Left Bank
An incandescent group portrait of the midcentury artists and thinkers whose lives, loves, collaborations, and passions were forged against the wartime destruction and postwar rebirth of ParisIn this fascinating tour of a celebrated city during one of its most trying, significant, and ultimately triumphant eras, Agnes Poirier unspools the stories of the poets, writers, painters, and philosophers whose lives collided to extraordinary effect between 1940 and 1950. She gives us the human drama behind some of the most celebrated works of the 20th century, from Richard Wright’s Native Son, Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Saul Bellow's Augie March, along with the origin stories of now legendary movements, from Existentialism to the Theatre of the Absurd, New Journalism, bebop, and French feminism.We follow Arthur Koestler and Norman Mailer as young men, peek inside Picasso’s studio, and trail the twists of Camus's Sartre's, and Beauvoir’s epic love stories. We witness the births and deaths of newspapers and literary journals and peer through keyholes to see the first kisses and last nights of many ill-advised bedfellows. At every turn, Poirier deftly hones in on the most compelling and colorful history, without undermining the crucial significance of the era. She brings to life the flawed, visionary Parisians who fell in love and out of it, who infuriated and inspired one another, all while reconfiguring the world's political, intellectual, and creative landscapes. With its balance of clear-eyed historical narrative and irresistible anecdotal charm, Left Bank transports readers to a Paris teeming with passion, drama, and life.

Left Bank Details

TitleLeft Bank
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 13th, 2018
PublisherHenry Holt and Compnay
ISBN-139781627790246
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Cultural, France, Art, Philosophy

Left Bank Review

  • Tosh
    January 1, 1970
    I can almost resist everything, except, any books about the Left Bank during the 1940s to the late 1950s. Generally, readers/culture addicts are seduced by images of Paris and its culture throughout the years. In a way, it's the conceptual 'Disneyland' for those who don't live there, yet, keep track of its beauty through pictures, movies, and of course, literature. I'm so much in tune to that world that I pretty much started up a press, TamTam Books, just focusing on the Paris post-war years, du I can almost resist everything, except, any books about the Left Bank during the 1940s to the late 1950s. Generally, readers/culture addicts are seduced by images of Paris and its culture throughout the years. In a way, it's the conceptual 'Disneyland' for those who don't live there, yet, keep track of its beauty through pictures, movies, and of course, literature. I'm so much in tune to that world that I pretty much started up a press, TamTam Books, just focusing on the Paris post-war years, due that I love the literature as well as the figures that came out of that time, especially Boris Vian. There are many books on Paris that was published throughout the years, as well as memoirs, diaries, and biographies - so it's not an obscure subject matter by any means. But it wasn't until recently one hears the name Boris Vian in English reading books on the Existentialist period. Vian was a significant figure in those years, and a lot of books about that period avoided his identity, I think due that none of his books were available in English at the time. Therefore I have to presume editors for various presses probably decided if editorial cuts are being made, it is perfectly OK to eliminate Vian in its narrative. That is not the case anymore. Although he's a side-figure in the recent book "Left Bank" by Agnès Poirier, at least he's given credit as a writer and social figure in Paris. Beyond that, this book doesn't have any new information, and if one is a long-term reader of Paris literary and social history, still it's a fun read and Poirier does a good job in covering all the loose ends of the rambling narrative that is the grand city of romance and ideas. All the stars are here: Juliette Gréco, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Camus, as well as the Americans that came to Paris during the post-war years, such as James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and the old stand-by's such as Picasso and Jean Cocteau. A colorful group of characters. One is in good company.
