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Week in Review: May 29, 2020

An Amazing Discovery: Finding Dora Marr

If you buy a new address book on eBay, you would likely return it if its pages were filled with another person’s notes. But what if those notes belonged to one Dora Marr (1907-1997), avant-garde painter and photographer, and paramour to Pablo Picasso? What if it contained the names and addresses of luminaries like Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Balthus, and more?

In her book Finding Dora Marr: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life (Getty, tr. Jody Gladding), author and journalist Brigitte Benkemoun shares the true story of how this incredible piece of history landed at her doorstep, a portal to the Paris of the Surrealists, “a small keyhole through which [she] could peer at a world long vanished.” 

A combination of cultural history and detective story, Benkemoun uses Dora Marr’s address book to piece together her decade-long relationship with Picasso, her life during the Nazi occupation of Paris, the part she played in the avant-garde and Surrealist movements, and more.

Publisher’s Weekly raves: “This enthralling study of Paris and its artistic avant-garde should be required reading for Surrealist and modern art lovers.” 


Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Pioneer of Street Photography

In one photograph, children run and play on a sidewalk in 1962 Montreal; in another, mourners gather for the funeral of a kabuki actor in 1965 Tokyo. Oscillating between joy and despair, and capturing the breadth of the human experience, the candid photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) continue to entrance viewers with their artistic composition and stunning depth. 

A pioneer of street photography, Cartier-Bresson was known to bring his 35mm camera all over the world, capturing everything from city streetscapes to the portraits of those he met during his travels, his candid style paving the way for photography as a means of capturing fleeting moments otherwise lost.

Delve into a comprehensive collection of his work with Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographer (Prestel, preface by Yves Bonnefoy), a “must-have for art lovers and photographers alike.” 


Discover an Excerpt from The Punishment

“Many words have gone missing from that day. What remains are vacant, downcast eyes.”

In 1967, peaceful young political protester Tahar Ben Jelloun was one of nearly a hundred men taken into punitive custody by the Moroccan army, enduring unspeakable brutality that not all survived. 

His most recent book, The Punishment (Yale University Press, tr. Linda Coverdale), serves as a powerful portrait of this traumatic time in which helpless terror threatened to overtake his desperate hope of survival. Unsure he would withstand the appalling abuse of the cruel regime, Ben Jelloun managed to steal some paper in the hopes of leaving some testament behind, denouncing the evils of his time. 

After his unexpected release, he published his first poem, and went on to write countless award-winning books, poems, and essays, earning his place as one of the most esteemed Moroccan authors of his time. 

Read an excerpt of The Punishment here


Support your local bookstores!

With newfound time on their hands, many people are looking to reading as a means of entertainment and escapism. Yet, at the same time, bookstores and publishers large and small are struggling in the wake of pandemic shutdowns, even as they begin to reopen.

In France, the government is a proud patron of art and artists; subsidies, quotas, income support and tax breaks boost French music, cinema and literature. Still, these safety nets are not enough to stay afloat during these times. Recently, the French Publishers Association surveyed over 100 publishers and found that half expected to lose between 20% and 40% of revenue this year, with a quarter expecting to lose even more. In response, many publishers are forced to slash the number of new titles for the remainder of the year.

Bookstores in France, which closed in March, are slowly beginning to reopen; yet, publishers and bookstores alike do not anticipate customers returning in large numbers, spelling uncertainty in the future of these businesses. Many French bookstores are independently owned rather than large chains, meaning margins are tighter now than ever. 

Stateside, things are not faring much better, with March bookstore sales dropping 33.4% compared to last year, according to the US Census Bureau.

The takeaway here is an important one: support your local bookstores (like our own Albertine!) and take the time to discover new titles from your favorite independent publishers. 

As Voltaire put it, “What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbors, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”