Monthly Archives: July 2019

“Paris, 7 A.M.: A Novel,” by Liza Wieland

  • Simon & Schuster.  352 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

A riveting re-imagining of poet Elizabeth Bishop’s WWII-era sojourn in France.

The magnificent Paris, 7 A.M. is clearly announced as a work of fiction, which gives it a different kind of accountability than if marketed as a biography. Still, the idiosyncratic narrative is so compelling in its details, characterizations, and settings that one must wonder what is invented and what, if anything, is misrepresented for convenience.

If it were a biography, readers might ask why the real-life poet Elizabeth Bishop seems to be celebrating her European tour following graduation from Vassar a couple of years later than her actual 1934 graduation. 

Perhaps she awaited the availability of her friends so that they could share the experience.

Friendships, acquaintanceships, and — more generally — useful connections are important in defining Elizabeth, and the namedropping in the book is certainly flavorful. One connection is the already established poet Marianne Moore (“Miss Moore”), whose mother is an influence as well for the waif-like Elizabeth, who hardly knows her own parents.

Elizabeth crosses the Atlantic on a German ship with her friend Hallie, and they await other Vassar girls: notably Margarite Miller, the young painter who lost one hand in an accident and who rebuffed Elizabeth’s overtures of love; and risk-taking Louise Crane, who seems the most outgoing of the group and whose mother co-founded New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Eventually, Paris indoctrinates the friends into the offerings of that city and its surroundings.

If there is a word to capture the essence of Elizabeth’s personality, it is reticence. She manages to distract herself from confronting, let alone expressing, her strongest feelings. She douses expectations. She belittles her fledgling avocation as a poet. She numbs herself, again and again, with alcohol.

Loneliness is her constant state, magnificently explored by author Liza Wieland.

Liza Wieland photo by Donna Kain

Yet, as Wieland reveals in a series of well-timed, powerful scenes, Elizabeth has a great need for physical and emotional intimacy with other women — a need that, in the major sections of this book, is often frustrated. She is especially attracted to Sigrid, one of a trio of young German women working in Paris.

Elizabeth admires and is befriended by Clara Longworth de Chambrun, director of the American Library in Paris. The library, a plaything for this enormously wealthy woman, is a networking center for the vacationing and expatriate American community. Clara has connections with other important Americans, and she introduces Elizabeth to the legends: bookstore owner Sylvia Beach and salon hostess/author Natalie Barney. (At Beach’s store, Elizabeth reads her poem “Paris, 7 A.M.,” but the response is far from overwhelming.)

Clara is also Elizabeth’s guide to important places on the visitor’s tour. She treats Elizabeth like a daughter, a replacement for the daughter who had died some years past. There is an attraction as well as a troublesome tension between them. Clara cannot replace the mother Elizabeth never had. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  Paris, 7 A.M.

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Selfless, caring healer is found to be too good for this world

Jordan, by Victoria Landis. BookPainter Press. 355 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

Do you believe that certain exceptional people have supernatural powers? Healing powers? This novel might just convince you. It will certainly convince you that people who manifest such a gift are likely to be idolized, looked upon with suspicion, considered agents of the devil, exploited, and otherwise tormented. 

Petra Simmons and her younger brother Andy help an attractive young woman who seems disoriented and down on her luck; they try to be of assistance. The woman, they discover, has recently returned to her family after having been missing for three years. She does not feel comfortable with her family, and she has no memory. What she does have is the ability to heal by touching the ill, the crippled or the wounded. The speed of recover for these individuals seems to be influenced by their ethical dimensions. Good folks are more susceptible to her healing power that more mean-spirited ones.

The woman, who is named Jordan, is befriended by Petra, who provides Jordan with shelter and friendship. They form a strong bond. Before long, Andy falls in love with her.

Landis

Jordan has a special relationship with birds and other animals. They are sensitive to her special nature and, quite literally, flock to be near her.

Jordan’s memory stays blank for a long time, but her sense of her individuality is strong on many levels. She is driven to use her gift. She is also, at first, something of an innocent – but the ways in which she is perceived and treated test her good nature.

Her presence in Boca Raton, along with bits of fact and tons of rumor, go viral on the social media. People fight for a chance to see Jordan or, better yet, be healed by her. Others would rather denigrate her gift and her motives. Still others, often those already powerful and wealthy, would like to find ways to control her and take advantage of her for their own purposes. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 24, 2019 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 25 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach, and Venice editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Jordan

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“HATE: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What It Means for Us),” by Marc Weitzmann

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.
This time­ly and high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed study by a well-respect­ed French jour­nal­ist pro­vides new insight into the upsurge of anti­semitism in France. Some of the events dis­cussed will be famil­iar to read­ers because of their cov­er­age by the inter­na­tion­al media; many prob­a­bly will not. The var­i­ous roots of the cri­sis are explored and at once shown to be dis­tinc­tive and yet interwoven. 

Weitzmann’s vivid, prob­ing analy­sis rocks back and forth between the more obvi­ous strands and the cul­tur­al­ly com­plex. He explains why the explo­sion of anti­semitism in France should have been pre­dictable and why it nonethe­less, over decades, con­tin­ued to sur­prise. It has been a phe­nom­e­non under­stood in a vari­ety of ways accord­ing to one’s social, polit­i­cal, reli­gious, or cul­tur­al ori­en­ta­tion. He sug­gests that anti­semitism has been rip­ping this nation apart, and it is like­ly to be trans­plant­ed across Europe and beyond. The basic premise includes the dis­ap­pear­ance of the French colo­nial empire; the migra­tion of pop­u­la­tions from the for­mer empire’s colonies (Alge­ria in par­tic­u­lar) to France; and the con­di­tions of life for these immigrants.