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  • Nancy
    January 1, 1970
    There's no shortage of literature written about the famous Lost Generation of writers who populated Paris in the 1920's, and I have read my share. I was totally unfamiliar with the dynamic society of writers who made Paris their home between 1940 and 1950. This book filled that void in my knowledge about the intellectual society of Paris during that period.The book unfolds around the circle of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Camus but the allure of the city and its cafe culture attracted jazz mu There's no shortage of literature written about the famous Lost Generation of writers who populated Paris in the 1920's, and I have read my share. I was totally unfamiliar with the dynamic society of writers who made Paris their home between 1940 and 1950. This book filled that void in my knowledge about the intellectual society of Paris during that period.The book unfolds around the circle of Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Camus but the allure of the city and its cafe culture attracted jazz musicians, aspiring journalists, playwrights, and every garden variety of intellectual that your mind could possibly conjure. It was easy to occasionally get bogged down by the day-t0-day domestic situations of these free-spirited individuals who seemed so intent to make their life an art form of its own, but the reward for this reader is an understanding of the striking differences between the life of these "public intellectuals" in Europe and the corresponding lifestyle of writers in America. The "ah-ha moment" for me was the statement from Richard Wright (author of NATIVE SON) that in New York he was recognized as "a successful Black novelist" and in Paris he was simply acknowledged as a writer. The sense that the society he moved in was color-blind was enough for him to move permanently to France .I was also intrigued by the divergent reactions of de Beauvoir, Sarte and Camus to experiences lecturing/touring America. For the most part, they were individuals with no particular interest in money (nor a specific lack of it), but after the deprivations of Europe during WW2, at least one of them was dismayed by the American exuberance for possessions --- it was just not something these very liberal individualists could identify with. But, the issue that will stay with me for some time is de Beauvoir's puzzlement that American's "don't talk about ideas" (or anything of substance) --- conversation "in society" was pleasant and meaningless and she was totally baffled by this. It was fascinating to be absorbed into a society of intellectuals whose primary "product" was their lifestyle. In some instances the writers' acknowledged that they were so busy "connecting" with each other and discussing their sexual and social politics that they didn't have time to write and it was then necessary to accept the fact that they were no longer writers, but "public intellectuals." I honestly can't think of a group of people in this country that we would classify as such now.Netgalley provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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  • Alan
    January 1, 1970
    A Not-So-Lost GenerationThere is such a gust of positive energy in this terrific overview of the artists and writers who either lived in or visited Paris during the years 1939 to 1949. Agnès Poirier makes it all come alive with a thoroughly researched history of these figures of whom many created or received the inspiration for their greatest works during this decade that was spent half in the depths of World War II and half in its post-war recovery.The caricature sketches on the cover give an i A Not-So-Lost GenerationThere is such a gust of positive energy in this terrific overview of the artists and writers who either lived in or visited Paris during the years 1939 to 1949. Agnès Poirier makes it all come alive with a thoroughly researched history of these figures of whom many created or received the inspiration for their greatest works during this decade that was spent half in the depths of World War II and half in its post-war recovery.The caricature sketches on the cover give an idea of the variety of persons included: everyone (starting 1pm and going clockwise) from Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Cocteau, Janet Flanner, Miles Davis (who only appears for 2 pages, but still dramatic ones), Juliette Gréco, Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin and Jean-Paul Sartre. Not pictured, but also making prominent appearances are Nelson Algren, Dominique Aury, Samuel Beckett, Art Buchwald, Edith Thomas, Theodore H. White, Richard Wright and many more.One of the best inspirations from this book is the impetus to read many of the fiction, non-fiction, and/or theatrical classics which are written about, which include everything from Algren's The Man With the Golden Arm, de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Beckett's Waiting for Godot(not published until 1953, but written in 1949), Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Camus' The Stranger (surprisingly passed by the German censors for publication in 1942), Koestler's Darkness at Noon, and many others.Highly recommended for fans of Paris and the literature and art inspired by it!Music LinksThe Best of Juliette Greco (which includes "La rue des blancs-manteaux" (The Street of White Coats) with lyrics by Sartre & "Si tu t'imagines" (If You Imagine) with lyrics by Raymond Queneau, both as referenced in "Left Bank") https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjHlZ...The popularity of the "Jazz Hot" and "Bebop" jazz music styles is often referenced in the book and several of the prominent concerts mentioned are available on recordings and (perhaps temporarily) on YouTube including:Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five Live in Paris at Salle Pleyel 1948 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsp0t...Dizzy Gillespie Live in Paris at Salle Pleyel February 28, 1948 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CKSV...Miles Davis & Tadd Dameron Quintet Live at Salle Pleyel, Paris International Jazz Festival May 8, 1949 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL_Sq...Further Book LinkThe recent At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell is a superb companion book to this current volume as it covers Sartre and de Beauvoir in even further detail.#ThereIsAlwaysOnepg. 231 "In January 1948, Elio Vittorini... a well known Fascist (sic) intellectual, ..." This is a copy editing error in the description of anti-Fascist writer Elio Vittorini, writer of Conversations in Sicily (1941) who was jailed for his writings by Italian authorities during World War II.
