Two Books

Two books have come to my attention lately.  Both are about a boy growing up below the poverty line and getting far enough away to write about it.  Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance is his chronicle of being raised by an alcoholic mother and his grandparents in Appalachia. The blurb on the front of the book says it is a ‘must read’ in order to understand Trump’s America.  The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Belleguele) by Edouard Louis is the memoir/novel of a young man growing up gay in Hallencourt, France and “has sparked debate on social inequality, sexuality and violence.” Quote from the back of the English translation.

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My book group chose Hillbilly Elegy as the January book.  I don’t think anyone in the group accused it of being good writing.  However, most of us thought of it as extremely educational.  I, personally, am one of those people who has been going around confused and baffled as to how Trump won the presidency.  Russian collusion aside, what was his appeal?  He was clearly a liar, a womaniser and a supremicist.  Yet, when those who voted for him were asked why, they said “We know he is all of those things but he speaks for us and we are willing to overlook those details”  Vance’s book helped me to understand who those people are and why they hated Obama not to mention liberal white people like me.  Trump’s way of talking and being wasn’t offensive because that is the way most everyone in Appalachia and working class White American talks.

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Reading Hillbilly Elegy was an easy read.  I never felt brought into his world but I got to know the people in his world.  He described it–one in which the violence of his grandmother and the Marines in which he enlisted  between HS and College made a man of him, gave him the strength to leave Kentucky and Ohio and make something of himself.  He loved his violent Grandma.  I cringed when he described incidents with her.

I discovered The End of Eddy because I went to a talk at the Mona Bismarck Centre on Quai New York.  Mr. Louis was interviewed by a Princeton PhD as to who he was/is and how this book came to be written.  Louis is a very appealing young man and a treat to listen to.  His English is excellent–not only his command of words but his ability to express his deeper thoughts.  I wished so much my french was good enough to read this book in French but feel grateful that I can read it in English.

Louis has nothing good to say about his childhood.  The violence he suffered was also supposed to make a man out of him.  But he was gay and effeminate from a very young age.  He was beaten and spat on as a matter of course almost every day of his young life.  His suffering was such that it has become the nugget that his books revolve around.  The writing is so eloquent that the reader suffers with Eddy, feels the spit running down his face and cringes when the father or older brother are near.  Yet, there is no self-pity, no recriminations.  In fact, listening to Louis, I was struck by his generosity of spirit toward everyone.  Although there is no excuse for violence he said, he understands that everyone is suffering.

I’ve never met J.D. Vance.  Maybe he would touch me in the way that Louis did.  But I suspect not.  But that is not his intention for his readers.  He wanted to tell us, the rest of America “This is the America you don’t see and don’t understand.”  In 2016, Vance quit his job as investment banker, moved back to Ohio and is considering a run for Senate as a Republican.  He is quite conservative.  Louis’ intention is to get a conversation going.  We live in such a violent world that we don’t even recognise it.  Talk about it, tell your story, educate yourself.

Vance’s childhood home voted for Trump.  Louis’s town of Hallencourt voted overwhelmingly for Marine Le Pen.  Vance has gone right.  Louis has gone left.  Two boys, two prisons almost impossible to get out of and two very different directions. ‘For Louis, the tide of populism sweeping Europe and the United States is a consequence of what he, citing the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, calls “the principle of the conservation of violence.” “When you’re subjected to endless violence, in every situation, every moment of your life,” Louis told an interviewer, referring to the indignities of poverty, “you end up reproducing it against others, in other situations, by other means.”’  (Garth Greenwell, The New Yorker, May 8, 2017)

Read them both.  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear what readers are touched by and think of both books.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Edouard Louis:    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/01/the-end-of-eddy-by-edouard-louis-review

JD Vance:  https://www.nbcnews.com/megyn-kelly/video/going-home-best-selling-author-j-d-vance-opens-up-about-his-painful-childhood-and-the-future-ahead-975925827899

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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

Until five months ago, I had never heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates. I started seeing ads for his latest book We Were Eight Years in Power on my digital version of The New Yorker. Last week, I was sent an advance copy of the book to review (it hit bookstores on October 7th but I received an unedited version) and my world turned upside down.

This is not a scholarly review.  This is a review of a citizen of the United States living in Paris trying to understand how and why Trump happened.

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The book consists of eight essays that Coates wrote for the Atlantic where he is now a Senior Editor. Each essay represents one year that Barak Obama was President. He prefaces each one with a present day writing telling us specifics of why he wrote what he wrote and how he sees the article now, 2017. He ends with an Epilogue about President Trump “our first white president”. The Guardian review calls him “the laureate of black lives”.

I am a seventy year old white woman living in Paris, France. I was raised in academia, my father taught at Princeton University. I say that I was released from behind Ivy League walls at eighteen years old a very naive young woman. I have always considered myself a liberal (my sister says that is a four letter word) and always voted Democrat. Never have I felt more naive and uneducated about the realities of the class system in the United States than reading Coate’s book.

