Test of Courage:
The Michel Thomas Story
According to the philosopher and World War II veteran J. Glenn Gray, the lever of courage on the battlefield is love: the bonds forged in combat move men to risk their lives for one another. Fear of letting the other fellow down makes heroes, Gray writes in The Warriors (1959). But what if there are no other fellows to let down? Solitary courage must fling its grapples upon the fear-slicked self. Christopher Robbins's subject in this true though sometimes hard-to-credit biography -- the tests of courage are so many, so solitary, and so successfully passed -- is Michel Thomas, now a world-famous linguist and language teacher. In Robbins's vivid telling Thomas is a Holocaust survivor who escapes the death camps by daring stratagems, a French Resistance fighter who outwits Klaus Barbie, a U.S. Army intelligence officer who captures war criminals with brilliant ruses, and a lover who never lets the imminence of death ("And as we were making love ... an American artillery position opened fire right above us in the hills") dash his desire. "There were those who despaired [but] I was not prepared to let reality overwhelm me," he says, describing the metaphysical impertinence that saw him through a war that broke nations. "I wanted to find a way to fight back." His story is almost too singular to be inspiring.
The Third Woman:
The Secret Passion That Inspired
This year we have seen Greene on Capri, Shirley Hazzard's lambent, affectionate, and eloquent literary memoir of her friendship with Graham Greene. Now, as a counterweight, William Cash offers us an erotic epic spiced with more than a little theology: Greene's passionate affair of many years with the beautiful American-born Catherine Walston. The novelist seems to have been as assiduous in sexual pursuits as in the search for God, and maybe more so -- though Greene's adultery, to be fair, always took second place to the writing of fiction. Greene had a wife, two children, four mistresses (five, if Margot Fonteyn qualifies), and innumerable prostitutes, all while he continued his frantic pursuit of Catherine Walston and also wrote The Heart of the Matter, The Third Man, , and The Quiet American. He somehow managed to survive this exhausting activity as a communicating Roman Catholic. Lady Walston, whose husband was rich and very tolerant, also slept with many men other than Greene, including an Irish revolutionary, an American general, and a priest or two. Cash goes so far as to justify his research efforts by claiming a central place for adultery among the inspirations for literature. The Third Woman provides hypnotic voyeuristic reading; but Cash's panting sensibility has trouble nailing down his argument.