From a 1959 put-down of Jack Kerouac to a 1988 meditation on Klaus Barbie, Gestapo chief of Lyons, France, these bracing essays never falter in readability or intellectual rigor. Whether she's discussing the cultural awakening in Spain after Franco's death, or the blurring of fiction and nonfiction in recent books, Solomon ( Arriving Where We Started ) links culture to politics, broadly defined. One brave essay analyzes Marguerite Duras's Prix Goncourt-winning novel The Lover as ``a shrewd mingling of erotic experience and racist nostalgia.'' Solomon talks with Norman Mailer about ancient Egypt, presents personal recollections of James Baldwin and Diego Rivera, reports on the murder trial of ``Midwest innocent'' Jean Harris. Not the least of this collection's serendipitous pleasures are her travelogues, which capture the sadness and beauty of Texas, the ferment of Madrid, the violent, electric hum of New York City. (Mar.)
Most of these perceptive essays fall into two subject areas: postwar Europe (and wartime collaborators) and more familiar themes in American culture. Shuttling from France and Spain to New York and Texas, Solomon calls for unusually cosmopolitan readers. And since her name is not that widely known, the number of readers who will venture to pick up this book may be few--a misfortune, for Solomon is a very sharp observer of the political-cultural landscape. As an intellectual herself, she is especially shrewd at ferreting out the intellectual's frequent evasion of moral and economic choice. She discusses contemporary literature (Duras, Baldwin, Mailer, etc.), usually for clues to its social environment. This book deserves attention from librarians collecting in modern culture studies.-- Donald Ray, Manhattanville Coll. Lib., Purchase, N.Y.