Short reviews: Colette and Che Guevara

I enjoy reading biographies presented as graphic “novels”.

At the end of 2018, I read

  the provocative colette  Che

I really didn’t know much about the life of the famous French author Colette (1873-1954). The Provocative Colette (128 pages, published on 9/15/2018) made me discover what a wild woman she was for her time! The book focuses more on the first years of her becoming a respected author.
The illustrations were not bad, with a flavor of Belle Époque, the years mostly featured in the book.
The book ends with a chronology of her life, and a list of people in her life, with a few words on each.

Her grave in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Picture taken during my last trip to Paris.

I was amazed however, by the stunning art in Che: A Revolutionary Life (421 pages, published on 11/13/2018).
Very atmospheric, extremely precise and well done. You can see the first pages here. Even though I was fascinated by this man when I was a teen, I have never taken time to read in detail about him. This was a nice eye-opener on what the US have been doing in South America.
If you want to know more about Che Guevara (1928-1967), I highly recommend this book. Sad and powerful.

What are your favorite biographies in that format


Other great biographies I read in that format:

Monet  audubon  james joyce


16 thoughts on “Short reviews: Colette and Che Guevara

  1. Yikes, you’re a bibliophile, you’re French, even raised in the same region (Burgundy) as Colette, and you don’t know much about this great author! Surely you jest?

    I haven’t seen that graphic novel but it sounds like it covers the same ground as the current movie “Colette” starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West. I had serious doubts about the movie and the appropriateness of Ms Knightley to play the sensuous Gabriel Sidonie C. I’d say I was mostly correct but still the movie worked quite well and it gave an interesting view of the Belle Epoque as it unfolded. There were some unnecessary fictionalised or distorted things in the movie compared to the real life story, and I don’t understand why they did them because Colette’s actual story (even just the beginning as covered by the movie) didn’t need any embellishment to make it interesting or more cinematic.
    Of course it is no substitute for reading some of her books. This movie (and that book) cover the Claudine years up to the time she left Willy and before her breakthrough in her own name (ie. Vagabond). The thing she is most known for by most people would be Gigi and that wasn’t published until almost 50 years after this early period Colette! So the movie is likely to give the casual viewer rather lopsided view of her as an author or person.


    • Hmm, very interesting point and comment on the movie.
      Actually, during all my school years, Colette was NEVER part of the requested literature program. That was decades ago. I checked for current years, same thing. Whenever Colette was mentioned, the book most often referred to was actually La Chatte [The Cat], never Gigi. It didn’t help that my mother, a big reader as well, also thought she was a second rate writer. So instead, both my French education system and my mother made me read the big classics, such Hugo, Zola, Balzac, etc. I notice that these years, they require students to read more contemporary authors (Laurent Gaudé, Amélie Nothomb).
      Thanks for visiting my blog. Do you by any chance write about books or movies anywhere? I would be most interested in reading you


      • Different people will have different favourites. In my earlier post when I said “most people will know Gigi” I was really speaking of the non-French world. After all it was first a huge success on the stage with the fabulous Audrey Hepburn whom Colette herself chose to play the role (when she saw her on a film set in the south of France and later in the foyer of the Hotel de Paris, Cannes). It then became the film starring Leslie Caron. In fact Gigi was right at the end of her career, written early post-war but not published in English until the 50s.
        My own favourite, and a book I have given as a gift over the years, is La Naissance du Jour (Break of Day) which has an almost dreamy but sensuous quality that is both typical of her but also more subtle perhaps. It is a quite short book so also an easy read–well all her books are easy reads because she is a true natural–it is why the Claudine books were such a success, even under Willy’s name.
        The real reason her books are not on school curricula is that Colette is an utterly unfiltered sensual artist. Even in today’s era it may be considered a bit too out-there for children (and she was barely more than a child when she wrote the Claudines).
        Just another note on the movie. While I think the film was well done as cinema and quite good in depicting the Belle Epoque (probably should be more movies set in that amazing period–it was the 1960’s of the 19th century), my reservations are to do with its Colette story. I would say it will mislead people unfamiliar with her work. Especially with Keira K. in the lead; Colette was not some clueless ingenue. One has to understand that Colette was a seriously good writer and came to fame quite independent of the Claudine books (whose credit as writer she had to wrestle back from Willy and his estate, decades later; insiders in the publishing world knew she was the author but the public didn’t; Willy had a stable of such writers, in fact he was the Harvey Weinstein of his day! a nurturer and profiteer of other talents, and a fat lecher! He was in his 30s when he married the 19-year old Colette.).
        She was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature just before she died (would have eventually received it had she lived), and she was the first woman to receive a state funeral to which hundreds of thousands turned out on the streets of Paris. Her writing has stood the test of time; it was modern before modern was invented which I suppose defines the Belle Epoque though her real period was the inter-war years.
        I don’t think there is any woman in the Anglosphere* who comes close to her, as she was a creative artist in everything she did, from writing to cabaret-theatre, to plays (Gigi was a massive broadway success, partly because of her screenplay and her choice of Audrey) to her sense of style (some of this is covered in the current movie, hairstyles and dress sense) to changing societal mores (she openly cavorted with Missy, a cross-dressing noblewoman; the “vagabond years”). And she was a feminist even as she denied it, but she gave permission to generations of women to be themselves.

        *continued next post.


