusion that “the usurping Prince,” the God of Evil, is seated in the cobra’s basket. “Macabru changed everything,” says Sylvie: Piers becomes a convert, Bruce a skeptic, and Sylvie’s fears grow almost beyond control. Their fortuitous trip up the Nile in the French ambassador’s felucca, which follows, is the finest writing in the book: the gnostic poison is temporarily offset by the spell of the river, but their fate is set.
For me the story ends there. But Durrell would have us go on. The last hundred pages, in which two rival novelists write their conflicting books about “the trinity,” are a literary travesty, in which odd females, like the old duchess of Tu and the black lesbian Trash, with her bogus Southern accent, walk in and out to little purpose. It is a pity Durrell insists on playing such games with his reader.
DENISON’S ICE ROAD
by Edith Iglauer
by Edith Iglauer
“There is a road made of snow and ice that exists only in winter, in a marvelous part of Canada so strange, so far north that hardly anybody lives there,” so begins this warm-blooded book about the Ice Road in the Northwest Territories, serving Yellowknife, the capital, and Port Radium, which provided raw material for the first atomic bombs. The road is carved out freshly each year, crossing nineteen lakes and the portages between for a distance ol about 325 miles. The man who first dared open it in 1964, and kept it open for his trucks, is John Denison, and this is the story of how he operated, of the men and machines he bossed.
Mrs. Iglauer, the mother of two, was working in Yellowknife when she met John Denison. She asked him about the road, and he told her that he would not haul a load until the ice was eighteen inches thick—“and we ought to have thirty-six for a hundred-ton load. . . . I have dropped five machines in the lakes around here in seven years”—and he went on to explain how he and his men pulled them out at 40° below zero. He invited her to make the first run with them the following winter.
She thought she was going along to report what happened, but soon she found herself cooking and washing dishes for more men than she had ever fed before; being bawled out when the coffee wasn’t hot enough, when she didn’t put things back exactly where she had found them, and for losing her sleeping bag. She did not realize that she was being treated like any tenderfoot, and that one thing John Denison and the boys admired was her nerve.
She learned that one builds an ice road by beating the air out of the snow; the trail is dragged after every snowfall, the constant plowing and the weight of the great trucks causing the road to freeze ever deeper, to three feet, maybe to six. John Denison always went first, and she watched him feel his way in a whiteout, the weather northerners dread most, when he wasn’t sure the ice would hold. She heard Al Frost explain how he kept alive for seven nights and eight days at 30° below after his Bug fell fifteen feet into Great Bear Lake at Confidence Point. A provident Indian, he always carried two boxes of matches, and after he had made a hook with some wire in his pocket he fished out of the Bug a case of thirty-six pork chops and a teapot. It took him four days to fish out his blanket, and two days more to dry it over a fire which he never let go out. (“Take a white man in those circumstances. He’d have been dead.”)
She learned how men felt about their motors (“It is like your woman. Nobody touches it but yourself, and you get damn careful with it”); she saw the ingenuity of the repairs, and had John’s reassurance that a follow-up truck would be along in an hour or so.
All told, she drove 1275 miles with Denison, much of it in his great truck, “The African Queen,”with soft music by Guy Lombardo playing on the tape. As they were nearing the end, he told her, “Any of these guys could have done what I’ve done, but they don’t seem to be able to .... get the freight, the men, the connections, tie it all together and figure out the costs.” He did not mention his daring, his care of the team, his great skill in improvising. Here is adventure with plenty of solace for those who don’t like the cold.