Sunday, January 29, 2006

It Dawns Upon You that BHL's Book About America Is About the French

Any American with a big urge to write a book explaining France to the French should read this book first, to get a sense of the hazards involved. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore; he rambled around this country at the behest of The Atlantic Monthly and now has worked up his notes into a sort of book. It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years
Garrison Keillor reviews American Vertigo by Bernard-Henri Lévy (it is the same author who tried to debate Bill Kristol), and notes how during BHL's American road trip (with chauffeur), the Frenchman, with "his X-ray vision", regularly "blows his radiator", "goes out of his mind", and "walks into a wall".
As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions.

…there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
Update: The above helps to explain why the Boston Globe's "skeptical" Alex Bean "can't take Lévy seriously at all" and why, at one point, he "burst out laughing."

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