Panther Soup: Travels Through Europe in War and Peace
John Gimlette / Author Alfred A. Knopf $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-3
Overlong and slyly self-important, travel writer Gimlette's third book takes the recollections of WWII veteran Putnam Flint and combines them with Gimlette's own European tour for a then-and-now travelogue that doesn't ever quite connect. Flint, an 86-year-old Bostonian who traveled from Provence to Austria with his tank destroyer battalion during the closing days of the war, is winning, inquisitive and has a writer's gift for precise language, telling Gimlette, ""In combat, you hear guns, and it's like a musical score. The story unrolls from there."" Unfortunately, Gimlette can't help but stretch the metaphor to the breaking point: ""In Flint's case, it was a complex score, and no two recitals were ever quite the same."" The two-thirds spent with Gimlette's own travels are often tedious; he has a fondness for looking for old brothels and new strip clubs, and a heavy hand with generalizations: ""For the French, culture is duty, for the Americans it's pleasure."" The combination of Gimlette's fatuous modern opinions and a tense historical memoir never quite gels; Flint's worthwhile stories deserve better. Illustrations.
Reviewed on: 03/31/2008