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  • Ian Brydon
    January 1, 1970
    Put most simply, this is a marvellous book: informative, enlightening, well researched and also highly entertaining. (Less importantly, but worthy of mention, it also has the most delightful cover, featuring lovely line drawings of several of the leading characters in the intellectual and literary café-based society that thrived around Paris’s fabled left bank throughout the 1940s, both during and after the German occupation.)Around this time last year, I took a punt on buying Sarah Bakewell’s A Put most simply, this is a marvellous book: informative, enlightening, well researched and also highly entertaining. (Less importantly, but worthy of mention, it also has the most delightful cover, featuring lovely line drawings of several of the leading characters in the intellectual and literary café-based society that thrived around Paris’s fabled left bank throughout the 1940s, both during and after the German occupation.)Around this time last year, I took a punt on buying Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails. That was a serendipitous purchase that pitched me into the lives of the Existentialists, a field of which I had been lamentably ignorant. It was the unbridled joy that I derived from that chance purchase that prompted me to buy Agnès Poirier’s book, which proved to be equally felicitous.I was intrigued by the dates cited in the subtitle. Knowing that Paris had been occupied by the Germans for the few years of that decade I had assumed that there had been very little intellectual, cultural or political activity or progress. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, the intellectual class was depleted, with members either having fled to Britain or America, or signed up to fight the Germans. Jean Paul Sartre, for example, had been drafted into the French army in 1939 and had served as a meteorologist before being taken prisoner. He escaped and returned to Paris where he resumed his former role teaching at the Lycée Pasteur. Back in Paris, and reunited with his life partner Simone de Beauvoir, he found a large circle of his former associates still living and writing, with the help of some judiciously turned blind eyes from various benign individuals within the Nazi administration. Their activity flourished around the cafes of the Left bank of the River Seine. Food and money were in short supply, but somehow, they always managed to find the means to visit a café, where in addition to holding lengthy tobacco- and alcohol-fuelled debates, most of their writing was undertaken. That is not to say that their synthesis and expression of ideas was always safe. Many of their circle were arrested, or simply vanished, but it still proved a period of immense fruitfulness. That literary, philosophical and political fertility exploded after the Liberation, augmented by returning French writers and thinkers such as Albert Camus, and the influx of foreign artists and writers, and in particular a host of Americans such as Irwin Shaw, Saul Bellow, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Alongside them were Arthur Koestler and Samuel Beckett who had been based in Paris throughout.Such a concentration of intellectual and artistic talent could not fail to yield durables riches. Not only did this group spawn existentialism as a philosophical concept, but it would facilitate the development of a brand of socialism wholly opposed to communism, and, in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, yield one of the first and most enduring feminist manifestos.The proximity of oppression and relentless distillation of ideas proved a heady aphrodisiac, and one of the most telling aspects of the book was the interlaced relationships between the leading protagonists. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre enjoyed a long term off and on relationship, though that in no way inhibited them from taking on other lovers in between times. Similarly, Arthur Koestler seemed intent on sleeping with as many of his female associates as possible, while still wishing to retain almost proprietorial rights over Mamaine Paget, his long-time partner and eventually (if only briefly) his wife. Meanwhile Saul Bellow was openly dismissive, almost disgusted, by the constant round of infidelity among his French writing colleagues, although that did not prevent him from embarking on his own affairs while his wife and son were kept out of the way. As Agnes Poirier points out, life on the Left bank came to resemble Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde.All this might lead one to expect a sombre and dense tome, but Ms Poirier deploys an elegant and engaging lightness of touch, and scatters the book with lovely pen portraits of these cultural giants. I think this is the most enjoyable non-fiction book I have read for a very long time.
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  • Aaron Finestone
    January 1, 1970
    French anglophile journalist Agnes Poirier, presents a delicious peak into the intellectual life of Paris from about 1940 to 1950. Left Bank (Henry & Company) centers on Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, their loves, their students, their writing, and their circle of French, British and Americans friends who lived and created on the Left Bank in Paris.Poirier tells us about the cafes, theaters, restaurants, streets and hotels frequented by the existentialist set. Her book is a travelo French anglophile journalist Agnes Poirier, presents a delicious peak into the intellectual life of Paris from about 1940 to 1950. Left Bank (Henry & Company) centers on Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, their loves, their students, their writing, and their circle of French, British and Americans friends who lived and created on the Left Bank in Paris.Poirier tells us about the cafes, theaters, restaurants, streets and hotels frequented by the existentialist set. Her book is a travelogue, especially useful for the reader who has never been to Paris.Most of all, Left Bank is about lifestyle, and what lifestyles did her characters lead!Poirier is an accomplished name dropper. She acquaints the reader with cultural figures whose names I had often heard, but whose lives I knew nothing about.As a secondary theme, Poirier tells the political story of those times, and how the main characters edge away from the Communist Party. The book concludes with the triumph of the Marshall Plan over cultural Communism in France.
