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Posts from the ‘French’ Category


Un vie: Simone Veil



  1. The biography of Simone Veil is impressive.
  2. She survived the Holocaust and rose to the high echelons of
  3. French judiciary, minister of health in French government,
  4. President of European Parliament and  member of l’Academie française.
  5. In the book Veil mentions many key French political players in the past:
  6. Pompidou, Sarkozy, Giscard, Mitterrand, Chirac and Raymond Barre.
  7. Strong point:  Simone Veil tells us about her family, childhood in Nice.
  8. Her deportation to concentration camps lingers as the most poignant part of the book.
  9. Veil recalls a Polish Kapo (female guard) saved her life by helping Simone
  10. and her mother and sister to stay alive.
  11. This woman who has been a mystery all of Veil’s life told her:
  12. «Tu es trop belle pour mourir ici…»
  13. You are to beautiful to die here.
  14. Simone Veil dedicated the book to her family…
  15. Yvonne, her mother, died in Bergen-Belsen
  16. Her father André Jacob and her brother  Jean, assassinated in Lithuania.

Last thoughts:

  1. I knew nothing about Simone Veil
  2. …but my first words after finishing the book were;
  3. “What a woman.”
  4. The first and last part of the book (childhood, deportation – retirement)
  5. were the best sections of the book.
  6. The political references (middle section) will speak to people
  7. …who have  more ‘inside information’…about France’s past governments.
  8. If I compare this book to Ravensbrück by Germaine Tillion….I would
  9. have to give Tillion the better marks for writing.
  10. Un Vie  bothered me a little bit….
  11. Un Vie is sober.
  12. Veil writes free from exaggeration or speculation.
  13. She he told us the sober truth…yet plein de tristesse.
  14. If you want to really experience what life was like for a women
  15. ….in Hitler’s WW II concentration camps….read Tillion’s book
  16. Ravensbrück ….plein  de vie, plein d’élan, plein de resistance.
  17. It will haunt you….as it does me.


State funeral for Simone Veil  July 2017:

French Republican guards carry the coffin of French politician and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil during a a tribute ceremony in the courtyard of the Invalides in Paris, France, on July 5, 2017.
Holocaust survivors are joining France’s president and European dignitaries at a special memorial ceremony for Simone Veil, who rose from the horrors of Nazi death camps to become president of the European Parliament and one of France’s most revered politicians.


Une femme à Berlin


Marta Hillers:

  1. German Journalist Marta Hillers was born on 26th May, 1911 in Krefeld, Germany.
  2. She died on 16th Jun 2001 Basel, Switzerland aged 90.
  3. She is most remembered for A Woman in Berlin.
  4. Marta  studied at the Sorbonne.
  5. She traveled throughout Europe and Russia.
  6. Hillers was fluent in French and Russian.
  7. She was in the position of a ‘mediator’ in some situations during the war.
  8. She is in Berlin during the occupation by the Red Army.
  9. This book is a summation of her notes 20 April – 22 June 1945.



  1. Any recollection of a war experience is impressive.
  2. Hillers  gives a an account of daily life in Berlin
  3. during the Soviet occupation.
  4. The most remarkable aspect of the book is Hillers’ point of view.
  5. She details the mass rape by the occupying forces
  6. …and how women choose a Soviet officer as protector.
  7. That was their best option in a bad situation.
  8. There were so many women who underwent treatment in Berlin
  9. after the Russians left……the doctors called it ‘rapports forcés’.
  10. Weak point: The writing feels restrained.
  11. There were very few descriptions of traumatic emotions.
  12. Hillers told us just about as much as she felt comfortable with.
  13. There are many people in this book based on
  14. friends, neighbors and work/study associates of Hillers.
  15. She took care to  conceal names
  16. combine aspects of  two people to build a new ‘person’…
  17. described her attic apartment as having  2 rooms in order to…
  18. conceal the description of the…
  19. larger living quarters she really had.
  20. She did not want the place to be recognized.
  21. Hillers controlled her emotions.
  22. “Je n’ai pas besoin de parler en
  23. peux cacher mes connaissances du russe….” (pg 326)
  24. On the last pages the author sums up her feelings:
  25. “From now on…nothing will easily shake or weaken me.” (pg 386)
  26. Désormais, plus rien ne parvient à m’ebranler aussi facilement.


