Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Rose tinted

John Hanson Mitchell’s new book – The Rose Café – Love and War in Corsica (Shoemaker Hoard, 2007) is a cheerful and undemanding little work, but it deserves a place in the jigsaw of Corsica’s literary heritage.

The book is an autobiographical essay based in l’Ile Rousse in the Balagne in 1962. It is based on the notes of a young American writer who worked in a café for a single dreamy summer to escape service in Vietnam, and it sews a tapestry of intrigues, love affairs and daily routines as the lives of the café’s staff, visitors and locals interact with each other.

The details of dress, games and food are meticulously recorded and it is this authenticity which gives it such importance. The timing is 18 years after the end of World War 2 - and before Corsica’s holiday boom started.

When the action takes place, some of the old Corsica is still there and the dark world of Prosper Merimée’s Colomba hovers in the background throughout. The other dark presence is the spectre of the recent war, still haunting some of the characters as they try and escape from their past.

Against this backdrop, the young Parisian student, Marie - about to resit her Baccalaureat - flits like a pretty butterfly. But the older, heavier beasts that inhabit the Rose Café demand closer attention…

It’s a good read - both for those who know Corsica and those who don’t - and I commend it to you. But I wish the author hadn’t been quite so remote from all that was going on!

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