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  • Denis
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of the most enjoyable history books I’ve read in a long time. As fast-moving, eventful, and thrilling as an epic novel, it is also, first and foremost, a vibrant, skillful, literate and thoroughly researched study of the mythical left bank of Paris, at the time when it became the cultural beating heart of Europe and, maybe, of the world. Philosophers, novelists, playwrights, musicians, singers, painters, aspiring artists of all kinds: everybody seems to meet on the left bank at some This is one of the most enjoyable history books I’ve read in a long time. As fast-moving, eventful, and thrilling as an epic novel, it is also, first and foremost, a vibrant, skillful, literate and thoroughly researched study of the mythical left bank of Paris, at the time when it became the cultural beating heart of Europe and, maybe, of the world. Philosophers, novelists, playwrights, musicians, singers, painters, aspiring artists of all kinds: everybody seems to meet on the left bank at some point during the forties, even during the first five years, when Paris is occupied by the Nazis, and of course especially after the war. Agnès Poirier is a gifted narrator and guide, and she's remarkably knowledgeable. She does a superb job at exploring this world with fresh eyes. She deftly moves from the shadowy, terrifying times of Nazi Paris (not shying away from the ambiguous, sometimes questionable, behaviors of some famous people, but also underlining the fascinating role that some Germans who loved France and its artistic community played, often against the orders of their country) to the joyful, chaotic yet dazzling post-WWII period, which saw the birth of existentialism, and from which the myth of the left bank emerged. One of Poirier’s most astute decisions, as a historian and as a writer, is to introduce us with an equal amount of details to some of the most legendary names of the era (Picasso, Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir, Beckett, Baldwin, Mailer, Giacometti, etc.) but also to now forgotten people who were integral part of what was then happening. Propelled by the excitement of having survived the war and of being free and at peace again, a whole generation of intellectuals and artists (some already established, some not) turned Paris’ left bank, after 1945, into a hive of extraordinary creativity. It attracted people from the whole world, especially Americans, and Poirier’s exploration of the Parisian years of people like Richard Wright is one of the highlights of her book. But, as she also brilliantly and not without humor tells it, all was not peaceful in this artistic colony: clashing ambitions, intense rivalries, ferocious political differences, tumultuous and messy love affairs, financial woes, private and public scandals pile up at a dizzying rate. It certainly makes up for immensely entertaining reading, but it also puts a very human face on some figures who, too often, have been buried under the weight of their own legend. In another clever move, Poirier very adroitly puts the women forward, and that is quite welcome. Simone de Beauvoir, who could be manipulative sometimes but who also helped many people, appears as the true heroine of this book, while a dozen of other women, who often remained hidden in the shadow of their most famous male lovers, truly shine: they deserve our admiration, and it’s exciting to learn about them. Without those women, actually, the left bank and its most iconic men would not have been what they were. Poirier justly denounces the sexism inherent to French society and the violence that some of those women were victim of: Arthur Koestler, notably, comes across as an appalling brute. Those times could be tragic for some. Mixing real discussions about philosophy, politics or arts, and fascinating anecdotes about the complicated characters that gave life to the legend of the left bank, Poirier’s book is a realistic, honest, multi-faceted ode to Paris, to Parisians, and to a decade that was a turning point in French history. Who wouldn’t have loved to meet Sartre for a coffee at the Flore, walk along the boulevard St Germain with Juliette Greco and Miles Davis, listen to Boris Vian play the trumpet in one of the neighborhood famed jazz clubs, have a vivid conversation with Richard Wright and de Beauvoir, visit Picasso’s studio, or follow Camus and his lover, the great actress Maria Casarès, along the narrow streets of what was, in fact, a rather small area? As much as during the fabled twenties, Paris after WWII was a formidable, glorious feast. The impact of what happened on the left bank during those years still resonates today, and Poirier's book is the best evocation of Paris in those turbulent times that one could find.