Marc Weitzmann

The sto­ry of the Maghreb (North or North­west African) region of Mus­lim Arab pop­u­la­tions and their inter­ac­tion with west­ern cul­ture — and to some extent Soviet/​Russian cul­ture — fea­ture promi­nent­ly. As does the sto­ry of gov­ern­men­tal mis­takes; cyn­i­cal polit­i­cal manip­u­la­tion; scape­goat­ing; and the rapid-fire accel­er­a­tion of per­ceived insults into mur­der­ous revenge in which nobody wins for long and blame, quite improb­a­bly in most cas­es, finds its way to the Jews time and time again. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here:  Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France

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Racial tension threatens aircraft carrier, commander

No Salvation, by Jeffery Hess. Down & Out Books. 312 pages. Trade paperback $18.95.

The USS Salvation is a huge aircraft carrier that is part of a fleet patrolling in the South China Sea during the final months of the Vietnam War. It is a perfect microcosm setting, a floating island of tedium, outrage, hostility, pain, fear, and overworked bravado. It is 1972, and racial tension is high: perhaps nowhere higher than on a pressure-cooker at sea where the sailors are virtually imprisoned by the nature of the wartime situation. 

It’s been a long time since anyone has left the carrier.

That racial tension and its accompanying violence have become a major problem is no secret to the ship’s captain. He has decided to make his new Executive Office (XO) an up-and-coming commander named Robert Porter, who is one of the most carefully drawn major characters in the book and perhaps the one most likely to receive the reader’s sympathy, the linchpin for tamping down hostilities.

Perhaps chosen less for his illustrious record than for the fact that he is Afro-American, Porter immediately finds himself in a difficult position. His very success as an officer who has pleased his white superiors has pegged him as an “Uncle Tom,” with all the baggage that such a label conveys.

Black sailors, including those with some rank, have been sabotaging the ship’s overall effectiveness. They seem to be ready for an internal war with their white shipmates – and, indeed, they mount a most unpeaceful demonstration to demand equal treatment equal to that of the whites.

Hess

The ship has other problems. Drug use is rampant and the source of an unofficial economy among the abusers and the dealers. The ship’s cobbler runs the narcotic business and related ventures.

Mr. Hess has given himself a complex challenge, that of bringing readers close to the reality of this enormous vessel and the huge number of individuals who keep it functioning, both technically and as a complex amalgam of duties, skills, backgrounds, and personalities. He has done a marvelous job, though readers will find their memories tested by the large number of characters, their stake in the enterprise, and the astounding size of their temporary home in a physical structure that contains so many levels, so much task-specific work space, living spaces for four thousand men, and dangers. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 10, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Venice, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – No Salvation

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“Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading”

By Alan Gribben. NewSouth Books. 328 pp.  Oversized hardcover $45.00.

This astonishing portrait proves the iconic author was a committed bookworm. 

The immense Mark Twain’s Literary Resources, requiring two more volumes for completion, is a model of disciplined, lively, and monumental literary scholarship. It is an expansion of Alan Gribben’s Mark Twain’s Library, originally published in 1980. This first effort was already a momentous work, but over the decades, new information has come to light that the author has now included, along with updated commentary. The additional volumes are expected later this year.

Though Samuel Clemens, as Mark Twain, often projected the persona of a somewhat noble savage, he was, in fact, a voracious book collector and reader, as well as a committed annotator of books.

Alan Gribben

He helped create libraries. He moved collections from one home to another. He lived in his books and was influenced by them. He learned about his world, past historical periods, literary classics, and the craft of writing through his adventures as a reader.

It is great fun to join Gribben as he puts us into this significant part of Twain’s life. While much of Gribben’s work is the bedrock business of fact-collecting, the delights come from his many ways of exploring for his readers what Twain’s collected reading means in understanding the classic American author as a man, a creative force, and as both an appreciator and detractor of the writings of others.

One strand of excitement for readers is Gribben’s discussion of Twain’s relationship with the eminent man of letters William Dean Howells, whose comments about Twain being an “unliterary” literary man held sway until they were slowly revealed to be false.

Twain himself enjoyed painting himself as an infrequent reader, but over decades the truth of his addiction to books — of many kinds — became indisputable. Why the charade? Was it to tamp down expectations?

First in his personal life, and later in his public life, Twain demonstrated a penchant for reading aloud. For him, the voicing of an author’s words was essential for full understanding and enjoyment. At his urging, he and his wife, Olivia, read to one another at the end of the day. Twain encouraged such activity in social settings at which he would frequently be the center. He was, more and more, a showman as well and an author, and his skills in both areas were complementary.

Twain was a popular lecturer and literary performer. His readings drew audiences, amplified as they were with comments on the text he voiced. Perhaps his favorite author to read aloud was Robert Browning, the study and performance of whose dramatic monologues may have helped Twain develop the right pattern of emphasis, pace, and tonality for creating the voices of his fictional characters.

In poetry and prose, he loved to find the “illusion of talk.” He worked hard a perfecting his deliveries, and what he learned in the process informed his own writings. . . .

To explore the entire review, as published in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  Mark Twain’s Literary Resources

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