  • The part of the book that
  • …impressed me the most was on page 283-284.
  • A young Russian officer asks Marta Hiller:
  • “Has anyone ever hurt you?
  • Est-ce qu’on vous  a fait du mal?”
  • She responds:
  • “Oui, monsieur, enfin vous comprenez.
  • C’est la guerre.
  • We will no longer speak of it
  • N’en parlons plus.”


Last thoughts:

  1. This is a book about the ‘raw side’ of life during WW II Berlin.
  2. I think that has played an important part in the  many 5 star reviews.
  3. The book sweeps the reader into a war torn Berlin from a female POV.
  4. There are better books written about war.
  5. I would recommend Vasily Grossman’s
  6. A Writer at War : a Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945
  7. Grossman does not sugarcoat the Red Army’s actions…
  8. and adds his poignant and at times critical commentary
  9. …he had as war correspondent.


  1. The book was first published in English in 1954 in the United States
  2. …was published anonymously.
  3. When it was published in Germany in 1959, the author was
  4. accused of “besmirching the honor of German women.
  5. Hillers refused to have another edition published in her lifetime.
  6. The  book was published posthumously in Germany in 2003
  7. ….again anonymously.
  8. It met wide critical acclaim and was on the bestseller list for weeks.
  9. A controversy broke out when a literary editor revealed the author as Hillers.





  • Keeping the celebration simple!
  • A good French wine….
  • Boeuf Bourguignon and
  • …and home-made Clafoutis avec cerises!
  • Vive la France!






Paris in July: French composer Darius Milhaud

  1. Paris in July  hosted by  Thyme for Tea officially starts!
  2. You can join the challenge here.
  3. My exposure to French music or French composers is virtually nil.
  4. I have  a  serious deficit and I  am setting out to repair it.
  5. I thought I would look into  music by a modern  French composer.
  6. I stumbled on an article about Darius Milhaud (1892 – 1974).
  7. He is  considered one of the key modernist composers.


  1. Darius Milhaud  (1892 – 1974) was a French composer.
  2. Born in Marseille to a Jewish family from Aix-en-Provence.
  3. In 1925, Milhaud married his cousin, Madeleine (1902–2008), an actress and reciter.
  4. The invasion of France by Nazi Germany forced the Milhauds to leave France in 1940
  5. They emigrated to the United States .
  6. He secured a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California.
  7. The jazz pianist Dave Brubeck  and Burt Bacharach are some of
  8. …Milhaud’s most famous students.
  9. On a trip to New York  City Darius Milhaud
  10. …heard “authentic” jazz for the first time  on the streets of Harlem.
  11. Here is an impressive list of his compositions.

  1. I have never heard of Mihaud ….as I think many of us do not recognize the name.
  2.  This ‘Suite Provençale” is  based on old folk tunes and ‘polished’ by Milhaud.
  3. It is a celebration of his beloved ‘La Provence.’  (1 min 45 sec)


  • I listened to his famous La Creation de Monde (1923)
  • it was written after a visit to the jazz clubs of Harlem.
  • It will suprise you.
  • The first 3 minutes I thought…blah, blah
  • once you reach the 4 minute mark the music shows
  • Milhaud’s  jazz-classical mélange that
  • …Gershwin employed in “Rhapsody in Blue.
  • It is uplifting, toe-tapping.  I didn’t expect that!
  • So if you have the time….have a cup of coffee…slow down and listen.
  • It’s French….c’est merveilleux!



Balzac: Les Chouans

  • Author: H. Balzac (1799-1850)
  • Title: Les Chouans
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Published: 1829
  • Language: French
  • Themes:  love vs duty  (Royalists vs Républicans)
  • Setting: Brittany France

What is the story about?

