Barbara's Reviews > Panther Soup

Panther Soup by John Gimlette
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Feb 19, 12

bookshelves: ww2, travel, paris
Read from February 14 to 19, 2012

This is both a frustrating and enlightening read. I learned a lot, but constantly had to stop reading and look up some bit of information: translate a phrase or acronym, define a word (often Briticisms), locate context or biography or geography. Gimlette slings it all out there and often does not slow down to explain. He has his own set of prejudices; he is, in short, high on America and American GIs, down on Marseilles, Paris, and all things French (including bouillabaisse) , and ambivalent about the Germans (they’re either sinister or comedic, short of like Sergeant Shultz of Hogan’s Heroes). Putnam Flint, the American GI whose WWII military journey from Marseilles to the Austrian Alps provides the structure for the book, is stoic, humble, and heroic in a quiet way. It interesting to read of his measured reactions to the changed landscape of Europe. However, often Gimlette sets out on his own. For example, Flint refuses to return to either Marseilles or Paris, so Gimlette goes alone with just an idea of what the typical American GI would have experienced. Thus we are treated to digressions about whores and brothels (of which Gimlette seems particularly enamored) as well as reactions to bouillabaisse (he hates it), the history of the Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and treacherous Alpine hiking excursions. Flint and his memories seem to pop in and out of the narrative. Basically this is a travel book, albeit about a journey most tourists would not elect to take, showing WWII Europe and sixty-years after draped around Putnam’s military experience. I found Gimlette’s narration opinionated and humorous; he has a sense of the absurdity of life and its travails, and turns a phrase well even when he’s going down a rabbit hole that only tangentially involves his purported subject. It’s hard to rate a book like this. Perhaps it was too long? However, I kept looking up explanations right up to the end, which means that it stayed interesting and relevant to me. This book better helps me to understand my own WWII veteran father and his reluctance to speak of the war at all. For that I am grateful, although I’m not sure I’ll read any of Gimlette’s other books.
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