PARIS IN THE FIFTIES by Stanley Karnow

PARIS IN THE FIFTIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Strong reporting and storytelling skills combine to make this remembrance of Paris past a fine read. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Karnow (Vietnam, A History, 1983, etc.) apprenticed as a writer in postwar Paris, working his way up through the local bureau of Henry Luce's magazine empire. His long dispatches were generally filed away or, if published, cut drastically. But Karnow kept his carbon copies; here he distills that 1,000 pages of reportage into a memoir that artfully blends carefully detailed immediacy with considered personal reflection. The first few chapters, in which Karnow describes struggling as a GI Bill student in Paris and his subsequent initiation into the character-filled milieu of the Paris-based foreign press, seem somewhat insubstantial; but they are really only the set-up for the series of incisive reports that follow. Once past the requisite recounting of encounters with celebrities (Audrey Hepburn dazzles, Ernest Hemingway disappoints), Karnow uncorks a string of impressively realized chapters devoted to a wide variety of topics. They include le monde (a.k.a. the world of Parisian fashionables) and also the demimonde of striptease artists, prostitutes, and criminals; the intellectual circles of ""the mandarins,"" and also the French passion for car racing; the gastronomic divinations of the gourmand Curnonsky, Christian Dior's reign over the fashion world, and the strange career of Jules-Henri Desfourneaux, known as Monsieur de Paris, the city's guillotine operator. All the while, Karnow travels much further into French cultural history than his title might suggest. He never fails to provide historical context; one of his best passages retraces Ho Chi Minh's sojourn in Paris in the late 'teens and early twenties, long before he bedeviled France as leader of the Vietminh. Even the most jaded Francophile will find much stimulation here--indeed, so will any fan of punchy prose and intelligent observation and reflection.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0812931378
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Times