  1. Balzac uses the guerilla warfare of  ‘La Chouannerie’  (1794-1800)
  2. ….as the backdrop in this novel.
  3. Les Chouans from Brittany are supporters of the King.
  4. This story depicts a monarchist Brittany in rebellion
  5. …against the revolutionary national government of 1799.
  6. This work heralded the creation of a new type of historical novel
  7.  Balzac reveals historical narratives by
  8. creating  characters or “types” in the place of known historical figures.
  9. Les Chouans  is also a love story at heart (romantique à souhaite)
  10. …filled with seduction in mousseline dresses, spies, lies and revenge.
  11. And….what a love story it is!
  12. Motif: a phrase repeated several times by both lovers:
  13. ‘un jour sans lendemain’ (pg. 217, 231, 393)
  14. ..’a day without a morrow‘ sets the tone in this drama.


  1. Marie-Nathalie de VERNEUIL : Républicain, spy for the national government, 26 yr.
  2. M. de Montauran: (nickname ‘Le Gars’) Young aristocratic leader of Les Chouans.
  3. M.Corentin: Secret agent for Républicain police, 22 yr.
  4. Comtesse  du Gua: Chouanne adventurer with a tumultuous past!
  5. M. Hurlot: Républican commander for the  ‘blues’ in Bretagne, 33 yr.
  6. Marche-a-Terre: (nickname): Chouan – young fighter, Pierre Leroi.
  7. Pille-miche: (nickname) : Chouan  young fighter, Jean Cibot.



  1. The book begins with a deluge of descriptions of the green and verdant road leading
  2. from Fougères to Ernée in Brittany France.
  3. I thought …when will he start the story?
  4. Then before I knew it  I was in the middle of an ambush
  5. …Les Chouans vs Les Républicans with the
  6. clicks of swords and howls of hand to hand combat!
  7. I had to get used to the frenzied action that ended
  8. …in powerful  dialogue  that suprises the reader!
  9. Strong point: Balzac makes the past visible…in your mind!
  10. ‘La Chouannerie’ is a  civil war in French history that
  11. …I would never have read about…had it not been for Balzac!
  12. Strong point: local color and realistic details  –
  13. …Balzac was a great admirer James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans).
  14. In the first chapter Balzac describes ‘Les Gars’ (the insurgents of Brittany) as ‘Mohicans.”….sauvagues …. à la manière dont les Mohicans.”
  15. Difficult point: I accept the extra work reading french (looking up words).
  16. But this book adds another dimension to the situation.
  17. Balzac writes a novel drenched in historical facts.
  18. That means….even more work!
  19. Difficult point: the characters have nicknames and at times use
  20. …false names….as if I wasn’t confused enough!
  21. Strong point: Balzac saves the best for last…my favoirte chapter was 31
  22. Sweeping in scope and intrigue…..
  23. …and  a passionate  tête-a-tête between lovers.
  24. I couldn’t stop reading and forgot time and place.
  25. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
  26. Read it in English…and discover  Balzac’s perfect description
  27. of the powerful  men in government.
  1. Last thoughts:
  2. I’ve been reading French intensively for the past 5 years.
  3. I read Zola’s Rougon-Macquart 20 novels in French….
  4. ….but haven’t really made Balzac a priority in the past.
  5. Having read Les Chouans I can understand why Zola
  6. …considered Balzac as a role-model for
  7. …his writing project Rougon-Macquart!

  1. I am starting the La Comédie Humaine reading list.
  2. Some say Balzac’s early books are not considered his  best writing.
  3. He only gets better!
  4. This book written 188 years ago is 
  5. in my opinion better than…
  6. Pulitzer Prize winner 1972, Angle of Repose!
  7. But remember W. Stegner’s book  is also a ‘classic’
  8. and you should read it andn decide for yourself.
  9. If you want to read Balzac…
  10. I recommend the Kindle Collected Works of Balzac Delphi Classics.
  11. You have all Balzac’s writings in one book + very reasonable price!
  12. Delphi’s book also contains a list of the characters (handy for quick reference).
  13. Time to read the more classics!

Balzac by Rodin:


What is La Comédie Humaine?

