Sunday, February 05, 2006

American Vertigo by Avec Levy

The Atlantic Monthly gave an assignment to French journalist, activist, writer and filmmaker, Avec Levy to follow in the footsteps of another well-read French visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville, who in 1831 wrote the classic political travelogue, Democracy in America. American Vertigo is the result of this assignment where Avec M. Levy, an outsider, looks and writes about the political, social and economical situation in the U.S.

Bob Minzesheimer on USA Today writes:
After 1,500 miles of "slow travel" across America, the French writer Bernard-Henri Lévy struggles with his conclusions about "this magnificent, mad country, laboratory of the best and worst, greedy and modest, at home in the world and self-obsessed, puritan and outrageous, facing toward the future and yet obsessed with its memories."
The book has recieved more negative reviews from critics. Garrison Keillor from New York Times found it to be an irritating book:
He worships Woody Allen and Charlie Rose in terms that would make Donald Trump cringe with embarrassment. He admires Warren Beatty, though he sees Beatty at a public event "among these rich and beautiful who, as always in America . . . form a masquerade of the living dead, each one more facelifted and mummified than the next, fierce, a little mutant-looking, inhuman, ultimately disappointing." Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him. Rain falls on the crowd gathered for the dedication of the Clinton library in Little Rock, and to Lévy, it signifies the demise of the Democratic Party. As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions. He has a brief encounter with a young man outside of Montgomery, Ala. ("I listen to him tell me, as if he were justifying himself, about his attachment to this region"), and suddenly sees that the young man has "all the reflexes of Southern culture" and the "studied nonchalance . . . so characteristic of the region." With his X-ray vision, Lévy is able to reach tall conclusions with a single bound.
I think what most reviewers forgot while reviewing this book is the simple fact that this is how America appears to an outsider. Being an American you take the over all environment around you naturally but for him it was strange and fantastic as an reviewer Beth puts it:
Yes, I like the book. Not because its about anything in America I know, but because of the elements of America I either didn't know about or didn't care that much about. Putting myself in the authors shoes I tried to visualize how he chose the places and people he was writing about. American Vertigo : Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville

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