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The Life and Work of Robert Merle: A Lecture by Rob Prince at the Alliance Française of Denver. April 4, 2017 – Notes

April 12, 2017

Script – Merle Talk


Thank Martin Lafitte, Director, Alliance Française of Denver

Mention late Carole Ashkinaze, Judy Johnson, Dr. Oliver Andrews, Dr. Robert Carlisle..

It is interesting – if one doesn’t dwell on it too much – to look back on one’s life at the age of 72. It struck me a few years ago that there were a number of experiences in my youth which to some degree shaped a good part of my life in one way or another.

– Of course, there is my family and class background
– Where and when one grows up – myself, in Brooklyn and Queens New York in the 1950s and 1960s
– My education in the NYC public schools of those years – PS 170 Queens, Van Wyck Junior High School 217 and Jamaica High School, where I would argue, a person got the best education public education had to offer anywhere in the country, now or then.

There were two other experiences that it is only later, I realized, had an influence on the rest of my life. They were

1. A year (August, 1964 to late July 1965) spent in Paris and Rouen France at St. Lawrence University’s first Junior Year Abroad program in France. Especially important was a class I took on the poetry of Robert Frost, taught by none other than Robert Merle.

2. My two and a half years spent in the Peace Corps in Tunisia as a volunteer and later staff member in both Tunis and Sousse, Tunisia.

I mention all this because as the 50th anniversary of the year spent in France came and went, I decided I wanted to show my appreciation – a kind of intellectual payback if you will – to those last two experiences. As a part of that I decided to read the entire thirteen volume epic series that Robert Merle work – his masterpiece – Fortunes de France – and read it in French, which I did over the course of two years.

I have written some about Merle, his life and work. This is the third public presentation that I made on Fortunes de France. The fact that the first three volumes of this series have been translated into English by Pushkin Publishers made my remarks more timely.

Robert Merle


Why give a lecture on Robert Merle?

– The series “Fortunes de France” – well-known in France – is an extraordinarily rich portrait of 16th and early 17th Century France – historically, sociologically, religiously. As a whole, the series sold more than 5 million copies. Read more…

Trump’s Middle East Policies – The Blind Leading The Blind; The Military Takes Over Foreign Policy, Diplomacy Out The Window: KGNU Hemispheres “Middle East Dialogues” with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince Tuesday, March 28, 2017 – Part Two

April 11, 2017

Partition of Syria as envisioned by the United States. Zone A in the north by some combination of Turkish-Kurdish control. Zone B in the East, a safe area for ISIS, Al Qaeda across the Syrian-Iraqi border. Zone C in the south, joint controlled by Israel and Jordan, leaving Syria, should it succeed little more than a rump state, no longer a major geo-political player in the region. The recent liberation of Aleppo from ISIS hands through a monkey wrench into Washington’s plans. The U.S. “lost a battle” but has not given up on the plan (the Doha Plan) and is reorganizing its allies for another round of fighting.

KGNU – Interview, March 28. 2017 – Part Two

Part One of the Interview.

Now fast forward comes Iraq. After the initial honeymoon period after which the United States thought they were going to receive red roses and a red carpet welcome. Who pops up in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005, but the same John Negreponte accompanied, as in Central America with Robert Ford. When the Sunni resistance began to develop, they started – the first thing that was done under Negreponte – they started establishing death squads in Iraq. The idea was exactly the same (as in Central America): hit squads of Kurdish and Shi’a fighters to target leaders of what they called “the Iraqi Insurgency” in a strategic shift borrowed from the American struggle against the leftwing guerillas in South America twenty years or so earlier.

Rob Prince: With that said, let’s look at some of the developments taking place in the Middle East itself. Ibrahim where do we begin looking at how all this (unfolding Trump foreign and Middle East policy) is playing out on the ground in the Middle East?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: It’s a good question Rob. To answer it we have to make a few things crystal clear.

Remember during the Iraq War how everyone was talking about, searching for a single reason why the United States went to war against Iraq and occupied it. I believe that approach is limited in scope because to understand the dynamics of many of the “operators” in Washington one has to consider that each one has different objectives and goals. The military has different objectives from the oil industry or the supporters of different religions. The same goes for the politicians.

So when it comes to American foreign policy and how it unfolds. its effects and ramifications within the Middle East, I think we have to downplay whether there is a specific policy or goals. They vary. Rather, it is better to focus on the strategy and, quite rightly, Rob, you alluded to it.

The strategy has not changed. Read more…

As Trumps Standing in the Polls Crumbles, the U.S. Attacks Syria with 60 Cruise Missiles –

April 7, 2017

circled area – region around Homs where the Tomahawk cruise missile attack took place.