  1. This is the title of Balzac’s   multi-volume
  2. …collection of interlinked novels and stories.
  3. Each novel contains a single story that may be read for itself.
  4. At the same time, each story is linked to the whole.
  5. Short stories make up over half La Comédie humaine.
  6. There are also short narratives as guides to human behaviour:
  7. Code des gens honnêtes and the Physiologie du mariage.
  8. Balzac spent ten years imitating Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels
  9. …before turning into an entirely different sort of writer.
  10. Balzac became the chronicler of the here and now.
  11. Balzac  became “the secretary of French society,” as he put it himself.
  12. La Comédie Humaine is  a study of manners which forms society at large.
  13. Private – Provincial – Parisian – Political – Military – Country.

Passagère du Silence

  • Author: Fabienne Verdier
  • Title: Passagère du Silence
  • Published: 2003


In 1985, at 22, Fabienne Verdier left for China to study at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing. She devoted 10 years of her life in China to follow the ardous study needed to master calligraphy.
This book takes the reader on her journey trying to ‘fit in’, making herself heard (language barrier) and finally learning from her maître Huang not only the essence of painting…but of  life.
“Nourish your spirit not only through ‘book knowledge’ (connaissance livresque)…but more importantly. Nourish your spirit through
the reality that surrounds you, your dreams your memories.”
After becoming the first foreign woman to be awarded a post-graduate diploma in fine arts by the institute, Verdier began to create her own new abstract painting.

Desk where she works in solitude to prepare her paintings.


She uses large Chinese brushes to draw, that are mounted to an iron beam that hangs from the ceiling high studio 12 meter. The brushes are made by horse’s tails and they absorb a large amount of color. It is a real body dance where all the movements are smooth and graceful.



  1. This book is about an amazing woman who dared to achieve her dream.
  2. Calligraphy is a passage of silence.
  3. In Verdier’s quest for silence she attempted to
  4. …find the fundamental unity of the universe and mystical beauty. (ch 12)
  5. The training was rigorous. Her maîtres were demanding.
  6. She spent months just drawing horizontal lines.
  7. When she asked to paint with color….she was told no.
  8. She must first learn that in monochrome, ‘l’encre de Chine’ there are
  9. a million and one lights of the universe.
  10. After I finished this book …I slept a deep, deep sleep.
  11. It was the strangest effect the book had on me.
  12. I have struggled for many years to learn French, reading and reading for hours.
  13. One piece of advice maître Huang gave
  14. …Fabienne Verdier resonnated in me:
  15. Stop thinking, wanting, calculating. Don’t force yourself or try to extract something
  16. out of yourself (master the French language, in my case…) at all costs.
  17. Go outside, talk to a bird, regret nothing…that should be your inspiration.
  18. Then and only then…will you create art.



MONET Monet-Mer_agitée_à_Etretat-MBA-Lyon

  • Author: G. Geoffry
  • Title: Claude Monet, Sa Vie,  Son Oeuvre (1840-1889)
  • Published: 1920

L’ impressionnisme:

  1. présence de la nature vivante
  2. souffles de ciel
  3. chansons apaisées des criques roze
  4. frissionant des feuillages
  5. fuite de mer changeante
  6. Monet ai inventé la mer,
  7. …les rthymes, les reflets infinis et son mouvement.
  8. Last thoughts:
  9. Art gives us what we are missing…
  10. L’art nous apport ce qui nous manquait !


  1. The book serves its purpose…depending on
  2. what you are looking for.
  3. 50% of the book is filled with 195 reproductions. = beautiful
  4. The rest of the book is more about the reception (art critics, Salons)
  5. of Monet’s chef d’oeuvres.
  6. If you are looking for a book about ‘the man’ Monet
  7. this is not the one you should read.
  8. I keep searching for a good biography…of Monet.

MONET 3d798c3ee48940172b78c9a29667c363


Outside: papiers d’un jour

  • Author: M Duras
  • Title: Outside: papiers d’un jour
  • Published: 1980
  • Language: French

April 10, 2017

  • First 12 stories: I liked only 3!
  • 6 stories had ‘no real point, message’….just blah, blah.
  • 2 stories were too academic…way over my head.
  • 1 story was disgusting (Paris abattoirs, animals) just stopped reading, jick!

