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Correspondence

March 18, 2001

To the Editor:

In his review (Book Review, Feb. 25), Richard Seaver does not review my book but attacks me instead. He has invited all those with whom I take issue to give their responses and then accepts their versions uncritically, without the barest effort to probe or question their motives. Curiously, Alberto Vitale and Fred Jordan-both instrumental in the evisceration of Pantheon Books-put forward accounts that completely contradict eyewitness reports and verbatim notes taken at the time of the events and on which I based my book.

Seaver would have you believe that Pantheon's six editors and I left the jobs we loved in response to the eminently reasonable position that Vitale now maintains was his at the time. Any reviewer applying some critical faculty would surely question the obvious contradiction here, but not Seaver.

What is ludicrous when applied to my own story is shocking when Seaver uses the same technique to rewrite and distort my father's experience during the German occupation of France. Seaver has the gall to insist that he knows my family's history better than I do. Thus he says that my father "left one step ahead of the Nazis" when I make it very clear in my book that we lived in Nazi-occupied France for over a year, a year during which my father, a Russian Jew, had every reason to fear that our family would end up in concentration camps rather than in the United States.

Seaver further states that my father was not removed from his position at the French publishing house Gallimard in 1940, and he cites Gallimard's grandson's denial as evidence of my "playing fast and loose with the facts." Yet my account is fully substantiated. I have in my possession the letter Antoine Gallimard wrote at the beginning of the German occupation dismissing my father. Moreover, this event is independently verified in the standard history of French publishing under the German occupation and in Alice Kaplan's essay in the Yale French Studies. As I say in my book, I sent Antoine Gallimard photocopies of the letter his grandfather wrote in the vain hope that he would admit what had happened. For all that, I do not accuse the Gallimard family of being anti-Semitic, as Seaver falsely asserts. I simply say that like many French people during the Vichy years, they gave in to Nazi pressures. It's understandable, though unfortunate, that Antoine Gallimard should continue to deny what his family did. It is inexcusable, however, that Seaver should use his self-serving account as proof that I am the one who is lying. And it is a profound shock and disgrace to see these denials appearing in the pages of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, of all places.

Seaver is of course free to disagree with the arguments in my book-though, amazingly, he chooses not do to so. He has no excuse, however to distort the past in this shameless way.

Andre Schiffrin New York

*

To the Editor:

On Ash Wednesday, I read Richard Seaver's double review of books on the business of books. The first was Jason Epstein's take, the second Andre Schiffrin's. If there is a touch of religiosity to this note, I hope you'll understand.

Seaver's approach to Epstein's work was one of reverence, of awe approaching worship. It had a churchly feeling; that of a genuflecting altar boy. Suddenly, as he switched to Schiffrin's Satanic Verses, Seaver was transmogrified into a butcher boy gone berserk, his meat cleaver slashing away at the culprit. It was only a brief moment after he had attended mass at St. Jason's Cathedral. Wow!

I don't recall any review in years that came close to this one as a premeditated hatchet job, ad hominum all the way. It was a relentless assault on Schiffrin's honesty and reputation; every pejorative was called upon by the Lord's avenging angel. I'm afraid it approached burlesque in the study of loathing. The boy didn't know when to quit.

Credit must be given to Seaver for his assiduousness in this pursuit. He even went so far as to call Paris in re Schiffrin's father and Gallimard. He scoured the index of the book with a gimlet eye for any slip he could uncover. It was Seaver's energy as well as dedication that was astonishing. Inspector Seaver was out to get his man in a manner Javert hadn't dreamed of. I was impressed.

If ever I were out to get someone I regarded as my bte noir, I'd hire Richard Seaver in a New York minute. That boy is really good. I appreciate the L.A. Times Book Review for putting me on to him.

Studs Terkel Chicago

*

Richard Seaver replies:

Andre Schiffrin is of course upset at my review of his book, "The Business of Books" and claims that my attack was on him personally rather than on the book itself. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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