Sunday, January 11, 2015

France Book Tours -- From The Fifteenth District

Click on the banner to see the entire tour for From the Fifteenth District
Today I'm reviewing From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant. This is a series of short stories, some in France or Italy or Germany, all those western European countries that we Americans love to visit, soaking up the culture. But Gallant goes far beyond the surface of these countries and people who we so admire.
The short stories are set around World War II, some of them occurring before, some after or during. The stories aren't about the war though, but often the characters are affect by the war.
Each story is like peeking into someone's window and seeing the real them, the one they might hide from the rest of the world.
The black and white cover is foreshadowing of the stories to come as they definitely have a melancholy feel throughout. The richness of Gallant's words only deepen the effect.
Here's an excerpt from "The Four Seasons" where a young Italian
girl travels to a seaside village to serve as a  nanny to an English family of outsiders:
"Mussolini is trying to get away from those oversized families," said Mrs. Unwin with confidence.. She sat on a high stool, arranging flowers in a copper bowl. She quashed her cigarette suddenly and drank out of a teacup. She seemed to Carmela unnaturally tall. Her hands were stained, freckled, old, but she was the mother of Tessa and Clare, who were under three and still called "the babies." The white roses she was stabbing onto something cruel and spiked had been brought to the kitchen door by the chauffeur from Castel Vittorio. This time he had given Carmela a diffident nod.
Gallant delves into each character, revealing things that we might prefer  not to know, wanting to engage only with the surface beauty but realizing the complexity of each person, no matter their nationality or position during the war.  We meet a German prison of war home long after the war had ended because no one thought to send him home from France He finds his mother remarried and very changed. We meet a Jewish man who blessedly escaped Europe before the war and returns in search of an heir for the business he has built in Argentina, but it has to be the right kind of heir. The boy, now a man, is repelled by the uncle who escaped the atrocities.
This is a book filled with stories of deep emotion that dig beneath the surface Europe we love.
Be sure to enter the giveaway.

The rest of the information here is copied and pasted from FranceBookTours:
Even as we grow and change, the consequences of what we have left behind often linger
Mavis Gallant has a unique talent for distilling the sense of otherness one feels abroad into something tangible and utterly understandable. In this collection, she relates the stories of those stranded in relationships, places, and even times in which they don’t belong.
In “The Moslem Wife” a woman is entrusted to look after a hotel in France when her husband is trapped in America after the breakout of World War II. As the situation progresses, the two grow in surprising and profound ways. In another tale, a German prisoner of war is released from France and returns home to a mother whose personality has been as irrevocably changed by the war as his has. In one of the most poignant entries, Gallant follows the life of a Holocaust survivor, illustrating how his experiences tint his outlook on life forty years later.
With its wide breadth of subject matter and the author’s characteristic way with nuance, From the Fifteenth District is classic Mavis Gallant. [provided by the publisher]

In 1952 Mavis Gallant (1922–2014) left a successful career as a journalist in Montreal
to live independently as a writer of fiction in Europe.
She had gained international recognition in 1951
when she was published in the New Yorker,
which in subsequent years released over one hundred of her short stories,
most of which are set in European cities or Montreal.
Random House published twelve volumes of her work.
Gallant was awarded the 1981 Governor General’s Award for Home Truths,
the 2002 Rea Award for the Short Story,
and the 2004 PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement.
She was a companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor.
After traveling widely in Europe, in 1960 Gallant settled in Paris, where she died in 2014.
The Journals of Mavis Gallant: 1952–1969 is tentatively scheduled for publication by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015.

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Jackie McGuinness said...

Adding this to my TBR list.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your beautiful words on this great piece of literature

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