Whims of Fortune

Whims of Fortune

  • Hardback
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Product details

  • Hardback | 352 pages
  • 150 x 230mm
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Illustrationssome col.), ports.(some col.)
  • 0246124725
  • 9780246124722

Review Text

"Too serious by nature to be a playboy," unlike his somewhat playboyish cousin Philippe (Baron Philippe, p. 33), Guy de Rothschild has led a life of relentless industry as well as a life of very grand leisure - and these memoirs, full of business and politics and nostalgia and passion, reflect all aspects of his personality with equal intensity. After opening remarks about the stereotypes and realities of being Very Rich ("No one sees the rich as brothers"), Guy offers a disarmingly ecstatic evocation of his boyhood circa 1920: the "veritable paradise" of the family's unique castle/estate, Ferrieres, its gardens and stables and dozens of servants. Throughout, however, he also stresses the "comfort and intimacy" of the Rothschild taste, the emphasis on tradition and refinement over luxury, and the near-daily lesson from his imposing mother: "You've got to make up for having more than other people. . ." (His elegant banker-father "seemed more like a loving, slightly absent-minded visitor.") Following a democratic youth (lycee and military service), young Guy did enjoy the 1930s high-life (Deauville, Biarritz, cars, golf, the demimonde) - while finding little to do at the quaint Rothschild Bank, which was "gently prolonging the nineteenth century." But then came the German invasion, service as a troop officer (the Croix de Guerre for Dunkirk heroism), and flight from the Nazis: under all those Rothschild privileges "I could be nothing more than just another Jew." The WW II path led to New York, then (surviving a shipwreck) to London to join de Gaulle's Free French. (Both the edgy Gaullist contingent and the inspiring British home-front are memorably sketched.) So, after the war, a battle-tested Guy was ready "to resume the role of a Rothschild banker in France, determined to rejuvenate our firm and restore the family prestige": he chronicles his dealings with the Compagnie du Nord, French African oil, and the multinational IMETAL, his anguish over Mitterand's nationalization of French banks. And other firm-focused chapters are devoted to: Guy as horse-lover; a portrait of beloved second wife Marie-Helene (a bona fide charmer); an hilarious, scary tale of Guy's day with an armed, flaky kidnapper; and the Rothschilds as French Jews - a subject which surfaces, often very movingly, again and again. American readers probably won't latch onto the controversial entries here - like Guy's eloquent chapter on his close friend Georges Pompidou. But, aside from a slight tendency toward French-style verbal effusion, this is a varied, sometimes compelling memoir (different readers will be held by different chapters) - studded with vivid miniatures of Isaiah Berlin, Arthur Koestler, Gregor Piatigorsky (Guy's brother-in-law), and Louis Aragon. (Kirkus Reviews)show more