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Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'The Némirovsky Question: The life, death and legacy of a Jewish writer in 20th century France' by Susan Rubin Suleiman

May 2017, no. 391 27 April 2017
When Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française appeared in 2004, it was a huge success, in France and throughout the English-speaking world as well. Its account of France’s collapse at the beginning of World War II, and its portrayal of the early part of the German Occupation, are now acknowledged as profoundly insightful and of an epic scope matched by few other writers. In addition, the story of ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Les Parisiennes: How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died in the 1940s' by Anne Sebba

April 2017, no. 390 30 March 2017
The eminent French historian Annette Wieviorka, in The Era of the Witness (1998, English version in 2006), analyses the difficulties arising, in writing historical narratives about recent times, from the exponential growth in the number of people wanting their stories to be heard. Wieviorka, whose field of specialisation is the Shoah, traces the trend of what she calls the ‘democratisation’ of ... (read more)

'Letter from Paris' by Colin Nettelbeck

June–July 2016, no. 382 23 May 2016
After the horrific massacres in Paris and the ensuing ones in Belgium that were purportedly intended for France, the French were spontaneously drawn together in a defiant affirmation of their fundamental values. In the weeks following the killings, they marched, they ate at restaurants, they took the métro, they gathered in museums, galleries, and cinemas. They were not, in short, going to be imm ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'After the Circus' by Patrick Modiano

May 2016, no. 381 26 April 2016
In early 1960s Paris, an eighteen-year-old who is keeping up his student enrolment to delay compulsory military service is questioned by the police because his name has been found in an address book. At the same time, a slightly older young woman is also being interrogated. The boy contrives to meet her afterwards in a café. Thus begins a story which is part romance, part identity quest, part cri ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People' by Sudhir Hazareesingh

April 2016, no. 380 30 March 2016
Have the French thought themselves to death? This is the question that Sudhir Hazareesingh poses in this erudite and stimulating book. His concluding chapter is a piece of diplomatic fence-sitting, but, notwithstanding the claim of the subtitle's affection, much of the analysis points to a national culture in terminal decline, inward-looking, nostalgic for past glories, anxious for its future, and ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'The Cambridge Introduction to French Literature' by Brian Nelson

December 2015, no. 377 30 November 2015
'It is hard to imagine a more challenging scholarly task than composing, in under three hundred pages, an introduction to a field as vast and variegated as French literature. From the fabliaux, mystery plays and chansons de geste of medieval times to such figures as the present-day Nobel Prize-winning novelists Le Clézio and Modiano, it embraces nine hundred years of textual production. It is a v ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Suspended Sentences' by Patrick Modiano translated by Mark Polizzotti

June-July 2015, no. 372 28 May 2015
Outside academia, Patrick Modiano was virtually unknown in the English-speaking world before the announcement of his Nobel Prize in October 2014. Since then, no fewer than seven different US publishers have joined the race to bring out Modiano titles, which is gratifying for those familiar with the work of a man ranked as one of France’s great writers for over forty years. It is especially pleas ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Chasing Lost Time' by Jean Findlay

May 2015, no. 371 30 April 2015
Jean Findlay had access to an impressive array of sources when writing this biography of her great-great uncle. She does not always make the best choices in navigating the mass of material: too many pages are cluttered with unsifted detail, and the family history genre often interferes with the biographical project of a significant public figure. However, the multiplicity of authentic documents ... (read more)

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe' by Matthew Pratt Guterl

October 2014, no. 365 01 October 2014
When Josephine Baker died in Paris in April 1975, it was almost fifty years since her sensational triumph in that city in 1925 as the star of La Revue Nègre. Her legendary status in France today remains linked to her emblematic role in the extraordinary unleashing of emotion and sensuality that came with the French Jazz Age and its upheaval of tradition. But her image also includes her work in th ... (read more)
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