April 11, 2017

  • 12 stories and I liked only 3! (about literature and politics)
  • 2: no point, Duras talks in circles (traffic policeman and
  • artist Jeanick Ducot)
  • 3: interviews: 2 with children and one adult (boring)
  • 2: description of Paris on 05 August 1958;  next story was
  • about her village Neauphle-le-Château
  • that has 1 café, 1 jukebox…and closes early.
  • 2: old woman visits same bar every night since 1914;
  • girl and boy walking home to metro. (so-so)

April 12, 2017

  • “I’ve read 30 stories….and am NOT impressed.
  • M. Duras does not excel in writing non-fiction.
  • Her fiction prose influenced by her exotic childhood in Gia-Dinh
  • (a former name for Saigon, Vietnam)…is much, much better.
  • I will put this book on the ‘back burner’ for a few days
  • and see if it is worth finishing.


  1. I read 40 stories of the 116 selections;
  2. Duras has the gift of  a snow-job.
  3. Her style is so fluent you think she will
  4. express great thoughts
  5. ….yet she just confuses the reader.
  6. Many stories I read were interviews.
  7. We hear Duras’s questions….but answers from
  8. children, hoodlums, criminals and a carmelite nun.
  9. Boring.
  10. Last thoughts:
  11. I don’t easily give up ….but it’s
  12. time to close this book…and move on.

Dans la tête de Marine Le Pen

  • Author: M. Eltchaninoff
  • Title: Dan la tête de Marine Le Pen
  • Published: 2017
  • Table of contents: 194 pages


  1. Marine Le Pen retains the 4 pillars of Front National:
  2. land, people, life and myth.
  3. But FN is not the party formed by father Jean Le Penn years ago.
  4. Marine has morphed Front National
  5. …into a movement that is adapted to the 21st C.
  6. Strategie FN:
  7. Avoid all direct mention of xenophobia.
  8. Le Pen always speaks in code.
  9. Le Pen is understandable [gets her message out]
  10. But Le Pen is not attackable!
  11. Watch the next French presidential debate and
  12. …try to listen and “find her coded message”!
  13. Last thoughts:
  14. M. Eltchaninoff does an excellent job explaining in brief
  15. ‘la politique de la France’ with the emphasis
  16. on the rise of ‘la droite’ (extreme) 18th- 21th C.
  17. Will Marine Le Pen be the next leader of France?
  18. ‘ voix de la France résonne dans le monde quand
  19. …elle ne suit pas docilement les Étas-Unis.”
  20. Qui sait?

Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia

  • Author: M Duras
  • Title: Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia
  • Published: 1953
  • Language: French


1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
The group wants to visit Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia (pg 160 and 166, 217). Some members in the group must decide to ‘stay together’ or refuse to join the trip.

2. What is the predominant element in the story?
Setting: Oppressive heat, no wind, sun burning like a furnace influences the character’s mood.
There is no rain to quench this parched earth. The only escape is the sea.
There is a forest fire creeping slowly towards the village, a river that marks the dividing line for Sara (main character) between staying in a loveless marriage or crossing over to the other side and a new life.

3. Who is the single main character about. whom the story centres?
Sara is the main character.

4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. External – Sara is trying to overcome a personal crisis in her marriage.
b. Internal – Sara must choose: love with it’s ups and downs or the thrill of desire.

5. How is the conflict resolved?
Sara has difficulty saying what she thinks about her marriage. Finally she has reached a point of no return. Sara and Jacques decide to let each other be ‘free’.  If Sara returns to him…then he knows it was her choice.

