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Belle Du Seigneur


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A vast, astonishing satire of modern life, Cohen's continuously digressive comic novel, set in Geneva in the 1930s, skewers, above all else, the emptiness of middle-class existence, its worship of power and money. Its antihero is Solal, Under-Secretary of the League of Nations, who risks his reputation over an obsessive love affair with the rebellious, bored wife of a pompous League official. Like Cohen himself, Solal is a Mediterranean Jew, an outsider. He mocks his own deep religious faith and expresses skepticism about the League's idealistic internationalism‘which he nevertheless makes his personal mission. Tracing Solal's path, Cohen swings from slang to grandiloquence and pure stream-of-consciousness, mixing low farce, high comedy, rapturous erotica and acid satire on the rise of fascism. His gleefully observed gallery of fools exposes a catalogue of human failings‘pretense, envy, snobbery, machismo, conformity‘all typified by the man Solal cuckolds, Adrien Deume, a hypocritical, bigoted bureaucrat whose narrow-mindedness contrasts with the League's grand ambitions. Bumbling through this sprawling canvas, meanwhile, are "the Valiant," five picturesque cousins from Corfu whose Chaplinesque antics and open embrace of their Jewish roots counterpoint Solal's brooding. Cohen takes in his giant stride such themes as the psychological battlefield of marriage, humanity's bestiality beneath its civilized veneer, the persecution of Jews across the ages and the terrible brevity of each life. Readers of this magnificent conclusion to a trilogy that also includes Solal (1930) and Mangeclous (1938) will understand why, upon its publication in 1968 in France, it won the French Academy's Grand Prix du Roman, and why it has gone on to sell more than one million copies in Europe alone. (May)

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