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If Simone de Beauvoir and Jack Kerouac had a literature baby, it would be this collection of stories. One aspect of this book that I admire is that de Beauvoir did not originally have the intention of writing a book about her four month journey across the United States. This collection was compiled after her adventures via diary entries, letters, and other informal notes. To see de Beauvoir's grand intellect experience American culture, in all its kitschy glory, keeps the reader hooked. Imagine one of the greatest early feminists and existentialist philosophers sitting in a cafe, examining the Americans around her. A personal account of de Beauvoir is nothing like any of her other written works and it is wonderful. In these pages, step back in time to the perspective of a French philosopher experiencing Post-War America.
Here is the ultimate American road book, one with a perspective unlike that of any other. In January 1947 Simone de Beauvoir landed at La Guardia airport and began a four-month journey that took her from one coast of the United States to the other, and back again. Embraced by the Condé Nast set in a swirl of cocktail parties in New York, where she was hailed as the "prettiest existentialist" by Janet Flanner in The New Yorker, de Beauvoir traveled west by car, train, and Greyhound, immersing herself in the nation's culture, customs, people, and landscape. The detailed diary she kept of her trip became America Day by Day, published in France in 1948 and offered here in a completely new translation. It is one of the most intimate, warm, and compulsively readable texts from the great writer's pen.
Fascinating passages are devoted to Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and San Antonio. We see de Beauvoir gambling in a Reno casino, smoking her first marijuana cigarette in the Plaza Hotel, donning raingear to view Niagara Falls, lecturing at Vassar College, and learning firsthand about the Chicago underworld of morphine addicts and petty thieves with her lover Nelson Algren as her guide. This fresh, faithful translation superbly captures the essence of Simone de Beauvoir's distinctive voice. It demonstrates once again why she is one of the most profound, original, and influential writers and thinkers of the twentieth century.
On New York:"I walk between the steep cliffs at the bottom of a canyon where no sun penetrates: it's permeated by a salt smell. Human history is not inscribed on these carefully calibrated buildings: They are closer to prehistoric caves than to the houses of Paris or Rome."
On Los Angeles:"I watch the Mexican dances and eat chili con carne, which takes the roof off my mouth, I drink the tequila and I'm utterly dazed with pleasure."
About the Author
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) is the author of many books, among them The Second Sex (1949) and The Mandarins (1954), which won the Prix Goncourt. Carol Cosman is a freelance translator who has also translated Jean-Paul Sartre's The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1857. Douglas Brinkley is a Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and the author of a forthcoming biography of Jimmy Carter.