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  • Paul Myers
    January 1, 1970
    A strong story-telling narrative of the fascinating literary personalities of the postwar world on the Left Bank in the 1949s. It puts the lives of Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Arthur Koestler into one powerful interwoven story. One understands the relationships between them and possibly the central place Sartre occupied as a result of his prodigious output. The story also puts the existential writers within the context of the political movements of the time and in par A strong story-telling narrative of the fascinating literary personalities of the postwar world on the Left Bank in the 1949s. It puts the lives of Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Arthur Koestler into one powerful interwoven story. One understands the relationships between them and possibly the central place Sartre occupied as a result of his prodigious output. The story also puts the existential writers within the context of the political movements of the time and in particular the attraction of the Communist Left against the revulsion of Stalinism. In a similar way, America and its powerfully successful economy and consumerism posed an attraction but the crass consumerism held a certain revulsion. One can sense the awareness of the cultural imperialism that the French intellectuals held for the rise of American power and its mass culture. But the idea of a European Third Way never gained traction either politically or culturally because the cold threat of Communism was too real and the liberty-creating presence of the Americans was both much needed and ever-present.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    What a phenomenal book! The style it is written in is such a joy to read, and every time it seems like it may be slipping into speculation, there is a footnote to remind you just how well researched this project has obviously been. I absolutely love this.
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  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    I appreciated her attention to Richard Wright and James Baldwin, who went to France to escape racism and participate in Paris’s rich cultural and intellectual life. A fascinating, gossipy cultural history of Paris during and after World War II. There’s lots of information about Beauvoir, Camus, and Sartre, but her portraits of expats illustrate why Paris is so captivating for us non-French folk.
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  • Sunil
    January 1, 1970
    A rollicking account of a small, well-documented section of Paris, but re-tread here in one continuous, fizzy, gossipy story.
  • Niklas Pivic
    January 1, 1970
    This book could be seen as a complement to Sarah Bakewell's seminal At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, where Poiriér has collected a lot of background and information on what some truly exciting persons thought of, did, and how they performed both during and after the Second World War.Together, in Paris, our band of brothers and sisters created new codes. They founded the New Journalism, which got its official name a decade later but was born then, in the smoky ho This book could be seen as a complement to Sarah Bakewell's seminal At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, where Poiriér has collected a lot of background and information on what some truly exciting persons thought of, did, and how they performed both during and after the Second World War.Together, in Paris, our band of brothers and sisters created new codes. They founded the New Journalism, which got its official name a decade later but was born then, in the smoky hotel rooms of the Left Bank, and forever blurred the lines between literature and reportage. Poets and playwrights slowly buried Surrealism and invented the Theater of the Absurd; budding painters transcended Socialist Realism, pushed Geometric Abstraction to its limits, and fostered Action Painting. Philosophers founded new schools of thought such as Existentialism while setting up political parties. Aspiring writers found their voices in Paris’s gutters and the decrepit student rooms of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, while others invented the nouveau roman. Photographers reclaimed their authorship through photojournalism agencies such as Magnum; censored American writers such as Henry Miller published their work first in French; black jazz musicians, fleeing segregation at home, found consecration in the concert halls and jazz clubs of Paris, where New Orleans jazz received its long-overdue appreciation while bebop was bubbling up. Some in the Catholic Church experimented with Marxism, while a colorist and former art gallery owner turned couturier named Christian Dior intoxicated the world with the New Look in fashion design.Even though it's interesting to hear anecdotes and tidbits, e.g. this one:La nausée was dedicated to “The Beaver,” a word play in English on the name of his best friend, sparring partner, and lover, Simone de Beauvoir. “Beauvoir” sounds like “beaver” in English pronunciation, which is castor in French. In other words, Simone de Beauvoir became for her close friends “Le Castor” by way of English. Le Castor was, just like Sartre, a brilliant thirty-year-old philosophy teacher, though rather more beautiful. They lived together—that is, they lived in the same shabby hotel, the Hôtel Mistral, 24 rue de Cels, just behind Montparnasse Cemetery, though not in the same room....the book is a bit more ephemeral than Bakewell's book for just that reason. The book does, however, weave different kinds of resistance against the Nazis together in a very satisfying and informative way, e.g. how people did all they could to hide art from the Nazis:Every museum in the country used the plan of evacuation Jaujard had used for the Louvre, each work being treated in order of artistic and historical importance. By autumn 1939, every single artwork of significance had been put in safekeeping. The news, quite inevitably, filtered out. Raymond Lécuyer, in Le Figaro, wrote of “the exodus of paintings,” praised the dedication of the national museums’ keepers, many of them retired veterans from the Great War, and apologized to his readers for being elusive about the whole operation. He could not be specific, nor could he give names, dates, or places, but he wrote: “May [it] be, however, a comfort for you to know that the world’s art heritage is safe from the scientific enterprises of German barbarism.” Having