Dying Without God: Francois Mitterand's Meditations on Living and Dying

Franz-Olivier Giesbert, Author, Richard Seaver, Translator, William Styron, Introduction by
Franz-Olivier Giesbert, Author, Richard Seaver, Translator, William Styron, Introduction by Arcade Publishing $22.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-55970-406-9
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
French journalists, like their American counterparts, are tough on their heads of state. In this account of his meetings with Mitterand during the last months of the French president's life, the editor-in-chief of Le Figaro attacks Mitterand for lying, womanizing, self-love, abuse of power, poor hygiene and alliances with rogues. The accusations come as a surprise after William Styron's moving tribute to the president that has been added as an introduction to this English translation. Mitterand, for his part, was, even in the last stages of painful cancer, an articulate opponent, and he rebuffs all personal assaults with humorous alacrity. Love of intellectual debate and mutual affection characterize the principals' contentious rapport. Throughout meals and long walks in the forests around Mitterand's home, they discuss Charles VII (the greatest figure in French history, according to the president), Napoleon, Reagan and Gorbachev, WWII prisoners-of-war and Resistance experiences, Voltaire and Chateaubriand. A clever aphorist, Mitterand remarks, while defending his stance on European unity, that ""nationalism is the opium of imbeciles""--and adds that, ""in politics, it is unwise to speak ill of imbeciles."" The book's title notwithstanding, Mitterand was an avid reader of the Bible and admirer of St. Paul, whom he describes as ""one of the most prodigious figures in all human history."" Mitterand was tempted to believe in God, but found the concept of the immortality of the soul to be ""rather embarrassing."" Because the man who led France through 14 years of political change never shared his reflections nor defended his points of view in a published memoir, this short, insightful record of his intimate thoughts, first published in France in 1996, will be particularly valued. (Mar.)
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