The timing of the Cruise missile attack closely followed up by the ISIS attack on the Shayrat air base suggest a high level of coordination between the Trump Administration – and as implausible as it might sound to American ear – ISIS itself. This has all the earmarks of a coordinated strategy, coming as it does only a few weeks after a major strategic gathering in Jordan that included the main backers (known or unknown) of the mercenaries fighting the Syria government. Present at the meeting were representatives from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Turkey, the Emirates, Jordan and the United States.As Trumps Standing in the Polls Crumbles, the U.S. Attacks Syria with 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles.

What is not worth explaining because most of you know anyhow – and have it down pat

  • That like in so many other U.S-led military misadventures in decades past – that you, the U.S public has been lied to
  • That one of the goals of the operation, is to take the attention off of Trumpty-Dumpty’s domestic blitzkrieg on any federal program that is environmentally or socially useful, anything whatsoever that might help Americans of poor or modest means, women, off of the racist garbage against Latinos, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and moderate Christians…this is a diversion, an awful, horrid, bloody diversion.

Most of what needs to be said about this air strike, was said so eloquently by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He issued a statement Friday following President Donald Trump’s missile strike in Syria Thursday night. Sanders expressed his concern over the airstrikes, calling them “disastrous” and urging peace and stability. Read more…

A Hundred Centuries Off…

April 4, 2017

Humans arrived in the Americas 24,000 years ago. A butchered horse mandible shows human activity in the Yukon circa 22,000 BC. This upends everything we know, and suddenly my camping at Blackwater Draw doesn’t hold the same meaning it once did. That tribe may have been stranded there for a hundred centuries, blocked by the […]

via A Hundred Centuries Off — Neal Rauhauser

Trump’s Middle East Policies – The Blind Leading The Blind; The Military Takes Over Foreign Policy, Diplomacy Out The Window: KGNU Hemispheres “Middle East Dialogues” with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince: Tonight, Tuesday, March 28, 2017 @ 6 pm, Mountain States Time – Part One

April 1, 2017

Jim Nelson, co-host of KGNU’s Hemispheres

KGNU – Interview, March 28. 2017 – Transcript – Part One

What we can say at this point, unquestionable: it will be a diet of more guns, less butter. That’s the Trump program. Cutting human services to feed the military budget – all these trends which have existed in the past until now have become exacerbated. I would add here, that from the point of view of people living in the United States, the connection between cutting the military budget and redirecting those funds for human needs has never been greater. It’s an old focus for the peace movement, but it’s day has come.


Jim Nelson: If some of you have been listening to BBC at the bottom of the hour Guy Erikson gave an introduction to tonight’s program. Ibrahim and Rob will be discussing Trump’s Middle East policy now two months into his presidency. We’ll begin with Rob

Rob Prince: We titled this talk “Trump’s Middle East Policies – The Blind Leading The Blind; The Military Takes Over Foreign Policy, Diplomacy Out The Window.”

That segment “Diplomacy out the window is only a slight exaggeration. What is happening to U.S. foreign policy – in the Middle East and elsewhere is that an already militarized foreign policy is becoming that much more so.

The Blind: Trump – who knows less about Middle East policy than he does about healthcare, suggesting that in the end it has little to do shaping M.E. policy – and that to a great degree that is the charge of the generals around him, Mattis and others. Trump doesn’t have much to do with shaping Middle East policy.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: That goes for everything, Rob.

Rob Prince: Yes.

The Blind that is being led by “The Blind Trump” – are the Generals themselves, who think that at its heart and soul, U.S. Middle East policy can be furthered by dropping more bombs and using diplomatic initiatives less. It’s a still more militarized foreign policy in the Middle East, one in which diplomacy is playing a continually shrinking role.


Two months into this presidency the political blitzkrieg that is the Trump presidency continues.

For most people in Colorado, the US in general, the focus has been on the dramatic cuts in environmental regulations, the attack on the Affordable Care Act, the gutting of the Dept. of Education, the EPA, labor rights, and tax reform that give tax breaks for the rich at the expense of the poor, working class and professional classes of the country…

In the media, and in the minds of many in the United States, foreign policy issues have taken a back seat in the news – but not in the plans of the Trump Administration which is “forging ahead” toward Armageddon… Flashes, an outline of these policies, have come to light. What can we say about Trump’s Middle East policy in the Middle East in general, a framework for what is happening on the ground in the region? Read more…

Robert Merle and Fortunes de France: A Lecture by Rob Prince

March 31, 2017

Robert Merle

“Fortunes de France”

The Alliance Francaise de Denver is excited to host a special lecture on the work of French author, Robert Merle, and his 13 volume epic historical novel series, Fortunes de France.

Fortunes de France explores the religious wars in France that culminated in response to the crowning of Henry IV in 1594.

The lecture will be given by Rob Prince, retired Senior Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

6-7:30 PM

@Alliance Francaise of Denver

Hour long lecture in French and English followed by a 30 minute question and answer.

