Book reviews Critiques littéraires Books recently published in english and french.

mercredi 27 avril 2011

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, Anchor, Canada,1998 and 2001

This well known adventurer and travel writer is one of my favorites of all times, so entertaining and full of wisdom that he is . Here he stays in the USA and decides to become a hiker and in a sense, discover his own country , which is huge,even on the Eastern sea board, still full of dangerous woods , bears, wolves,boars, snakes, and many lonely treks. No need to go all the way to the Himalaya...
All of this is naturally impossible to find in over- civilized Europe , and it is a thril to engage in this adventure, which becomes over the narration a pilgrimage.
So,determined to walk the famous and mythic Appalachian Trail,which goes from Georgia to Maine, the author seeks a friend who might accompany him in this hike. Both are middle aged and overweight ,loaded with heavy equipment ( tent, sleeping bag, food drinks , medicines etc..) ,not particularly athletic and the trail is tough,hard, often dangerous. Now just to spend one night in the woods after an awful meal, cooked on a small stove,with all the animal squeaks,furtive noises and groaning of hungry beasts deserves admiration. Many young hikers by the way, abandon the trail after one day in the woods. But not our 2 heroes: they hold on and con with fries , and watch TV . Ha Ha ..that is to be expected . It is hard to leave civilization and its sleazy aspects , so the tale is hilarious, self deprecating and instructive. Nobody can ignore without lying the comforts and facilities of modern life; Bryson does not allude here to mobile phones or e mails, only to material things like showers, toilets,a good bed .. He is very down to earth and not at all the silly ecologist who reads J.J Rousseau, pleading that man is naturally good and Nature beneficial. No, no.
Because there are murders and attacks on the trail, and Bryson points out realistically this social fact " after all, this is America "and he also describes the fantastic ugliness of shopping centers, sprawling suburbs, gas stations etc..which have defaced the countryside in the last decades.So he is not an angelic dreamer . Thank God that this majestic natural beauty has remained practically untouched and religiously preserved by the conservationists in the US. It is also very funny and delightful, great dialogues, unbelievable encounters with all kinds of kinky characters,Red necks, loggers, Ivy league students, virginal girls bending under back packs etc..We learn also a few thugs on the Civil War , notably a little known episode about Stonewall Jackson whom Bryson qualifies as "the dumbest general of the War, who was unduly admired "
More to the point, this wonderful book is a memorial to an Historical heritage in America and a significant aspect of its colonial and Indian past , not only an amusing escapade in the woods or an attempt to return to Nature.

mardi 26 avril 2011

toni Morrison, the Bluest Eyes, Penguin 1970 and 1994

This marvelous book is her first novel and it revealed right away a new formidable writer in American letters , where one could hear the voice of racial hatred, pure and clear,as well as the psychological misery of the negro communities in the fifties. This is the tale of a small girl, Pecola, who is destroyed by her own people and singularly by her father who rapes her,in an imbecilic drunken moment . A tale as heart breaking and pointless as anything in Faulkner; we see immediately that Morrison is infinitely more tragic than Alice Walker,more brutal also .Another interesting theme in the story , very well seen by the author, is the immense influence that Beauty, especially physical beauty, holds over our lives in the West
Indeed, it is not easy to be ugly, but is it imperative to be beautiful? The question is open., and can be dreadful in its consequences.( see the horror for ex. of anorexic girls who starve themselves to death).
What is the crux of the story then ? Pecola is an ugly little girl of 11 years of age ; big nose and pointy ears ; every one tells her so and laughs at her in her black neighborhood .Obviously beautiful black girls were desirable and loved by their family and friends .The poor thing is miserable and dreams of beauty,because she is unloved, non pampered and imprisoned in a ferociously poor community. No escape is possible .She attributes her unhappiness to ugliness, not to poverty and white dominance even in the spiritual field (this unconscious self hatred exists in the poor im, who looked just like a white doll.Black Beauty did not exist and was never mentioned anywhere then .White beauty was the only worthy one in that world

How could poor little Pecola ever look like Shirley temple? She could not, and she was not capable of seeing that there were other criteria of beauty , that she should not hate herself and the black look.So she prays God incessantly asking him to change her appearance and grant her blue eyes, the bluest eyes... She is a good kid,helping her mother in the household and impervious to the tragedy of her parents which will perpetuate itself throughout the future generations: Pecola will be like her mother, her inevitable failure is predestined . Yes, there were young blacks who started well, kept their job, worked hard and entertained high hopes of self improvement ,but at the smallest failure they collapsed, especially the men , who resorted to either drink or violence. Their resilience was non existent because their egos were so fragile .The women were raising the kids , were stronger , but they felt betrayed and finally despised their fallen male companions communicating this contempt to their kids> It is an unbroken cycle, very hard to break.
Morrison points out clearly the self disgust and self hatred of these first generations of blacks living in the North and finding no psychological support for their identity. It is utterly poignant ,discouraging , not redeemable.
So there it is, the well known negro matriarchy and the failed family. It is sad and horrible although the famous Morrison poetic style throws a spiritual light on the whole scene. Poor Pecola is touching, but more profoundly, she is a symbol of the plight of the non- beautiful, the non- attractive female in our cultures who can only save themselves as creators, strong leaders ,formidable professionals or possibly sex symbols. Think of Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meyer , pure power , or in show business Barbara Streisand , pure talent, who created for herself an Egyptian look. These modern, pioneers were not defeated but became triumphant. Black actresses today are admired all over , they have enhanced their appearance intelligently only because their self confidence has now become tremendous. None of them could be destroyed as Pecola was, and they have female disciples who imitate them, thank God.But the " Pecola syndrome "has not disappeared .HARDLY.
We, often the privileged class of persons who were protected by nice parents, nice neighborhoods and nice schools,cannot fathom the destruction and evil procured by ignorance,failure, poverty and self loathing : human being born to be destroyed.

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Brussels, Belgium
Née à Bruxelles, mère résistante et sculpteur, père homme d’affaires, études à l ’Université libre de Bruxelles ( Philosophie et Lettres ; arts primitifs), puis à Harvard ( anthropologie), Rutgers New Brunswick, Duke University .N.C. USA ( littérature comparée, Masters et Doctorat.) Thèse publiée (Ph.D) sur Valéry et Mallarmé. Enseignement universitaire aux USA, en France (Aix en Provence) et au Liban (comme coopérant) ,littérature et philosophie , en français ou anglais. Mariée en premières noces à un avocat américain G.Robert Wills et puis à un peintre et publiciste Français, Jean- Pierre Rhein (décédé). La plupart des publications sous le nom de Wills.Vit à Bruxelles.