THE WHEAT AND THE CHAFF by FranÇois Mitterand
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The president of France has a well-founded (if also well-cultivated) reputation as a man of letters who would just as soon retire with a French classic as attend an affair of state. This translation of two volumes of Mitterand's occasional diary-like jottings covers the years 1971-78, when he was Socialist leader (and thus ends three years before he beat Giscard d'Estaing, on his second try). The jottings run the gamut from meditations on the state of his country garden to accounts of his visits to Israel and meetings there with Labor Party luminaries. (Mitterand was impressed with the Israelis' tenacity but frustrated with the furor--in the Israeli and French press--over his combination of support for Israel and concern for the future of the Palestinians.) In between, there is Mitterand's claim that he was giving little thought to the ailing Georges Pompidou's health on the night he learned of his death--and his laconic report on the 40-day campaign that followed, and led to his defeat by Giscard. (The terse comment: ""I felt in harmony with myself and with history."") There is also the recurrent theme of his cautious relations with Communists, French or otherwise. During these years, Mitterand maneuvered his party into a dominant relationship with his left-wing rivals, and his evident distrust of them is punctuated by his distaste for the Moscow and Lisbon varieties as well. Mitterand notes a meeting with Brezhnev, for instance, at which the Soviet leader railed against the German threat, while Mitterand queried him on the need for Soviet missiles pointed at Europe's cities. (At the same time, he told then-Secretary of State Kissinger that he didn't lose any sleep over France's withdrawal from NATO.) Interspersed are Mitterand's judgments on matters of taste: Berlioz doesn't touch his heart; Malraux's postwar writings disappoint him; a novel by Regis Debray he finds good enough to recommend. Among the figures he greatly admires--apart from Golda Meir and his Socialist predecessors Juares and Blum--are Zola, Neruda, and the Greek composer Theodorakis. All this may not add up to much--but it is set clown with grace, and makes for generally attractive reading: exceptional reading, given the source.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Seaver/Lattes