Free for Members……..$5 for the public

Alliance Francaise of Denver – 571 Galapagos St. Denver, Colorado 80204 – – 303-831-0304

Robert Merle is the author of one of the most popular series of historical novels in modern French literature, Fortunes of France, in thirteen volumes. It details the turbulent period of French history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries characterized by religious wars, bigotry and factionalism between Catholics and Protestants through the lens of a moderate Protestant family of the lower mobility. The series is much more than that: it is also a wondrous sociological portrait of French life — both rural and urban of that time period. All thirteen volumes of the French version are being translated into English, with Volumes 1 and 2 already done by Pushkin Press, and Volume 3 about to appear in June of 2016.

The program will be presented by Rob Prince, retired Senior Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. Fifty two years ago, Prince was a student of Robert Merle at the University of Rouen’s Faculte de Lettres in Mont St.Aignon, France.

About Robert Merle’s “Fortune de France”:

Kirkup called the Fortune de France series “spectacular” and dubbed it Merle’s “major achievement”.[1] Douglas Johnson of The Guardian described the author as “a master of the historical novel”.[2] The series made Merle a household name in France, and he has been repeatedly called the Alexandre Dumas of the 20th century.[4][5] Le Monde dubbed Merle “France’s greatest popular novelist”, and Le Figaro observed, “Robert Merle is one of the very few French writers who have attained both popular success and the admiration of critics.”[5]

Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Allan Massie praised Merle’s “thorough research, depth of understanding and popular touch”, noting that “one of the strengths of Merle’s novels in his ability to evoke the feeling and texture of everyday life as well as high politics”.[3] Massie compared the first novel in Merle’s series to Maurice Druon‘s The Accursed Kings (Les Rois maudits), another famed French historical novel series, writing “There is a philosophical depth to the novel absent from Druon, for the Brethren are attracted to the Reformed Protestant (or Huguenot) faith … Though not as gripping as The Accursed Kings, The Brethren never strays, as Druon sometimes does, into the grotesque. It has a credibly human solidity.”[3] Toby Clements of The Telegraph wrote, “There are set-piece discussions on the dilemmas of faith that are informative if not the stuff of high drama, and passages on the history of France that can only be made sense of with the aid of a map and a memory for names. But elsewhere there is much colour, and, overall, The Brethren gives a salty and plausible idea of just how different, odd and parlous life might have been.”[4]

As of 2014, Fortune de France had sold over five million copies in France.[5]

(Source: Wikipedia)

For more information, visit Robert Prince’s blog page on Merle’s work.


Goat Hill and Our Lady of Visitation Church: Part One

March 29, 2017

at Our Lady of Visitation Bazaar, summer, 2016

Our Lady of Visitation, Goat Hill, Unincorporated Adams County, Colorado

It takes a special kind of courage, for people within a religious community to challenge their hierarchy, regardless of the religion, especially those who hold deep religious conviction. It is a kind of intimate struggle, and these can be the most difficult, the most painful. And the consequences – shunning, excommunication, reputation destroying, efforts to press employers to fire dissidents – can be devastating.

Tonight I watched the parishioners of a small Catholic church, located just north of Denver, technically considered a parish, fight to save their church from closure, a key institution for the community the church has long served, Goat Hill, an overwhelmingly working class and poor Chicano community. Nationwide, such churches are often ignored and poorly served, contributing to the archdiocese, but getting little to nothing in return. I watched as parishioner after parishioner, those on the church council, others in the audience, screwed up their courage and confront the Archdiocese of Denver, whose representatives didn’t have the decency to show up to consider their case. They were represented by three empty chairs in front.  Speaking to those empty chairs, issue by issue, carefully, insightfully, the parishioners demolished the Archdiocese’s case for shutting down operations.

The crisis started some five months ago, last November, when representatives of the Archdiocese of Denver showed up unannounced  to tell the parishioners of the Our Lady of Visitation (OLV) that the church would be closed down in the near future. Since then, church membership has mobilized to fight for its life, trying to present its case. Archdiocese hierarchy from top to bottom refused to negotiate with the OLV  church council or concerned parishioners. Repeated attempts to meet with the Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila, who spent his earlier years as a priest in the Denver area, were met by a wall of silence. Requests for meetings went unanswered or were cancelled at the last minute. Not only has the priest who serves OLV, Father John Paul Leyba, not fought alongside the parishioners, but, to the contrary, he has tried instead to squelch the growing opposition.

The reason the Archdiocese has failed to convince OLV-ers to close shop is straightforward enough: this is a church built by a poor, working class, Chicano community. It is the heart and soul of that community, known as Goat Hill, just north of Denver. OLV is financially sound with a stable constituency of all ages. While there is a priest shortage in the Denver area, one of the pretexts for closure, OLV church council members have proposed a number of concrete ideas to address this particular problem. They, the parishioners, are unwilling to abandon what has been a central focal point of their lives for 3, 4 generations, this at a time when institutions defending this often besieged, neglected community are few and far between.  Read more…