Picks and Pans Review: The War

updated 06/16/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/16/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Marguerite Duras

People who were awed last year by Duras' The Lover, the story of her affair at 15 with an older man in Indochina, may consider her new book more a fragment than a complete work. It contains three memoirs and two unimpressive short stories set in Paris during the last days of World War II. The title piece, marked by inspired turns of phrase, is a raw, unsentimental look at betrayal. Waiting for her husband, "Robert L," to return from Dachau, Duras writes: "The pain is so great it can't breathe, it gasps for air. Pain needs room." Yet when Robert returns to her, she flees the nightmarish sight of this stranger who is more dead than alive. "Albert of the Capitals" describes the author's role in interrogating and torturing an informer after the Liberation. "He's become someone without anything in common with other men," Duras observes as the old man they have captured metamorphoses into an object of revenge. In "Ter of the Militia" she profiles a likeable but superficial 23-year-old named Ter, who joined a French gang that ambushed members of the Resistance because he liked guns, cars and women. The writing is uneven, but Duras is never boring. She has a detached, sometimes angry intelligence that sifts through the history she's lived till nuggets of truth spill from her memory. (Pantheon, $13.95)

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