An American art historian now living part-time in France loves its cultural sensual pleasures (350 different cheeses! cool cathedrals!) but condemns French xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
Lipton has traversed some of this autobiographical and historical terrain before (Alias Olympia, 1993, etc.). Although she still has many sharp things to say about her parents—unkind Dad divorced plump Mom and married someone more svelte—her comments this time are more nuanced and forgiving. She credits her father, in fact, for her early passion for Paris. Although he had never been there, he showed young Eunice picture books and told her stories. Floating just below the sometimes-turbulent surface of her prose are memories of the physical attraction the author felt for her father. She realizes that all her lovers have resembled him—“lean, hard, elegant.” And she has plenty of praise left over for the French. They like to touch one another, linger over lunch and coffee, converse. They have a rich heritage in architecture, painting and literature, though she argues that nothing much is going on there today. (Even London is more artistically exciting!) They believe in equality—unless, of course, you’re dark or Muslim or Jewish or otherwise Other. Lipton repeatedly condemns her second homeland for its vile history, her theme emerging ever more prominently as the text progresses. She spends some pages on the Dreyfus Affair, blasts the French for their eagerness to accommodate the Nazis during World War II, says searing things about their current treatment of Muslims and their enduring anti-Semitism. In one effective section, she dissects the typically French attitudes of the Impressionists: They painted happy, appealing people picnicking and boating on sunny days, yet many of those painters, whom she so admired in her youth, were anti-Semites of the most appalling sort.
An attractive picture postcard with some hard words on the reverse.