cover image The Foreign Student

The Foreign Student

Philippe Labro. Ballantine Books, $19 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-345-34696-4

This French bestseller by Labro, a journalist and filmmaker, is a semiautobiographical novel about a French scholarship student's adventurous year at an elite, all-male, unnamed Virginia college. In a delightfully witty style, Labro poses a traditional European upbringing against the equally narrow rituals of Southern society in 1954-55. Ignoring the similarities, the nameless narrator revels in American differences: the college's unwritten dress code, male friendships that lead to future wealth and power, the significant convertible, Fats Domino and rock 'n roll, and, of course, American women. His first relationship is with April, a black maid. In a revealing analysis of 1950s race relations, the narrator finds himself walking a thin line between his love for a forbidden woman and his desire to be accepted by segregated Southern society. In contrast, his second girlfriend is Elizabeth, a co-ed in the midst of rebelling against her monied Bostonian parents who would have her star in high society. He is unable to understand her rejection of a realm of which he has grown enamored. Labro's third novel successfully captures, through the eyes of an outsider, the essence of the American collegiate rites of passage that were all-important in the 1950s. (June)