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Posts Tagged ‘france’

Book Review: The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

Young African man peaking around a door.Summary:
Dawit is a twenty year old Ethiopian refugee hiding out illegally in Paris and barely surviving.  One day he runs into the elderly, famous French writer, M., in a cafe.  Utterly charmed by him and how he reminds her of her long-lost lover she had growing up in Africa, she invites him to come live with her.  But Dawit is unable to give M. what she wants, leading to dangerous conflict between them.

Review:
This starts out with an interesting chance meeting in a cafe but proceeds to meander through horror without much of a point.

Although in the third person, we only get Dawit’s perspective, and although he is a sympathetic character, he sometimes seems not entirely well-rounded.  Through flashbacks we learn that he grew up as some sort of nobility (like a duke, as he explains to the Romans).  His family is killed and imprisoned, and he is eventually helped to escape by an ex-lover and makes it to Paris.  This is clearly a painful story, but something about Dawit in his current state keeps the reader from entirely empathizing with him.  He was raised noble and privileged, including boarding schools and learning many languages, but he looks down his nose at the French bourgeois, who, let’s be honest, are basically the equivalent of nobility.  He judges M. for spending all her money on him instead of sending it to Ethiopia to feed people, but he also accepts the lavish gifts and money himself.  Admittedly, he sends some to his friends, but he just seems a bit hypocritical throughout the whole thing.  He never really reflects on the toppling of the Emperor in Ethiopia or precisely how society should be ordered to be better.  He just essentially says, “Oh, the Emperor wasn’t all that bad, crazy rebels, by the way, M., why aren’t you donating this money to charity instead of spending it on me? But I will tooootally take that cashmere scarf.” Ugh.

That said, Dawit is still more sympathetic than M., who besides being a stuck-up, lazy, self-centered hack also repeatedly rapes Dawit.  Yeah. That happened. Quite a few times.  And while I get the point that Kohler is making (evil old colonialists raping Ethiopians), well, I suppose I just don’t think it was a very clever allegory.  I’d rather read about that actually happening.

In spite of being thoroughly disturbed and squicked out by everyone in the story, I kept reading because Kohler’s prose is so pretty, and I honestly couldn’t figure out how she’d manage to wrap everything up.  What point was she going to make?  Well, I got to the ending, and honestly the ending didn’t do it for me.  I found it a bit convenient and simplistic after the rest of the novel, and it left me kind of wondering what the heck I just spent my time reading.

So, clearly this book rubbed me the wrong way, except for the fact that certain passages are beautifully written.  Will it work for other readers?  Maybe.  Although the readers I know with a vested interest in the effects of colonialism would probably find the allegory as simplistic as I did.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Counts For:
Specific country? Ethiopia. South African author.

Book Review: Farewell by Honore de Balzac

February 21, 2011 1 comment

Picture of BalzacSummary:
Philip, a colonel in the military, lost his love Genevieve in Siberia when retreating from the Russians.  Years later, he randomly stumbles upon her in a country house with her uncle, having lost her mind from her horrible experiences in Siberia with the military after they lost each other.  She is only capable of saying one word.  “Farewell.”

Review:
I decided to read a Balzac work due to a reference in the musical The Music Man.  The elderly ladies of the town think the librarian is scandalous because she keeps works of Balzac in the library.  Clearly I needed to know what all the fuss was about, so I decided to see for myself.

My first instinct is that this classic work of tragedy shouldn’t actually be that scandlous, which perhaps was the point in The Music Man.  These elderly ladies are *so* ridiculous to object to Balzac.  In any case, however, in retrospect I can see what is so shocking.  The incredible weakness of mind and character demonstrated by both Philip and Genevieve are both irritating and depressing.  I’m not sure what point Balzac was trying to make, but all I could think was that both of them needed to man up.

That’s not to say the book isn’t well-written though.  The translation is lovely, and I’m sure in the original French it is even prettier.  Just imagining Genevieve only being able to say “Adieu” sounds prettier than “Farewell.”  The scenes are vividly described, and the reader is certainly engaged.

Overall, it is a well-told tragedy that suffers a bit from weak characterization.  I recommend it to fans of tragedies and classic French literature.

3.5 out of 5

Source: Audible app for the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad

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Movie Review: The Dinner Game (1998) France Le diner de cons

Cartoon drawing of a dinner table with a photo of a man sitting in the chair.Summary:
Pierre and his friends have a recurring dinner party where they each bring an idiot.  The person who brings the best idiot wins.  Pierre is excited that he may have finally found a winner in Pierre–a government worker who makes models out of matchsticks and talks about them incessantly.  However, he throws his back out the night of the party, and his wife walks out on him, leaving him at the hands of the bumbling Francois.

Review:
This is the French movie that is being remade/Americanized into Dinner for Schmucks, which is being released this summer.  This is what led me to watch it, and I must say I don’t know why I always forget how much I enjoyed the foreign films I watched in university.  They’re such a fun way to immerse yourself in another culture.

The Dinner Game plays with that classic light-handed touch often found in French films.  The wit is sly, not heavy-handed.  The jokes build slowly, rather like American black-and-white classic films.

I found it delightful that the writers made the choice to make Pierre basically an unredeemable douchebag who you still end up sympathizing with.  It takes talent to pull that off, and it is done quite smoothly.

The movie is quite short, though, ringing in at only 81 minutes.  I wanted it to last longer!  Additionally, the ending was rather sudden.  People who don’t like to left guessing won’t enjoy that part of it.  I also felt the set-up took a bit long, particularly given the length of the film.

If you enjoy light-handed wit and a good character study, you will enjoy this film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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