Picks and Pans Review: Adieux: a Farewell to Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, died in 1980 at the age of 74. In the first half of the book, a journal she kept from 1970 to 1980, de Beauvoir, Sartre's lifelong companion, tracks his gradual but inexorable decline. We learn of Sartre's trouble with his teeth, his growing blindness, his failing bladder and his occasional and debilitating bouts of drunkenness, in one sad instance fueled by bottles of whiskey and vodka brought by young women visitors. De Beauvoir seems intent on recording these events, not explaining or condemning them. Her loving, yet keen eye misses little of Sartre's slide into the grave. She writes of "a fixed smile of universal kindness on his lips (a smile caused by a slight paralysis of the facial muscles)." The second half of Adieux is devoted to a series of cool but cathartic conversations between the pair, who together probe nearly every nook of Sartre's psyche. When de Beauvoir asks his opinion of literature, he answers, "At present, I've finished. I'm on the other side of the door." Patrick O'Brian's translation does not pass on to the English reader the elegant clarity of de Beauvoir's prose. But free of self-pity by either participant, Adieux is a moving tribute of rare, unromanticized honesty and humanity. (Pantheon, $19.95)
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