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Émigré New York: French Intellectuals in Wartime Manhattan, 1940-1944 by Jeffrey Mehlman (79,000 words, 2 illustrations)

Wartime New York was the city where French Symbolism — Maurice Maeterlinck — came to live out its last productive years; where French surrealism — André Breton — came to survive; and where French structuralism — Claude Lévi-Strauss — came to be born. From the largely forgotten prewar visit to the city of Pétain and Laval to the seizing, burning, and capsizing of the
Normandie, France’s floating museum, in the Hudson River, Jeffrey Mehlman evokes the writerly world of French Manhattan, its achievements and feuds, presenting a series of surprising and expertly etched portraits against the backdrop of an overriding irony: the United States, the world’s principal hope in the battle against Hitler’s barbarism, was for the most part more eager to deal with Pétain’s collaborationist regime than with what Secretary of State Cordell Hull called de Gaulle’s "so-called Free French" movement.

“One of modern European history’s great stories. Jeffrey Mehlman tells the tale appealingly and persuasively... The individual stories — not least the symbolism of the ocean liner
Normandie’s tragic burning and capsizing... — would be plenty to go on with, but Mr. Mehlman’s theme is a larger one. He finds the French intellectuals in World War II New York not very different from the French aristocrats who found refuge in Koblenz in the last decade of the 18th century, hoping for a reversal of the Revolution and restoration of the ancien regime.” — Colin Walters, Washington Times

“Subtle, erudite, and often humorous. Previous attempts by literature professors to tackle culture have not always resulted in works as mind-stretching and entertaining as this account.” — Stanley Hoffman,
Foreign Affairs

“A series of elegant essays of cultural criticism.” — Kim Munholland,
American Historical Review

“Jeffrey Mehlman has written an intriguing, highly original work... [He] has succeeded in achieving a personal, yet erudite, series of insights about intellectual production of French writers and philosophers exiled in New York during the Second World War... Mehlman deftly and sometime humorously brings to life this motley cast of characters.” — Jonathan Gosnell,
French Review

“Mehlman’s insightful book on French exiles in wartime New York City enriches the understanding of how very diverse political exiles reacted to the traumatic suffering of their homelands and other countries occupied by the Nazis.” — Edmund J. Campion,
Magill’s Literary Annual

“Mehlman’s greatest achievement... is neither the history he’s opened up nor the reputations he’s reclaimed. It is the quality of the close reading that is most admirable, tracing words and themes as they echo and resonate from one text to another.” — David Herman,
Jewish Quarterly

“Mehlman has written a brilliant, original, and challenging work. There is quite simply no other work like it, because Mehlman works on two levels at once, historical and metaphysical. It should find an eager audience among scholars working in the fields of twentieth-century French literature, the history of French thought, and the history of France in World War II.” — Arthur Goldhammer, Center for European Studies,
Harvard University