|About the Book|
Dramatic, amusing, a little mysterious, Helene Cantarella was a person whose friends begged her for stories, and specifically for memoirs. Even in her nineties she was too busy to produce more than fragments, so at her death a younger friend took upMoreDramatic, amusing, a little mysterious, Helene Cantarella was a person whose friends begged her for stories, and specifically for memoirs. Even in her nineties she was too busy to produce more than fragments, so at her death a younger friend took up her labor. Tracy, a storyteller in her own right, quotes extensively from Cantarellas letters and anecdotes. Their voices complement one another.Cantarella, nee Paquin, was born in 1904 in New Bedford to prosperous Franco-Americans who sent her to board in a convent school from eight to sixteen, followed by a year at the Sorbonne. Later, at Boston University, she dismayed her parents by falling in love with a politically impassioned Sicilian of no apparent economic prospects. Nevertheless, with graduate degrees in hand, she and Michele Cantarella married and moved to Smith College, where, sleep deprived and sometimes in danger, they spent the 1930s propagandizing against Mussolini and nurturing anti-fascist exiles like the famous Salvemini, whose works Helene translated. In the 1940s they worked for Office of War Information in New York, where Helene became the Chief of the Foreign Language Section for the Motion Picture Bureau. Though sorely tempted by a post-war job offer in Paris, she returned to Smith and family life. But she was not limited by the domestic mania of the 1950s: she simultaneously ran Smiths film program, reviewed continental fiction for the New York Times, and terrified private-school girls into academic excellence. In retirement she raged at her reduction to domestic slavery.When she died at 96, age had neither blunted her intellect nor dimmed her fire. She took the century full sail, her son-in-lawwrote- Words were her guns. Readers will find this book, rich with period detail and photographs, a reminder that brilliant exhausted women before us have done it all.