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FIREWORKS AT DUSK by Olivier Bernier

FIREWORKS AT DUSK

Paris in the Thirties

By Olivier Bernier

Pub Date: March 18th, 1993
ISBN: 0-316-09275-4
Publisher: Little, Brown

 An informed and fascinating survey of Paris's hectic decade before the Nazi occupation, highlighting the contrast between the glittering culture and the collapsing civilization. Bernier (Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood, 1989, etc.) takes on the challenging task of sorting out the threads of the confusing political, social, economic, and aesthetic fabric of a society that in some ways was at its peak and, in others, was near dissolution. The title refers to ``the last great assertion of European (and French) cultural and social superiority''--an excellence in fashion (Schiaparelli), art (Picasso, Mir¢, Dali), literature (Gide, Malraux), and diplomacy (Elsa Maxwell and US Ambassador William Bullitt). But Paris, the most powerful cultural center in Europe, enjoying a peace and prosperity that were rapidly disappearing in other parts of the world, also offered a special style of life, glamorous and pleasure-oriented--a society of costume balls, nightclubs, theaters, opera; a world of display and innovation that included everything from autos to yo-yos. The ``other Paris'' of the music hall (Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier), brothels, and sidewalk cafÇs was equally festive, providing escape from the poverty, alienation, unemployment, class conflict, and political despair that afflicted the masses. Those who cared periodically but ineffectually rioted over the political corruption, while an inept government became an easy target for the Nazis, with whom some French aristocrats had been socializing. Poignant and incisive, Bernier, with a journalist's eye for meaningful detail, captures this confused era when the City of Light, at its brightest, was overcome by a political darkness from which it never recovered. (Thirty b&w photographs--not seen.)