fulfilled his duty to history, Jaujard retreated to his office in the Louvre overlooking the Tuileries Gardens. He was now bracing himself for the inevitable. It might take months, but the Germans would soon be in Paris, he was certain of that. Jaujard may have been ready but, unfortunately, the French army was not.It was also exciting to hear of how writers joined to resist:One evening at the end of March 1941, Simone de Beauvoir found a note slipped under the door of her hotel room, in Sartre’s handwriting: “I’m at the Café des Trois Mousquetaires.” Beauvoir ran into the street toward the café. Sartre had tricked the camp’s authorities and had been released under a fake identity. He was changed, he could not stop talking. It was not the kind of romantic reunion she had dreamed of. On learning that Simone had signed an affidavit declaring she was not a Jew, he gave her a stern look. And how could she buy food on the black market? Action was the only word he now cared for. Their friend the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty was also back in Paris. Together, they organized themselves and federated other writers into a resistance group, Socialisme et Liberté. Simone was surprised at Sartre’s vehemence. During the summer of 1941, they cycled together into Vichy France to establish contacts with potential members south of the Occupation line. However, it seemed that the sticking point was the nature of the resistance action the group would carry out. Sartre favored words over bombs.Not that the end of the war meant that wars were over. Communists and existentialists were fighting, the US disliked Richard Wright so he went to France, and...things were generally a lot more do or die then:That week, Gallimard’s house fascist, Drieu La Rochelle, bumping into a friend on the avenue de Breteuil, near the Invalides, said: “I’ve made my decision, I’m leaving.” A few hours later he was attempting suicide. Gerhard Heller leaped on his bicycle, arrived at his bedside, and whispered in Drieu’s ear: “I’m slipping a passport for you under your pillow.” The passport had a visa for Spain and Switzerland. But Drieu was fixed on a one-way journey to hell. That night, Gerhard Heller packed his Paris diaries of the last four years, together with a manuscript entrusted to him by Ernst Jünger titled “Peace.” He put the documents in a small tin suitcase and set off toward the Invalides, a small shovel in his hand. The air was muggy; Heller could feel the sweat pearling down his brow. He spotted a tree on the esplanade, looked at the distance and angle between the rue de Constantine, rue Saint-Dominique, and rue de Talleyrand, made a mental note, counted his steps, and started digging discreetly. He felt the urge to—literally—bury his Paris life in order to save himself.I dig how the philosophers mostly practiced what they preached:Sartre was known for spending his money freely. Insisting on being paid cash for his work, he liked carrying huge wads of banknotes and always paid at restaurants and cafés, never letting anyone else foot the bill, and left huge tips for the waiters. His generosity was astounding and attracted many friends in temporary or chronic financial difficulty. Sartre would discreetly pay for former students’ abortions, cover the rent of his past and present lovers, make loans to impoverished writers—the people indebted to him were legion. In fact, Sartre had no desire to own anything and, true to his word, never would. Cau quickly realized that his main activity would be to free Sartre from his increasingly busy social life and from all the profiteurs so that he could have long stretches of time during the day to concentrate on his writing.Also:However, for her American tour, and to avoid the humiliation of being taken to a tailor as soon as she stepped off the plane at LaGuardia, as had happened to Sartre, whose threadbare clothes had horrified his American hosts, she needed at least one new dress. She bought one in a little maison de couture, a finely knitted black dress, for the exorbitant price of 25,000 francs (the equivalent of about $1,650 today). She walked back to Sartre’s flat and told him, pointing to her shopping bag: “This is my first concession,” and burst into tears.One of the main strengths of this book is how it contrasts the mundane—if anything was indeed mundane—with the extraordinary. For example, de Beauvoir's endeavour to write what was initially thought to become a neat text:This was not going to be a short and quick essay. She had started researching The Second Sex, a book that would shake the world. Simone had so far lived her life as she pleased by breaking social conventions, so researching this subject was also a journey of self-discovery. She would understand in the process why she fascinated younger women. Her life was a model of emancipation, one that the younger generation aspired to and one that she was going to analyze in great detail, not shying away from sexually explicit content.It's also interesting to read some of de Beauvoir's initial thoughts of Northern America, which subsequently changed, especially with her falling in love with Nelson Algren, which happened later:Talking, drinking, smoking cannabis in Greenwich Village with Wright’s friends, Beauvoir was amazed to discover the chauvinism of the New York intellectuals she met. “Their chauvinism reminded me of my father’s. As for their anti-Communism, it verges on neurosis.” She could not resist taking notes on all the details, the differences, the feelings she experienced. On January 31, 1947, she wrote: “Americans’ politeness and good humor make life so much easier and nicer.” However, she could not help looking beyond the façade: “Yet, I’m starting to find annoying all those imperious invitations to ‘take life on the bright side.’ On every poster, everyone shows their white teeth in a grin that seems to me like tetanus. On the subway, in the streets, in every magazine, those obsessive smiles are chasing me. It is a system. Optimism is necessary to social peace and economic prosperity based on consumption and credit.”The book is like a cut into a decade of a time when many generational and revolutionary ideas and changes occurred within a very short space of time, not least the sexual; bar the feministic movements that were (and are) ongoing at the time, sexuality was not a very locked-down and conservative concept.All in all, this book is a welcome one if you want to have a good glance into a decade of changes. Still, I cannot help but think of Bakewell's excellent book. They complement each other in a way.
