Saturday, July 4, 2009

Paris American Bookshop closes

Brentano's, the old shop at 37 Avenue de L'Opéra, whose customers included Mark Twain, Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, was shut after its landlord, the BNP Parisbas bank, won a liquidation order for non-payment of rent. For some time, the store was locally owned, no longer part of the historic New York-based company which is now a brand in the Borders Group. The American bookstore has been a Paris fixture since 1895.

Charles Bremner's story is here

And a list of other English language bookshops in Paris is here

WH Smith in rue de Rivoli is still going.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Talking French: Hadley Pager's handy books

Hadley Pager do a neat series of subject by subject phrase books which are small enough to slip in your pocket and also run the glossaries both English - French and French - English so you could, for example, hand the book backwards and forwards between you and the doctor rather than knowing what to say but not understanding the answer.

The medical phrase book covers everything you could possibly want to say or understand at the doctors, chemist, as a hospital inpatient or at the pharmacy.

Other themes include legal terms, garden and horticultural, renovations etc.

Mail or write to Hadley Pager Info, PO Box 249, Leatherhead, KT23 3WX for latest publication list and prices.

© published in December 2007 issue of the Rendezvous magazine

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is a brilliant writer, both gripping and thought-provoking. Nevertheless, I have had this on the shelves for ages because I never seemed to be in the mood to start a very long book set in the Belgian Congo in the fifties.

But with Kingsolver you are hooked from the opening line: We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.

This is the story, told by the wife and four daughters of the appalling, bible-thumping, Baptist Nathan Price, of the family’s Mission to Africa. First, it is the tale of one family’s adventure into “the heart of darkness’, its dysfunction and ultimate destruction. As a family saga alone, the book is utterly satisfying.

But of course, as always with Kingsolver who tackles wide, moral themes through her stories, it is more than that. Set just before and after Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of the Congo, is assassinated, it is also the story of the Congo - whose troubles continue to make the headlines today.

And it is about America, cultural imperialism and, as Kingsolver says in her introduction, exploring the “great shifting terrain between righteousness and what’s right”.

Nathan is, above all, a man of certitude. He is observed by his family and his would-be converts. “Tata Jesus is bangala!” he shouts during his sermons, unwilling to listen to the fact that in Kikongo meaning hangs on intonation: bangala may mean “precious and beloved” but it when spoken in a flat; foreign accent also means the poisonwood tree, a dangerous local plant.

Later, having absorbed the American message that democracy is good, the inhabitants of Kilanga vote, in church, on whether Jesus should be their personal God. Jesus loses.
Kingsolver says she waited thirty years for wisdom and maturity to dare to write this book. It is warm, funny and haunting.

Miranda Ingram
© published in the Rendezvous magazine, December 2008