Coates has a unique way of presenting his material in a New Yorker-type style while searing you with some very unpleasant truths. Truths that, the minute I read them, I knew were true though I’ve had my head in the sand for a long time. The Guardian says “Coates has the rare ability to express (it) in clear prose that combines historical scholarship with personal experience of being black in today’s America.” He calls all types of slavery, the Klu Klux Klan, White Supremacy ‘Domestic Terrorism’ which, of course, it is. Slavery was outlawed over 150 years ago, Blacks have the right to vote and the Civil Rights movement, of which I partook, was supposed to have ended all the inequality. Yet Blacks are consistently murdered and the murderers not indicted. Laws have been passed to stop Blacks from voting at the polls. Coates probably sited 100 instances of domestic terrorism. Some I knew about, many I did not. All done in the name of keeping the White class the superior class.

His eighth chapter was specifically about Obama. What made Obama unique and able to become President of the United States was the fact that he was raised by three white people who adored him and let him know how much he was loved. He was not educated to be suspicious of white people. He was not cautioned about going into certain neighborhoods that were too dangerous for black people. He was encouraged to learn and encouraged to strive for the best. Coates stated that 71% of Republicans still believe he is Muslim and many still believe he was not born in the United States. Trump began his political career by openly challenging Obama to produce his birth certificate. For years, he stated everywhere he could be heard his “Birther” beliefs. Obama was our first black president. However, if he was not born in the US, then he couldn’t be president and for the majority of people who are threatened by the idea of a black president, the string of white presidents remains unbroken.

I couldn’t put Coate’s book down. I learned that he was a fellow at the American Library in Paris where he wrote parts of his last book “Between the World and Me” I didn’t join the Library until after he had left France and want to turn back the clock. I feel cheated. I have watched his interviews on YouTube and his presentations at ALP. He seems a soft spoken man who is very funny and still a bit overwhelmed by his fame. He told Chris Jackson, his editor and publisher of One World books, that it felt like being hit by a Mack Truck. A Mack Truck with money but still a Mack Truck!

Coates is a man who has a lot to be angry about. But he has chosen to channel that energy into educating people like me about “Reality”. He is not surprised by a Trump presidency. I was. We Were Eight Years in Power felt like a fist to my gut. It hurt. I needed the painful punch. I didn’t choose what color my skin is anymore than Coates did. I have been fortunate. A whole class of my compatriots have not been.

If you are interested in reading The Guardian review:                                                                 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/08/ta-nehisi-coates-our-story-is-a-tragedy-but-doesnt-depress-me-we-were-eight-years-in-power-interview

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Jet lag, Macron and Technology

Ok, Macron first.  I’m not going to write about him and how he won the French presidential election.  Everyone else has written about it.  What I can say is that among my friends, mostly American, everyone was holding their collective breath.  The media was saying he would win by a landslide 60% to Le Pen’s 40%.  But we had all heard that before with Brexit and with Trump.  No one wanted to be the one to say it out loud and then be wrong.

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So it was with a huge sign of relief that the French went to bed last Sunday night knowing that their new President would be Emmanuel Macron or, as Le Match is calling him on their front cover, The Kid.  I went to sleep hearing horns honking and voices cheering.   I am in the 17th arrondissement and the victory party was in the 1st at the Louvre.  So there were many happy people that night.

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The hardest is yet to come

The majority of people were happy that Marine Le Pen lost.  No one really knows what a Macron presidency will look like.  Many in France didn’t vote or voted by leaving their ballot blank.  Banker and racist to these people are equal in their sinister meaning.  Macron’s party, Onward (On marche) is one year old.  He now must have members standing for election in the next months and they must win.  He needs the strength of his own party in order to achieve anything.  He is the elite and no one is sure what that means.  But I remind people that FDR and JFK were also the elite and we Americans look back on those two as two of the greatest Presidents in US modern history.  So Onward!

I have been back in Paris for 11 days.  I had probably the worst jet lag I’ve ever had.  Friends were saying I made no sense when I talked and for the first three or four days, I had the affect of being on drugs.  It occurred to me after five days that I was still less than three months from a serious hip operation.  I had been doing so well, walking a number of miles a week, throwing away my cane! and acting as if I was totally recovered.  But I’m not.  The doctor says there is 90-95% recovery in the first three months then it takes an entire year to have 100% recovery.

Standard jet lag lore is that it requires one day of recovery for every time zone one goes through.  I went forward nine time zones coming from Oakland, California to Paris.  I think my body may have gone into a bit of shock with the altitude, the jet lag and the recent surgery.  Sure enough, nine days after landing, I started feeling human again.  I wanted to explore this new neighborhood I’ve landed in while looking for a permanent place to live.  The weather has gotten a bit warmer and is much more inviting.

Something I keep getting reminded of and feel extremely grateful for is the importance of technology for someone like me.  I haven’t had a working french phone until today and the Wifi in my little studio was, at first, nonexistent and then very sketchy while I tried to figure out what was wrong.  On Thursday, I spent 1 hour at the SFR boutique with my not very good french (it’s amazing how much one can forget in four months) and my computer until the young man worked everything out.

I think it’s possible for someone like me to travel because WiFi, the internet, Skype keeps me connected to the world at large.  It’s very hard to feel lonely.  Cut all that off and it’s me in this small studio apartment unable to reach out to communicate.  It’s a blessing I love to read so much – because that is what I did – read 4 books in less than two weeks.

I don’t like reading about the kind of hacking the world experienced yesterday.  I feel grateful for my computer and WIFI every single day and want nothing to ever go wrong. Cyberspace is the Wild, Wild West.

A bientôt,

Sara