When I was a journalist in Paris, working for CBS News from 1984 to 1987, I wrote a radio report about a day I spent with newspaper columnist Claude Sarraute. I loved reading Sarraute’s columns in Le Monde.
When I asked if I could interview her, even shadow her in the newsroom, I was surprised when she said yes. Sarraute, who was a writer for Le Monde for 40 years, beginning in 1953, died June 20, at the age of 95.
Looking at recent photos of her, it’s hard for me to reconcile the woman I see and the one I remember – reddish brown hair, curly, almost shoulder length, a super-energetic woman, constantly smoking, typing up a storm. Here’s my script from years ago, saved in my files, but tweaked a bit for MyFrenchLife Magazine.
“When France’s prestigious daily Le Monde hits the newsstands, its readers don’t scan the headlines or turn to the Sports page. Most of them flip to a pungent mix of political satire and Jewish humor. To a column called, “On the Spot” (“Sur le Vif”). Its author is Claude Sarraute and she calls herself a cross between Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck. (Sarraute’s Russian-émigré grandparents were Jewish.)
“She’s so funny about her children, her husband, her washing machine. She never writes about politics, and I like to write about everything,” Sarraute says.
“Sarraute writes about the commonplace. She even pokes fun at herself. But she’s notorious for making mincemeat of politicians. She once called Socialist President François Mitterand “Mittolini” because he strutted like an Italian dictator. Then she nicknamed Mitterand “Mimi” and rightist prime minister Jacques Chirac “Jacquot,” caricaturing their power-sharing agreement (“cohabitation”) as a love story – the squabbling odd couple kissing and making up. But politicians apparently aren’t afraid of her column.
“They love it, you know. The worst thing for them is not to be in it,” Sarraute says.
“It took Sarraute, the daughter of novelist Nathalie Sarraute, three years to convince her editors at Le Monde to run her column, written in a colloquial French that gives some highbrow readers a shock.
Now after several hundred columns, Sarraute says one of her proudest achievements is to have brought the word ‘politician’ into currency in France. People tend to say, “un homme politique,” Sarraute says, because ‘politician’ has a bad connotation. She wants to teach the French what she believes Americans know already – that elected officials are just hired help.”
Have you read any of Claude Sarraute’s books, or read her le Monde columns? Were you previously aware of Claude Sarraute? Please share your experiences and memories of this wonderful French journalist and writer, in the comments below.
Further reading and information:
1. Claude Sarrauate – copyright Getty images
2. Ronnie Hess left foreground with the press corps in front of Hotel Matignon – photographer unknown
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