Discoveries

In this slender memoir, the niece of Charles de Gaulle remembers 50 years back to when she was 19, imprisoned in Ravensbruck for her work with the French Resistance movement. Thrown first into Fresnes Prison for six months in 1943, she spent the rest of the war, much of it in solitary confinement, at Ravensbruck. Oddly, one of the most touching qualities of this memoir is the writer's reluctance in remembering; she practically stumbles on the deeper scenes and details, such as the first time she noticed the empty eyes of other inmates or the overwhelming gratitude for any kindness from friends or guards or the possessions she felt so lucky to have--needles and thread, socks knitted by a friend. She remembers the cockroaches in her cell and the names she gave them. She remembers various cruelties: a woman beaten to death for washing her underwear and the face of the guard who beat her. Genevieve Anthonioz never forgets that she was one of the lucky ones. "I was struck," she writes, "with the absolute certainty that there was indeed a fate far worse than death: the destruction of our souls." People write and read memoirs like "The Dawn of Hope" for many reasons. They are useful in our own exercise of remembering what we must protect.

*

LOST PROPERTY

Memoirs & Confessions

of a Bad Boy

By Ben Sonnenberg

Counterpoint: 248 pp., $15

"Lost Property" is one of those wonderful New York memoirs, along with Anatole Broyard's "Kafka Was the Rage" and Leonard Michael's "Time Out of Mind," that thoroughly convey the ego and pathology of Gotham. Things and status were everything in the world this boy grew up in. Son of the man who "invented public relations," Ben Sonnenberg grew up very rich in a townhouse on Grammercy Park. His parents collected art; parenting seems to have been merely a hobby. It was not a happy home, shallow in character. Though Sonnenberg was taken to meet Colette and taught some taste, much of his education seems to have involved tailors and boot makers and how to treat servants, the locutions of snobbery. Born in 1936, young Ben lashed out at everything with a vengeance for at least 30 years. At 34, he learned he had multiple sclerosis. Unhappy and having made many other people unhappy, he looked around for things to do with his father's money. One of those things was starting the literary journal Grand Street, which gave him great pleasure and helped many young writers, including Susan Minot, get their first breaks. His fine consciousness is evident throughout "Lost Property." His parents wasted much of his life by forcing his sharp focus on objects instead of ideas.

*

"I REMAIN IN DARKNESS"

By Annie Ernaux

Translated from the French

by Tanya Leslie

Seven Stories Press: 128 pp., $18.95

I have followed Annie Ernaux for years, as have many people interested in her Frenchness and in her raw descriptions of the female condition. Ernaux has been hard on herself and brutally honest in many arenas: from relationships to infidelities to motherhood to a daughter's relationship with her father and, now with to her mother, old and institutionalized for Alzheimer's. As always, Ernaux's marriage of opposites--disgust and adoration, revulsion and emulation, dirt-physical and heady-theoretical--takes place on the whitest of pages. "I must not give in to emotion as I write about her," she says, but violence is emotion, and Ernaux's opposites rip her in two in spite of her spare language. In " 'I Remain in Darkness,' " she has--through gritted teeth--recorded observations and feelings in visits with her mother from 1983 to 1986. "Literature is so powerless," she writes, in grief at her mother's death. Ernaux's art is in her fight with words.

*

THE COST OF LIVING

By Arundhati Roy

Modern Library Paperbacks:

126 pp., $11.95

Here is a writer who, in the midst of her own 15 minutes of fame after the enormous success of "The God of Small Things," turned her full love and wrath on the politics of her home country, India. You cannot but admire Arundhati Roy in "The Cost of Living" and believe that it is with great reluctance that she leaves fiction behind to take on two issues that grieve her: the building of yet another dam, the Sardar Sarovar on the Narmada River in Central India, a project that would displace tens of thousands of people (with 3,300 great dams, she figures, India has displaced 33 million people), and India's testing of nuclear weapons. "Who knows," she writes, what the "twenty-first century has in store for us. The dismantling of the Big. Big bombs, big dams, big ideologies, big contradictions, big countries, big wars, big heroes, big mistakes." She accuses the Indian state of ruthlessly appropriating resources for the fortunate few, of being a government built from the top down and of punishing dissenters. On the subject of nuclear testing, she writes: "For India to demand the status of superpower is as ridiculous as demanding to play in the World Cup finals simply because we have a ball." She says the bomb is a betrayal of India's people by its ruling class. There are so many visions of India, she writes, they cannot all be "banned or broken. Not hunted down." "My world has died," she writes, "And I write to mourn its passing."

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