        • *continued from my previous post; on latter day Anglosphere Colettes:

          *If the likes of Madonna or even Lady Gaga modelled themselves on anyone–even if they didn’t know it–it could have been Colette. But they are mere shadows of Colette and a better contender is Joni Mitchell, who not only is a Nobel contender (after Dylan has set the precedent for singer-songwriter poets) for her astounding body of work across 50 years, and her quite unique musical and lyrical talents (open tunings, “strange” chord changes etc). Also her changing styles which left earlier fans behind (they couldn’t cope with the greater sophistication of her later works). But she also combined a sort of cabaret performance art (even her boyfriend of the time didn’t recognize her when she dressed as a black man for the party-photoshoot that became the cover of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, or nudity (see inside gatefold of For the Roses), and of course is still associated today with her particular 60s-70s style (she made a lot of her own clothes), her painting (many of her album covers), her house-making, subject of Graham Nash’s Our House; it is said that she turned her modest houses into works of art–her little house shared with Nash, became a trope for the image of Laurel Canyon (and yes, Ladies of the Canyon)—there is a tiny hint of this in Colette the movie, though they focused on the country house in Besancon not St Tropez. The latter was Colette’s escape from Paris while Joni’s escape from LA and the “star-making machinery” was her house on the coast north of Vancouver (and where that nude photoshoot on the rocks was made; at the time it seemed a bit strange but now it simply seems … natural and .. almost pre-Raphaelite, there’s a hint of Millais’ Ophelia here).

          And of course her long list of famous lovers (though, like Colette, were serial never promiscuous, of which the famous ‘old lady’ accusation by Rolling Stone). She even had her sometimes-evil, sometimes-brilliant svengali, in David Geffen (the subject of Free Man in Paris) a veritable latterday Willy if ever there was one (other than HarveyW). Not be confused with Joni’s “Willy”, her nickname for Nash—though as it happens JM gave what became her most famous song, Woodstock to Nash and his buddies (Crosby, Stills ….) who had a mega-hit with an inferior version.

          She even had a daughter she neglected (well, Colette neglected her daughter who was mostly raised by others, while Joni adopted out her baby girl, to reconnect 30 years later; by the way I think this is why two songs, Little Green and much later Magdalena Laundries are unbearably laden with emotion).

          Just as Colette wrote openly and nakedly about emotions and sensuality that no one before had dared, when Joni played the pre-release tapes of Blue to some friends, Kris Kristofferson said “oh Joni, save something for yourself”. Many consider the album Blue to be the greatest bit of poetic-musical confessional-creativity of the last century (yes, more than anything by Dylan or … Gainsbourg).

          As Colette was stricken with crippling arthritis in old age (watching the world from the balcony of her Palais Royal grace-and-favour apartment) so Joni has post-polio syndrome and recently a CVI. Those Swedes in their academies better get moving because, like Colette, Joni might be gone if they don’t get their act together soon.

          In fact, because Colette was born in the 19th century it allows me to award that century to her (even if most of her work was in the next) and the 20th to Joni 🙂


          • Thanks for all the details and parallels. So may I ask again, do you have a blog? There are a lot of very serious and wonderful Australia book bloggers out there. Or do you publish your writings anywhere?


        • Ah, now I totally understand your point about Gigi.
          And thanks for La Naissance du jour.
          “I don’t think there is any woman in the Anglosphere* who comes close to her”. I would be curious to see what other book bloggers think about this. I may create a post on that actually


          • Good idea. But stand back as the fireworks and vitriol is thrown!
            There has been much “discussion” online of Keira Knightley in the movie. I never knew there was a “hate KK” movement out there! They particularly hate her pout. I’m not part of that but I am of the club of Colette admirers who cannot understand the filmmaker’s choice. The director and screenwriter (who was his partner and died before the movie was finally made) had 20 years to stew on this. I suppose not being a big-time director, and with limited budget, they had to go for name recognition etc. One wonders why a French actor wasn’t used–there is no shortage.
            For this reason I was expecting the worst but, as I wrote, the movie isn’t so bad. But that also begs the question of whether a bunch of Anglos, even if professed fans of Colette, should make such a movie. I think they didn’t really get below the skin of the essential Colette, which is a very French definition of sensuality in everything. Also, instead of a movie focussing on just her early life–which in most respects is the least interesting part–it might do better as a six-part TV mini-series which could deal with her whole amazing life and the amazing bits of history it traversed–Belle Epoque, interwar years of 20s and 30s and two world wars and early post-WW2! Perhaps with a different actor for each period. If it was written as fiction no one would believe it!
            But it also strikes me that the French are being seriously negligent in this indifference to one of their major literary and historical figures.
            No, I don’t have a blog but do write (or did) more technical & political pieces.


  2. Thanks for the heads up about the book about Che. After our time in Cuba 2 years ago, Mr Books and I are still fascinated by all things related to it.
    I recently read Maus and have become a HUGE fan of the graphic novel bio.

    I’ve started a travel photography meme on our travel blog – I thought you might like to show off some of your French photos by joining in ?
    No pressure of course, just a FYI 🙂


    • Did you write anywhere about your time in Cuba? I would be very interested.
      I have hesitated launching into Maus, maybe too tough for me.
      Just went to visit your 2 other gorgeous blogs, great pictures on Cuba and elsewhere. I’m now following both. How do you want me to participate in Exploring the World?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was hoping that more people (ie you 😊) might create a photo post for #Thursdaytravels & link it to my weekly post. I love seeing people’s holiday pics & creative efforts.

        Thanks for taking the time to pop by. Cuba was amazing. We had hoped to write more posts than the few we actually did. But real life got the better of us once we were back at home etc! I’m hoping that Thursday travels will encourage me to do mini posts about what we saw & experienced in Cuba.


  3. Regarding this (my) subject matter in my old posts above, I recommend you read and review:

    Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
    by David Yaffe
    Publisher ‏ : ‎ Sarah Crichton Books; Reprint edition (October 2, 2018)
    Language ‏ : ‎ English
    Paperback ‏ : ‎ 448 pages
    ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0374538069
    ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0374538064

    David Yaffe is a professor at U Syracuse and a serious writer, musician, producer, and this is the best, most serious book on JM.


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