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America Day by Day Hardcover – January 5, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
It has been a good year for the French existentialist and feminist, with the recent publication of de Beauvoir's love letters to Nelson Algren and now this account, published in the U.S. for the first time, of her four-month tour in 1947. De Beauvoir can be facile and condescending, as when she compares the "strained coldness of white American women" to "lively" black women, or writes: "And when you see these men dance, their sensual life unrestrained by an armor of Puritan virtue, you understand how much sexual jealousy can enter into the white Americans' hatred of these quick bodies." Often, however, de Beauvoir is more clever and subtle: "I sense that America is hard on intellectuals. Publishers and editors size up your mind in a critical and distasteful way, like an impresario asking a dancer to show her legs," she writes, and elsewhere, "Los Angeles is vast but porous. [Chicago] is made of a thick dough, without leavening." De Beauvoir's itinerary, set by lecture dates, is a bizarre combination of the banal (hotels, drugstores), tourist traps (Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas) and the dark underbelly of slaughterhouses, drug addicts and Bowery bums. But she inevitably returns to the same themes: black/white relations, political commitment and comparison of the U.S. and France. While she mentions Algren by initials, de Beauvoir gives no inkling of her passionate interest in him, attesting to her ability to compartmentalize romantic and intellectual pursuits. There is a natural cerebral quality to this book that prevents it from becoming ponderous. It will easily attract those interested in de Beauvoir, travel writing and the intersection of American intellectual and popular culture in the postwar years. First serial to Conde Nast Traveler. (Jan.) FYI: The New Press has published de Beauvoir's letters to Algren as A Transatlantic Love Affair (Forecasts, Sept. 7).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) spent four months in the United States in 1947. Traveling by car, train, and bus, she lectured from coast to coast at the most prestigious colleges and universities, immersing herself in the wonders and woes of American culture. This is the first American edition of her journal, published as L'Amerique au Jour le Jour in France in 1948 and translated and published in England in 1952. Writing from notes, letters, and memories, de Beauvoir details with vivid insight aspects of American life and culture including the New York Bowery, slaughterhouses and burlesques in Chicago, African American church services, racism, politics, films, jazz, Muzak, marijuana, and cocktail parties. She provides sharp sociological perspective on American women, adolescents, college students, public and private higher education, and the inertia of the late 1940s. Impressive, compelling, thought-provoking, and highly recommended.?Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Beauvoir's travels help her to understand the diversity that embodies America. America is considered `the land of opportunity,' a country where the inhabitants are granted certain freedoms. Thus, Beauvoir whole-heartedly embraces her first experience as an American. Intrigued by the American lifestyle, she wanders, looking for her next new experience, her next new adventure. The former Catholic school girl experiences a spectrum of American culture; she dabbles into alcohol and drugs but also incorporates touring museums and lecturing at various, distinguished women's colleges into her travels. Beauvoir almost seems reckless in how she behaves in a country completely foreign to her, but the way in which she free-spiritedly follows her instincts is very much admirable. She is very wide-eyed and excited about America, but she also expresses her irritation as she passionately acknowledges her opinions on topics like racism and segregation, education, American women, democracy, and communism. "Hardly a day has passed that I haven't been dazzled by America; hardly a day that I haven't been disappointed. I don't know if I could be happy living here; I am sure I'll miss it passionately" (382).