Greatness, Andante

Two years ago, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung began publishing a series of 50 great novels from the 20th century. It’s a good list, and I’ve been slowly reading my way through it. Emphasis on slowly. The newspaper never planned on keeping the editions in print indefinitely, and indeed, the smartly designed and inexpensive (EUR 4.90!) hardbacks are officially out of print. (The series’ original home page is now 404, just to add to the indignity.) The Sueddeutsche has followed up with series of popular music (mostly mediocre because of rights issues), children’s books (inviting, but not yet inviting enough for me to actually buy one) and now mysteries (a genre I tend not to read much of).

I’ve been writing capsule reviews periodically as I make my way — shortest to longest as a general rule — through the list. It’s been a while since the last installment, so here goes.
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Sturm, Drang and Laetitia Casta’s breasts – or – Why France bashing is a feminist issue

[Nota Bene: Due to the deeply inane nature of JavaScript, clicking the “continue reading” link may not display images linked to posts. It doesn’t work for me in Mozilla or IE. If you click on the permalink, you will see all the content.]

Reader Christophe Kotowski sends a link to today’s International Herald-Tribune (a.k.a. The New York Times in Paris), in which New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein offers an solution to my earlier confusion about American policy towards France and Germany:

Meet Mr. Germany and Ms. France

It was on display again last week, that old double standard. On camera, Germany’s chancellor got a muscular handshake from America’s president and a meeting that let bygones be bygones. France’s president got the official cold shoulder and columnists’ heated denunciations.

Yet France and Germany had taken the same position on the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Both were offering to help train Iraqi security forces, but not to send soldiers. Both argued that only accelerated Iraqi sovereignty and a larger UN role could secure peace.

Apparently, it sounded different in French. Somehow, to American ears, it always does. At this point in strained trans-Atlantic relations, an obvious explanation comes to mind: In the American imagination, France is a woman, and Germany is just another guy.

The French themselves depict La Belle France as a bare-breasted “Marianne” on the barricades. They export high fashion, cosmetics, fine food – delicacies traditionally linked to a woman’s pleasure. And French has always been Hollywood’s language of love.

Germany, meanwhile, is the Fatherland, its spike helmets retooled into the sleek insignia of cars like the Mercedes and the BMW. It also exports heavy machinery and strong beer – products associated with manliness. Notwithstanding Goethe, Schiller and Franka Potente, German is Hollywood’s language of war, barked to the beat of combat boots in half a century of movies.

Such images simply overpower facts that do not fit the picture – like decades of German pacifism and French militarism since World War II. So what if France was fighting in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere in Africa and deploying a force of 36,000 troops around the world, while Germans held peace vigils and invented Berlin’s Love Parade. For Americans, it seems, World War II permanently inoculated Germans against “the wimp factor” and branded the French indelibly as sissies. […]

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