Jun. 23rd, 2008

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The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France reads like two books: one is a theoretical exploration of the way gifts function in societies, in a "mode" parallel to the economic exchange of money and goods, and the other is a collection of details about everyday (and elite) life in early modern France. From the reenactment perspective, the details (followed through the bibliography) are a treasure-house of potential: étrennes are presents given at New Year's, usually to children and servants, but étrennes might also be poems for friends or patrons; Gaspard de Saillans wore his fiancé's blue taffeta garter tied about his neck. The discussions of patronage and the theology of gifts are interesting but incomplete: each could be a book of its own, mayhap is somewhere else in Natalie Zemon Davis' work.

Book One and Book Two of The Power of One by Bruce Courtenay each end with revenge, or perhaps it would be better to say cosmic retribution. I would have preferred less tidiness, a more sprawling bittersweet conclusion. From scene to scene the story, about coming of age in 1940s South Africa, revels in mess; shit, blood, and casual racism are taken in stride, while sadism requires intricate resistance.

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