By Constance Holt
The Olive-trees of Justice, by Jean Pelegri. Translated by Anthony Burgess and Lynne Wilson (Sidgwick & Jackson, 15s.),
Thc Wounded and the Worried, by Edgar Mittelholzer (Putnam, 16s,).
A Prospect of Ferrara, by Giorgio Bassani. Translated by Isabel Quigly (Faber, 180.
THESE three novels can be called "escapereading from the too familiar "outside" reports about tragedies of this century to close contact, sometimes painfully close, with individual lives touched deeply by these tragedies.
The words "Algeria" and "O.A.S." call forth a weary exasperated sigh from too many of us who have no opportunity or inclination to study the real background and history of the shameful strife between people of great nations and cultures.
IN The Oiive-trees of Justice, a novel which won the Grand Prix Catholique de Literature. we are taken right into this tormented land, in a hot thirsty August. The sirocco has been blowing for days: air seems scarce for everyone; Michel, the storyteller's father, is breathing his last, and the thoughts which till the son's mind during this, fill much of the book. The father's lifetime had seen respect and brotherliness between Arabs and French settlers slowly break down, become poisoned with suspicion and heartbreaking war.
Jean Pelegri sees the war as being due to small acts of stupidity which grew into political confusion. But his chief preoccupation in this sad and sensitive book is with the damage done to the individual soul of man settler or native. The dying father represented a harmony between different races and cultures which cart only be known through personal love and wisdom. Embarek, a holy Moslem, had been a friend of the dying man. Both had "given a meaning to that countryside . . • " Both through death were spared the events which led eventually to wilfully scorched earth.
The son looks backward and forward during the two days of his father's death and funeral. He thanks his father for the sweet days of childhood happiness. One feels that such sweetness is for ever ended. The only practical relief in the story is supplied' by the Mother's quiet actions . . "The red mullet you bought for your father . . we ought to eat them . . ."
Perhaps the poignancy of this book helps in a curious way to atone for the awful matter-ofcourse way in which we now receive news of Algeria . . .
Back to life
ATTEMPTED suicide is another commonplace of our day. Statistics about "successful" selfdestruction efforts appear from time to time in reports. We know nothing about the people who are pulled back to life by other people's efforts-or their own hesitation. The Wounded and the Worried is about three people gathered together under the roof of Fanny, who shares with
them the lonely shame of that "attempt".
Fanny hopes to rehabilitate herself, too. by this setting up of a shared life. I think she does pretty well for Tom (ex-priest), Gwen (retired teacher) and Stella (American divorcée). But she does not find that the work fills her spirit, so eventually she takes a job with a cousin of hers. There is hope, however, that Tom will carry on the good work and gather together more lonely people.
Most readers could do without some of Stella's language and the description of her sensations, but this an too topical story is well told. It seems rather pathetic that the only certainty it leaves is that the characters will indeed "have many, many agonized discussions on many topics"-as Tom promises Gwen on the last page.
The lid off
SKILFUL in design, and moving in much of the writing is A Prospect of Ferrara. Through five "long complete" stories a large provincial Italian town is seen as a whole and an alarming whole it proves to be. Fascism and antisemitism are tinging its life, insidiously, surely.
There can be no humanly happy ending in the stories of each main character: the abandoned mother, the Jewish doctor with his Gentile wife, the survivor from a German concentration camp, the elderly school-teacher held under house arrest by fascists and the cripple who may have been the only witness.of that massacre in the square. Every story and the whole book must end on a question mark.
Some readers may find that though this successor to The GoldRimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani is worth reading, but it is
sometimes hard to read. There are a great number of very long sentences which have the effect of making the meticulously described detail become somehow overgrown.
Martha In Paris, by Margery Sharp (Collins, Is. 6d.).
MARGERY SHARP'S book, Martha in Paris, is described as a "portrait of the artist as a young woman". Martha at 18 is a stout, stolid girl, whose sole passion is drawing.
She leaves her London home without emotion, when she is sent :o study art in Paris, and the fabulous seductions of the city leave her unmoved. But she does meet a young Englishman, while eating her daily lunch in the Tuileries Gardens and the tepid friendship warms up when she discovers that she can have a good, hot bath in his mother's flat.
But Martha extricates herself from the ensuing situation with the complete ruthlessness of simplicity.
This is a most amusing and astringent little book, quite superbly done, • R.W.M.