FOR THE SOUL OF FRANCE:
Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus
By Frederick Brown
Knopf, 336 pp., $28.95
This sensational study of France starts slowly but builds steadily toward its terrific climax, the Dreyfus affair.
Brown recounts the history of France, following its 1789 revolution, as an ongoing contest between the champions and foes of the Enlightenment. Power shifted back and forth between those who revered the church, the monarch, and ancestral Frenchness, and those who valued reason, science, republicanism, and separation of church and state.
The humiliating defeat of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was followed by the economic crash of 1882 and the Panama Company bribery scandal of 1893, both of which were reputedly executed by Jewish masters.
The chief perpetrators of the humiliating Panama debacle, a mysterious triad of Jews, “had gone unpunished and the country, silent but deeply distressed, bided its time, filled with hatred and spoiling for vengeance.”
In 1894, an opportunity for revenge presented itself in the person of Alfred Dreyfus, a 34-year-old Jewish army officer. Accused of espionage on the flimsiest of evidence - fabrications, and forgeries - Dreyfus was twice tried and convicted.
Dreyfus was eventually freed in 1906, one year after a law requiring the separation of church and state had passed. Secularism seemed to hold sway. But, as Brown demonstrates in his brilliant study, religious fervor and bellicose patriotism combined in World War I to shift the balance yet again.
Young and Female in the White House
By Stacy Parker Aab
Ecco, 304 pp., paperback, $13.99
“Instead of ‘presidential plaything,’ the title intern used to mean ‘student with a future,’ ” laments Stacy Parker Aab in this revealing memoir. But it’s clear that even before Monica Lewinsky gave interns a bad name, young female volunteers in Washington were considered fair game for powerful men.
As soon as Stacy arrived at George Washington University in 1993, an 18-year-old freshman, she volunteered to work at the White House. Wanting to be noticed for her smarts, this pretty black girl could not escape being noticed for her looks. She quickly learned to remain silent when men told racy stories at strategy sessions, kissed her on the lips at first meeting, and made suggestive remarks to her in private.
While men ogled her, she had a crush on her boss, George Stephanopoulos, swooned over Rahm Emanuel, and fell for President Clinton’s charm.
Ambitious and hard-working, Stacy won a scholarship to George Washington University, later another to Oxford, and she moved on to better jobs. But her chief job remained studying the ways of power, trying to sort the mentors and nurturers from the controllers, manipulators, aggressors, and users.
By Shira Nayman
Scribner, 320 pp., $27
This mystery is set in a psychiatric hospital in Westchester, N.Y., shortly after World War II. The three major characters have suffered war-time trauma. Dr. Harrison, head of the hospital, fought in the trenches in France in World War I. His nurse, Matilda, escaped the fall of the island of Corregidor in the Philippines during World War II. His most troubling patient, Bertram Reiner, witnessed or committed unspeakable acts in Poland during the Holocaust.
Harrison, an expert in war neuroses, is drawn to Reiner, who is exceptional for having committed himself and for appearing not only sane but also mendacious, manipulative, and seductive. Harrison soon becomes an obsession for Reiner, especially after he is discovered to be Matilda’s lover.
After Reiner disappears, Harrison marries Matilda, but his obsession with Reiner only intensifies. The final unraveling of the psychological mystery - who Reiner is and what he did - is not as compelling as the many interpretations his madness allows and his doctor entertains.
Barbara Fisher is a freelance writer who lives in New York.