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  • Karen Adkins
    January 1, 1970
    The existentialists were exciting for lots of reasons; their focus on philosophy that responded to the world in all its messiness means that they endlessly attempted to argue about how we ought to live in important ways--our politics, our family relations, our ethics. They also lived their values, for better (renouncing bourgeois ways meant owning little, taking public stands that would cost them) and for worse (renouncing bourgeois monogamy apparently also sometimes means treating sex partners The existentialists were exciting for lots of reasons; their focus on philosophy that responded to the world in all its messiness means that they endlessly attempted to argue about how we ought to live in important ways--our politics, our family relations, our ethics. They also lived their values, for better (renouncing bourgeois ways meant owning little, taking public stands that would cost them) and for worse (renouncing bourgeois monogamy apparently also sometimes means treating sex partners like interchangeable objects, which seems like a bad-faith contradiction). This is an interesting book, but as a friend of mind says, "it puts the scandal front and center," which ended up wearing on me personally. I prefer Sarah Bakewell's *At the Existentialist Cafe*, which certainly doesn't minimize the scandal but integrates it pretty thoroughly with the ideas. But it's still worth a read; in particular, what Poirier does *very* well is focus on black Americans (Baldwin, Wright, Ellison) who come to Paris as a reprieve from American racism, and how disorienting America is (both exciting and repulsive) to existentialists during their tours.
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  • Riet
    January 1, 1970
    Volgens de titel gaat het boek vooral over de kunstenaars in Parijs van 1940 tot 1950, maar het is veel meer. Er zijn heel veel schrijvers, zowel Franse als Engelse en Amerikaanse en ook heel veel andere kunstenaars, schilders, beeldhouwers etc., maar het gaat toch vooral ook over Parijs tijdens de Duitse bezetting en over de politiek in Parijs na de bevrijding. Met die politiek bemoeiden zich natuurlijk de schrijvers en filosofen, vooral Sartre, Camus en Beauvoir. Omdat er zo ontzettend veel pe Volgens de titel gaat het boek vooral over de kunstenaars in Parijs van 1940 tot 1950, maar het is veel meer. Er zijn heel veel schrijvers, zowel Franse als Engelse en Amerikaanse en ook heel veel andere kunstenaars, schilders, beeldhouwers etc., maar het gaat toch vooral ook over Parijs tijdens de Duitse bezetting en over de politiek in Parijs na de bevrijding. Met die politiek bemoeiden zich natuurlijk de schrijvers en filosofen, vooral Sartre, Camus en Beauvoir. Omdat er zo ontzettend veel personen in voorkomen, is het boek soms wel erg anekdotisch, maar wel heel boeiend. Sommige pagina's lezen als bladzijden uit een roddelblad, maar wel leuk. De influx van Amerikaanse schrijvers en jazz musici wordt goed beschreven, vooral de enorme cultuurveschillen voor zwarte Amerikanen tussen de VS en Frankrijk.
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  • Alyson
    January 1, 1970
    So much information! So gossipy! I can not imagine the research that went into truthfully revealing the personal lives of the cultural players in Paris during the time period set out in Paris during and after the Second World War. Politics and art merged as they do when extremes exist, and Poirier successfully relates through her cast of many characters what went down on the Left Bank. Though not quite tidily resolved in the end, this book is still a very valuable look into the lives of the impo So much information! So gossipy! I can not imagine the research that went into truthfully revealing the personal lives of the cultural players in Paris during the time period set out in Paris during and after the Second World War. Politics and art merged as they do when extremes exist, and Poirier successfully relates through her cast of many characters what went down on the Left Bank. Though not quite tidily resolved in the end, this book is still a very valuable look into the lives of the important cultural players that lived and produced art during this particular era. Paris is, after all, always evolving in her own beautiful way.
