Duras, in an afterword, explains that this present book was written as a kind of appendage to and reworking of a movie she'd made, The Children. Short and pregnant with silence, as Duras's work tends to be, it's the story of an immigrant Italian welfare- family living in the Paris suburb of Vitry--a poor and illiterate family whose purity of heart squeezes up a prodigy, the oldest son, Ernesto. Ernesto, like all the other kids of the family, is unschooled--but all of a sudden he's begun to teach himself to read. When he does try school, he leaves after ten days because of the teacher's understandably confounded refusal to teach him ``what he already knows.'' This gnomic utterance is the backbone of the book, which proceeds in mostly screenplayish dialogue--and quickly becomes a one-note tune: a political/mystical argument for innate knowledge over modernity. The immigrant family is a unit of natural poetry against which all the conventions of contemporary life are as nothing (a newish French left shibboleth). There is, too, for Duras's fans, a small incest theme--without which, since the popular The Lover (1985), Duras rarely leaves home. Slight and silly and adrip with intellectual attitude.