Good morning, and welcome to another open forum in “The Books That Changed My Life But I Can’t Remember What They Were, Exactly” series. This morning for breakfast we’re having ful (pronounced “fool”) madammas. Not only that, it’s April ful—a bit late, but never mind, as Nancy Mitford would have said. Years ago in Cairo I had ful madammas for breakfast a couple of times, although I noticed later that the hotel restaurant charged me for the Full European. (Stereotypes work both ways.) It’s actually quite tasty and there are little dishes of spice for you to sprinkle on it—turmeric, curry powder, even allspice.
With it we are having Moroccan tea. One of the things I loved most about traveling in the Middle East was how the waiter would always serve the hot tea with mint leaves. Some cafés even had little jars stuffed with sprigs of fresh mint on the tables. Moroccan tea, made with lemon, star anise, and sugar as well as mint, is particularly delicious.
Now, if you’ve breakfasted sufficiently, please lurch after me into the salon.
It was mentioning Nancy Mitford a couple of weeks ago in an open forum that got me thinking of anti-Americanism in books, particularly novels, I’ve read. These novels, as it happened, were all written by English people. Following are a few examples.
From Mitford’s Don’t Tell Alfred:
Fanny Wincham, wife of the newly appointed Ambassador to Paris Alfred Wincham, speaks of her first encounter with Mrs. Mildred Jungfleish, an American woman living in Paris.In Edward Rutherfurd’s novel Sarum there is a discussion toward the end of the book between the Englishwoman Patricia Shockley, an A.T.S. driver, and her American airman lover, Adam Shockley. Owing to the kindness of kossack Nuclear Winter Solstice, who sent me a copy of the book, I’m able to quote a couple of passages, as follows.
“I was agreeably surprised by her voice, which was not very American, rather more like that of an Englishwoman who has once lived in the United States.”
Philip, First Secretary to Sir Alfred Wincham, has morning chats with Fanny while she’s having breakfast. He discusses the Americans in Europe:
“Art and music are only to be found in Yurrup. (Art is booming so they love it, they even call their children it.) They come over prospecting for them-–at the same time they don’t want to be left out of things at home, so they play an uneasy game of musical chairs between Yurrup and the States, hurtling to and fro in rockets, getting iller and madder and more frightened than ever.”
“Frightened of what?” Fanny asks.
“Oh, somebody else being in on something first; falling down dead; a recession—I don’t know, dreadfully fidgety.”
On the next occasion they met she said something even stranger. They had seen a G.I. buying an armload of goods in the marketplace and she had shaken her head disapprovingly.Frederick Forsyth also had an anti-American diatribe in one of his spy novels but alas, I can’t remember which. I know it wasn’t The Afghan because I just reread it, trying to find that passage.
“It’s terrible, their having so much money,” she remarked, as though it were a statement of fact.
“You mean, it makes the English people jealous.”
She stared at him in complete astonishment.
“Of course I don’t. I mean it’s bad for them, for the G.I.s. Nothing to be jealous about.”
On another occasion, Patricia says the class system will disappear after the war and a good thing too.
“Welcome to America,” he said with a smile.
“Oh, I don’t think we want anything like that,” she said.
He was puzzled. “Why not?”
“Too capitalist. All greed.”
“So let me get this straight. You want the people to be free, but they mustn’t get rich, is that it?”
She laughed. “You’re trying to make me look stupid, but in a way, yes.”
In the past anti-Americanism in books didn’t bother me; I was so intent on the plot of the novel that it all sort of went in one ear and out the other. Now, looking back, it does bother me. It bothers me that the late Nancy Mitford once characterized the inhabitants of the United States as being “descended from people who could not succeed in Europe and furiously shook its dust off their feet.”
Many of us here on dailykos agree that this country is far from perfect and contains huge blemishes on its past—slavery, the oppression of Native Americans, the concentration camps of World War II (only for those of Japanese descent, not for those of German descent), and so on. In modern times we have wars of choice and the use of torture to make us ashamed.
But there are good things about this country too. There used to be a feeling that if you wanted something badly enough and were willing to work hard for it, you could get it. This country has given generously to other countries in need. When I was growing up my mother used to tell me of a cartoon that appeared on the editorial page of the newspaper every Christmas. It depicted a Christmas tree with the word “USA” written on it. Hanging on the tree was one little present, marked “Finland.” Finland, Mother told me, was the only country that even tried to repay its war loans.
Have you encountered anti-Americanism in the novels you’ve read and has it bothered you? Why or why not? Do you think those writers ought to be taken to the woodshed or congratulated on their perspicacity?
The floor is yours!