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  • Connie Mcnally
    January 1, 1970
    This book did have some fascinating details I'd not heard before about the Resistance years (the plan to save the Louvre collection) as well as details of various authors/artists lives/liaisons during those years. A bit more detail about romantic lives than I was interested in, but it did turn me on to some authors of whom I had heard only peripherally (Richard Wright) and who I must now read. The style, however, was a bit more research paper (even the sexual liaison bits) than captivating story This book did have some fascinating details I'd not heard before about the Resistance years (the plan to save the Louvre collection) as well as details of various authors/artists lives/liaisons during those years. A bit more detail about romantic lives than I was interested in, but it did turn me on to some authors of whom I had heard only peripherally (Richard Wright) and who I must now read. The style, however, was a bit more research paper (even the sexual liaison bits) than captivating story. Once I passed 1946 or so, I did lose interest.
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  • Lisa Mcbroom
    January 1, 1970
    This book started out promising with the quote about a group of existentialists sitting at a cafe with the quote their world was knowledge and they had little to do with politics. They were above politics because they were philosophers. I thought hmmmm in a previous life I must have been an existentialists in Paris in a cafe drinking apricot cocktails. That being said this book has nothing to do with art in Paris just the political climate. If you love politics this book is for you. If you love This book started out promising with the quote about a group of existentialists sitting at a cafe with the quote their world was knowledge and they had little to do with politics. They were above politics because they were philosophers. I thought hmmmm in a previous life I must have been an existentialists in Paris in a cafe drinking apricot cocktails. That being said this book has nothing to do with art in Paris just the political climate. If you love politics this book is for you. If you love art and not politics pass on this one.
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  • Kristine
    January 1, 1970
    Left Bank by Agnes Poirier is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late February.A multifaceted, multi-disciplinary book on different generations living in Paris between 1940 and 1950 within a 'Third Way philosophy' (not Capitalist, yet not quite Communist). They uncover and display new kinds of art, music, fashion, design, and thought. Poirier offers evocative, defiant, in the moment narration that covers so many perspectives and thematic bases, including the shoulder-relaxing, tension-easing Left Bank by Agnes Poirier is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late February.A multifaceted, multi-disciplinary book on different generations living in Paris between 1940 and 1950 within a 'Third Way philosophy' (not Capitalist, yet not quite Communist). They uncover and display new kinds of art, music, fashion, design, and thought. Poirier offers evocative, defiant, in the moment narration that covers so many perspectives and thematic bases, including the shoulder-relaxing, tension-easing relief at the end of the War.
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  • Supriyo Chaudhuri
    January 1, 1970
    A beautifully written part collective biography part chronicle of times of Left Bank intellectuals and Artists of Paris in the years during and after the war. It is a bold attempt to understand and explain the creative ferment that Paris stood for in those grim years of rationing and reconstruction, through an impressive cast of characters drawn from all over the world, including the GI bill funded Americans and other writers who went to Paris to 'find themselves'.
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  • Yvonne
    January 1, 1970
    This book draws no conclusions, but is a succession of juicy tidbits about writers’ personal lives. Too much vital information is left out, too many plot holes, too much tension with no logical release. The writing style is also odd—convoluted sentences, calling historical figures by their first name in one sentence and their last name in the next.
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  • Courtney (A Little Bookish Life)
    January 1, 1970
    This book read so well, I was able to imagine so much of the life and times of the people in Paris during the 1940s. I personally admit that I enjoyed the first half of this book so much more than the second. It tapered off for me and I became more disinterested, but I will absolutely reread this in years to come!
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  • Dan O'Meara
    January 1, 1970
    I was hooked by this account of a world in political and intellectual turmoil. Simone de Beauvoir's Les Mandarins is one of my favourite novels, and Agnès Poirier's account of the world that de Beauvoir rendered in fiction is the perfect counterpart to that brilliant novel.
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  • Christian Peltenburg-brechneff
    January 1, 1970
    Loved the book. Slightly gossipy but knowing a lot about most characters it is a wonderful journey through a world of the past. Not always written as poetic as the writers were but it flows along...anyone who is interested in that time in Paris should pick it up
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  • Tena
    January 1, 1970
    I won an Advance Readers Copy in a GOODREADS giveaway sponsored by Henry Holt.
  • Edward Sullivan
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting, engaging chronicle of a decade of Paris cultural, intellectual, and political life.
  • William Fisher
    January 1, 1970
    A magnificent read
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