The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

This skillful, puzzling, deceptive book about deceptive people starts with a clever feint. We’re trying to locate our absent father. Mother never wanted us to know anything about him, but she’s gone now. The clues are scarce. We hire a private investigator, but even the expert urges us to give up. The story, it turns out, has nothing at all to do with our missing father, but we’re going to see a lot of that shamus.

February 3, 2018 (permalink)


What’s hard to imagine about the aftermath of the Occupation, and what Beevor captures wonderfully, is the extent to which everything seems to have been improvised at the last minute. Everyone was terrified that they’d be accused of collaborating; everyone who stayed, after all, had in some sense collaborated. No one knew whether the Occupation would be replaced by a new Allied Occupation or by something else — and if the latter, whether something else would be a new republic or the old one.

Someday, Trump will be gone. It makes sense to think about how we can restore our damaged land.

The other fascinating argument this close look at Paris after the war makes is that these years were necessarily a response to the failure that became Vichy, and that the response itself was a failure. Rather than address the legacy of the war, France (after some years of toying with Communism and related dithering) chose to adopt a comforting myth, and to adhere to that myth until it collapsed in the wake of 1968. Beevor thinks 1968, too, was a failure. Most people do. But 1968 transformed the way way think; the triumph of rock and irony, the rise of postmodernism, liberation theology are all built on the foundation of 1968.

1968 gave us, in the end, the collapse of the Iron Curtain. It also gave us truthiness and Trump. We’re still living in the ruins.

February 2, 2018 (permalink)


Codex
Lev Grossman

An early book by the author of The Magicians, this thriller thrusts a timid and rather bored young Wall Street broker into the race to locate a mysterious ancient book. There’s an immersive video game in the mix, too — one that seems peculiarly tailored to the pursuit of this tome, and there’s an icy but beautiful young scholar, a beguiling duchess, and a rent-controlled Manhattan apartment. A castle, too. What’s not here, unfortunately, is the wonderful mix of street grit and wonder that occasionally illuminates The Magicians; too often, this is just an American Possession without the scholarship.+

January 17, 2018 (permalink)