Memoires de Guerre

In This Review

Memoires de Guerre

By Charles de Gaulle
Plon, 1954
32,051 pp.
Purchase

They have to be read in French, of course. The translations are adequate but cannot fully do justice to the restrained lyricism, the classical lucidity, the gravitas of a style that was the product of hard work, concentrated thought, a Catholic education -- and a powerful personality. In French, de Gaulle's style is immediately recognizable -- like the man, it is both unique and the quintessential expression of a language and culture.

Why de Gaulle rather than Churchill? The general's canvas, after all, is narrower: his passionately exclusive concern is Notre Dame la France, not the world. But de Gaulle's narrative, perhaps because of this focus, is even more epic than Churchill's; it is the story of a fall, of a slow and difficult revival, and of final salvation. Also, it is less sprawling, more economical, more deliberately a work of art. And it offers the readers a priceless gallery of portraits, pithy and compassionate (even Laval and Hitler are treated serenely and humanely). De Gaulle, in one of his many gloomy moments, said that he may well have written the last pages of France's grandeur. He was referring to his role in history, but the remark applies to these books as well.