A rich, masterful study of modern France – its politics, national characteristics, and people.
The author’s 30 years of experience reporting on France and his marriage to a Frenchwoman have prepared him well for describing contemporary French life in all its facets. Fenby (editor of the South China Morning Post, and formerly a reporter for Reuters and the Economist, among others) shows a facility for combining narrative, anecdote, and analysis. He provides the historical context needed to take a critical look at France today by making frequent reference to its foundations in the French Revolution and the turbulent 19th century, and he examines how the nation survived the dissolution of its Third Republic and the Nazi collaboration of its Vichy regime. Postwar political figures loom large in the rebuilding of France (de Gaulle) and in its modernization (Giscard d’Estaing, Mitterrand, and Chirac). This modernization is increasingly an Americanization the French are loath to acknowledge but from which they cannot turn away. Like Germany, France has successfully melded the old world with the new. This coexistence of opposites – McDonald’s and Disney alongside the classic café and the Louvre – has transformed the nature of French life. Small family businesses are giving way to supermarkets and megastores run by national or multinational chains. Yet as the French adjust to the quick meal on the run or the divorced family, they are steadfast in their love for their sumptuous cuisine and traditional family life. Regionalism, racism, and corruption must be resolved if France is to remain influential. Reform in economics and politics has come slowly to a country with frequent massive labor strikes and political demonstrations that all but paralyze daily life. France’s leaders must find a way to exploit what is most useful in American-style modernization while promoting the national traits most worthy of preservation.
A better guide than Fenby could hardly be found to weigh the opportunities and dangers that face France in the coming century.