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Books: Poor White Trash

3 minute read
Paul Gray



Translated by NORMAN SHAPIRO

311 pages. Scribner’s. $8.95.

For those who have always wondered what it would feel like to be worked over by the Gestapo, French Essayist and Novelist Jean Raspail has concocted a reasonable facsimile. The Camp of the Saints shrewdly exploits a dilemma that the world may well face: the moment when the burgeoning Third World rises from misery and forces the West to share more of its resources. Apocalyptic fiction could come from this chilling premise, but Raspail, 50, is willing to settle for a harangue.

The time is the not so distant future, when nearly 1 million hungry refugees from the Ganges commandeer 100 rusty ships—heavily freighted with symbolism and exiles—and set sail for the promised land of Europe. The white Christian world is a flaccid parody of its once dominant self, sapped by guilt, ecumenical dilutions of religion and “all that brotherhood crap.” When it becomes clear that the passive invaders will run aground off the Côte d’Azur, the French are so “mucked up with brotherly love” that they turn their country over with scarcely a whimper.

The notion of France undone by its own benevolence is a grand comic conceit. But Raspail is not joking. A swash buckling world traveler and a columnist for France’s moderately conservative Le Figaro, he prefaces his book by insisting that it is “no wild-eyed dream,” then drives his argument home with a trip hammer. With nary a dissenting voice, the seagoing Indians are variously described as “Ganges scum,” “starving bastards,” a “stinking mob” and a “filthy mess.” The only praise in the novel goes to some doomed white hunters who hap pily kill unarmed Indians. Whatever Raspail’s private views of nonwhites, he clearly has not a minute to waste on nuance. The danger, as he sees it, is too near. The horrible miscegenation he fears infects his very metaphors: “The tidal wave fleeing the south has paused briefly to catch its collective breath in the soft underbelly of the nation.”

This bilious tirade would not be worth a moment’s thought if it had come off a mimeograph machine in some dank cellar. Instead, The Camp of the Saints arrives trailing clouds of praise from French savants, including Dramatist Jean Anouilh (“A haunting book of ir resistible force and calm logic”), with the imprint of a respected U.S. publisher and a teasing pre-publication ad campaign (“The end of the white world is near”). Before the book is called “courageous” or “provocative,” a small distinction should be made. The portrait of racial enmity is one matter. The exacerbation is quite another.

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