6. How does the author handle characterisation?
a. Description – all the characters are nameless except for the members in the group. This is done to intensify the reader’s focus on these individuals.
Finally we know name ‘homme’ (Jean, pg 112, 172, 173) and nanny (Jeanne, pg 116) but Duras does not use the names in the rest of the story.
b. Conversation –  personalities emerge during  the conversation among SJGL.
Half way through the book Sara decides to say the truth for a change to her husband after being seduced by ‘homme’:  I feel like cheating (have an affair)….like you do!
Could this be the point of no return for Sara? (pg 114)

7. Who tells the story? What point of view is used?
a. Third person narrator

8. Where does the primary action take place?
Characters have been in the isolated Italian vacation village for two weeks when the book starts. They are lethargic, bored, and desperate for a cool breeze while spinning ice cubes in their drinks.

9. What is the season? time of day?
Torrid heat, sun burning like a furnace, summer vacation in isolated Italian village.

10. How much time does the story cover? timeline?
Four days

11. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
Sara and Jacques are waiting for their friends to arrive Gina and Ludi.
They always vacation with them.

12. Briefly describe the rising action of the story.
Slowly cracks are showing in this ‘group friendship.’ (pg 97) The tension increases when a mystery  man (homme) arrives in the village. He has his eye on Sara. She is swept away by the idea of being a object of desire.

13. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
After 3 days of seduction ‘homme’ waits for Sara to meet him for their night of love.

14. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
I’d rather not  reveal any information about this because it would spoil the story.

15. Does this story create any special mood?
Boredom of the characters drips off the pages….still I feel a ominous tension.
Friendship (in group) can be just as complicated as love (between partners).

16. Is this story realistic or true to life?
Love: Sara’s situation is universal: by getting what she most desires (the thrill of being object of desire for ‘homme’) she loses more than she gets.
Desire is for the moment, love is for a lifetime.
Friendship: Jacques describes their group think:
We are all fools, but we are endowed with the same stupidity, that’s why we get along well with each other. (pg 77)

17. Are the events  presented in flashback or in chronological order? (structure)
The book is divided into four parts representing four chronological days.
There was one strange flashback about the death of Sara’s brother. When he died so did her childhood (pg 54). It never connected to any part of the story. Very strange.

19. What is the general theme of the story?
Allow yourself the possibility of failure (Sara decision to yield to her desire or not).
Only then do you increase your chances of success (keeping her marriage together).

20. Did you identify with any of the characters?
‘l’homme’: I didn’t really have much interest in bored women on vacation (Sara, Diana and Gina).
I did feel  an intense interest for ‘homme’. He was 30 yr., nameless throughout the book, no face, no features. But he was a constant threat. Duras used this ‘suspense’ to keep the reader enthralled. Who is he? What is he planning to do?

24. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader?
The main character asks what is love?
“Love is an predetermined misfortune, you can’t escape it.” (pg 72)

25. Name one major personality trait of each leading character.
Sara does not say what she thinks. She conceals her feelings.

26. Does the story have a message? what was the purpose of the author ?
The effect of group membership on individual behavior.
At times it can feel oppressing (just like the hear), yet it can be the support you need at difficult times in your life.

27. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
a. Symbolism: The river: When Sara is kissed for the first time by ‘homme’ she sees the reflection on the river in his eyes.  The river represents the freedom Sara can have (leave a loveless marriage) if she only dares to let go and flow with the river.
b. Motif: Bitter Campari. The pervasive consumption of alcohol throughout the story (mentioned 50 x) sharpens the feeling of boredom, emptiness  during the vacation. As Diana says:
“C’est la magique!” (pg 48)
c. Irony: Sara refuses an invitation for a boat ride, she wants to consult with the group. (pg 29). Ironically on pg 76 she says  ‘l’homme’ should think and do what he wants! This is an important element in the story group vs individual.

There is NO action…only and exchange of thoughts, feelings, desires and fears.
Yet I read every page.
Duras describes the monotonous vacation days of 4 middle age adults.
Each part has these basic scenes: vacation  bungalow, swim at the beach, drinks at the hotel and back to the bungalow.
Strong point: the tension Duras created around ‘mystery man, Sara’s eagerness to go on his boat (even though she cannot swim) and her four year old child (mystery man takes a strong interest in the young boy).
Weak point: subplot about an elderly couple who refuse to sign son’s death certificate. This part of the story felt out of place with the rest of the  languid mood.