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Celine on Fire
Céline on Fire asks the question, “Why do ordinary men commit atrocities? In 1950s Paris, jazz and dance counter-point the US-Soviet Cold War and the horrors of the French-Algerian War. Céline Colbert, 14, a dancer, her sister Yvonne, 28, professor of philosophy and history at the Sorbonne, share a taxi in the rain with Giovanni Sandretti, 23, an Italian-American, trumpet player born in Viterbo, Italy. In the Parisian worlds of jazz, flamenco, and tango, Giovanni becomes Yvonne’s lover, and Céline’s friend. Haunting the clubs, cabarets and cafés, the characters endlessly debate the upheavals of the 20th century, while recreating the era of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Audrey Hepburn in sequences of ballet, jazz, ballroom, Latin and tango, reprising the 1950’s musicals of Gene Kelly’s “American in Paris.” After a shattering tragedy at the age of eighteen, Céline struggles to find herself as both an artist and a woman. Haunted by heartbreak, Céline is a resilient role model for young women trying to find themselves. Intelligent yet sensual, disciplined but burdened with grief—falling down then climbing back to her feet—Céline saves herself through dance. On Giovanni’s jazz tour behind the Iron Curtain, fans in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia share stories of their quest for freedom. Attila and Zizi in Budapest recount the terror of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and Les Gordon, the leader of the group, an African-American living in Paris to escape racism, tells of the race massacre in Tulsa, and the heartbreaking Indian Removal under President Andrew Jackson confiscating the lands of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee-Creek nations, forcing them through snow and ice to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears where one out of four died, raising the question, how do we forgive mass murder? Is atonement possible for a nation’s deeds in the past? Céline explores historical and philosophical ideas through the means of conversation. “Céline” shows how the Dreyfus Affair in France in 1894 resulted in the creation of Israel in 1948 and how the creation of Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Palestine after World War One inflamed the struggle between Shias and Wahhabiya Sunnis, Palestinians and Israelis. The book tells of Senator McCarthy 1950’s witch hunt for traitors in our government, recalling the words of Michel de Montaigne, ‘There is no passion as contagious as that of fear.’ Fear is the mother of war, fascism and genocide. “Céline” shows how a demagogue can rise to power in a democracy by unleashing that fear, seizing power by creating a world of unreality. While recounting the attacks against democracy in the 20th century, “Céline on Fire” tells a sweeping tale of romance and a passion for music and dance.
Reviews
Amazon Books, Celine on Fire

Dale Pelton has illuminated modern history in a way that keeps the reader enthralled.  Against a tender love story, conversations with recollections and numerous details depicting the traumas of modern and ancient war are brought to light. This volume of love and war has a poetic flow that makes for an enjoyable read. For those who enjoy deciphering the truth from legend, “Celine on Fire” will keep you fascinated beyond the point of just another take on history.

 

Young Celine is studying dance during post World War Two in Paris, where her beloved sister is a professor at the renowned Sorbonne University. As their lives develop against the Parisian background, Giovanni, a young Italian-American trumpet player becomes involved in the lives of both women. The historical facts flow throughout their conversations as well as those of the many colorful characters who enter their lives. African American Jazzman, Les Gordon relates the story of Emmett Till, a boy from Chicago who went to Mississippi and was killed because of an assumption of flirting; the flamenco dancer and political refugee from Franco’s Spain, Tomás Montoya pungently describes the American psyche being responsible for supporting McCarthyism: "He didn't create the fear, he just exploited it—Americans already had the fear." Marie Dvoracek, a painter in Prague, and Mansur Hashim, a Muslim African-American musician, contribute cultural theories on art and music—while dance provides an entertaining contrast to the grizzly historical accounts of a nation’s fanaticism and its destruction.  From ancient to present times, the incredible stories of injustices, atrocities and hardships as well as bravery, altruism and benevolence move throughout the pages questioning the morality of world leaders.

 

Pelton's thorough research into the "whys and hows" of how we got to where we are today is highly commendable. However, this is far more than a historical account of modern history, it is an intimate story of a young woman coming to an understanding of herself and the world around her.  “Celine on Fire” provides an enchanting center of the remarkable world that we live in. It is a big novel that is hard to put down because each chapter is an illumination of our American story that is full of fascinating facts, many of which are little known.

—Esther Shaw

 

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