Books | Cybersitings

Book news & reviews
by Mark Heberden & Bob Roberts

Renoir, My Father” by Jean Renoir (New York Review Books, New York)
Jean Renoir, the director of such masterpieces of cinema as “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game,” did not write a biography, per se, of his father. Rather his biography, just reprinted in English, is more like a series of flashbacks focusing on France and a certain French way of life, showing how art and artists were being transformed in a rapidly changing world.
As a boy, Auguste Renoir, considered one of the greatest painters of modern times, had met people who had known France in the era of wigs and knee breeches. Brilliantly mingling memories of his own childhood in the Renoir household, with those of his father’s, this double portrait reconstructs an all but vanished France when apprentice tradesmen crisscrossed the countryside on foot, and each region if not each town was distinct in customs, opinions, accents and even speech — and explains how his father’s deep connection to this physical life, was translated, through experience, into a complete vision of humanity and the art it inspired.
Auguste Renoir tells his son about his path to Paris, and his eventual entry into the vibrantly fomenting art world of the capital. And, discusses his thoughts in those days on art, fashion, society, women, men, other artists and the world at large, and how they too contributed to the development of his singular vision of painting.
Jean Renoir’s narrative delves deep inside the works themselves, relying upon his father’s remarks to describe what went into certain paintings, whether anecdotes of the models used, the setting, the season, or even regarding why it was necessary to paint the picture at all.
Told with an earthy simplicity, full of life and poetry, Jean Renoir’s memorial to his father reveals his own deeply artistic nature, perhaps a tribute to the honest approach to life handed down to him. This book, while lacking the carefully dated and catalogued approach of a more scholarly work, may well be the most thought-provoking and deeply moving personal account of an artist’s life and his struggles. MH

“Writing Your Life” by Patti Miller (Allen & Unwin, Sydney)
Writing about one’s life experiences, as Jean Renoir did concerning his father, has become a popular pastime and many books and classes have been set up to help amateur authors tackle this difficult project. One of the best known methods has been created by Patti Miller, who’s taught “life writing” workshops at the University of Western Sydney since 1990. “Whatever your achievements and challenges in life, your story is worth writing...” declares Miller. Her book gives hands-on advice, dealing honestly with the motivations and obvious difficulties of writing truthfully and meaningfully about the people and events which have shaped one’s life. Patti Miller presents her book “Writing Your Life,” Oct 18, 8pm, Café de la Mairie, pl St-Suplice, 6e, M° St-Suplice/Odéon MH

Book Briefs

“Cent ans d’amour, Marval,” edited by Nelly Elmaleh
France’s literary and photographic representations of love in all its facets are the theme of this book. With photos by quintessential romantics such as Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson and Boubat and texts by Proust, Cocteau, Colette and Duras — one gets a rare glimpse into the French soul. This one hundred-year journey begins with turn of the century lovers pictured on hand colored postcards and ends with André Breton’s Amour fou assertion “I wish for you to be crazily in love.” BR

“Paris Romance,” Parigramme
Stolen kisses captured by indiscreet lenses. This petite picture book with an introduction by Agnès Desarthe, considered one of France’s best new storytellers, includes classic pix such as Doisneau’s famous Hôtel de Ville “Kiss” and some images less well know by Izis, Martine Franck and Charbonnier. Priced at 138F, this album wll be easy to add to your Paris photo book collection. BR

“Eugene Atjet,” by Gerry Badger (Phaidon)
Paris from 1899 to 1926 captured by one of France’s foremost documentary image-makers. Pictures are accompanied by insightful commentaries on the photographer and his subjects. This book is a walk down the streets of yesterday. BR

“The Rough Guide to The Pyrenees” by Marc Dubin
This guide covers both sides of the France/Spain borders from Perpignan to San Sebastian. True to the RG formula — it includes listings of the best places to eat and drink from stylish Biarritz to the most remote moutain refuges and reviews of not-to-be-missed sights such as the prehistoric cave art in the Ariège and the formidable 16th century fort at Jaca. BR

“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie (Chatto & Windus). Translation: Ina Rilke
One of the most popular books in France has just been superbly translated into English. It tells the story of two friends sent to a remote mountain village for reeducation during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They meet the local tailor’s attractive daughter and — when they discover a hidden suitcase filled with European 19th century novels — their lives are changed. The author weaves together the themes of friendship, love and the power of literature to influence lives, making this an enchanting read. BR

“Paris buissonnier” by Francoise Besse (Parigramme).
Paris is walker-friendly and this little book (in French) proves it with a dozen off-the-beaten-track strolls around the city. “Buissonier,” which in French is roughly translated as playing hooky from school, is truely an insider’s view focusing on the best places to stroll in Paris. BR