Jottings by France's President; The Wheat and the Chaff, by Francois Mitterrand. New York: Seaver Books. 284 pp. $16.95.
This book is authored by a man who is a respected intellectual, an avid socialist, and, as it happens, the President of France. Mitterrand is a social critic who no longer merely speaks to power. It is now he who pilots the French ship of state, thus meriting our full attention.
Yet, as its title forewarns us, Mitterrand's book is difficult to categorize. It is not a political tract nor an autobiography. Nor is it a diary, memoir, or collection of essays. Rather, it is a series of ''jottings'' - reminiscence and reflection - arranged chronologically and previously published in France as ''The Wheat and the Chaff'' (1975) and ''The Bee and the Architect'' (1978).
These jottings are not without charm, as when Mitterrand writes that it is ''a mistake to spread oneself so thin, as I am well aware. As the saying goes, tomorrow I'm going to organize my life.'' Or ''Calumny has been poured on Eve, that innocent initiator of knowledge. Were it to do over I would bite into that apple myself.''
Nevertheless, it is the book's political import which has made it available to English-speaking readers. After all, these are the jottings of a world leader.
Most of these entries are in fact deeply political. The authors and literature upon which Mitterrand reflects are all at the very least obliquely political, and there are telling portraits of world political figures such as Kwame Nkrumah, Golda Meir, and Henry Kissinger. There is also a rich vein of political commentary, as when Mitterrand notes the failure of his American contacts to even mention Jimmy Carter as a possible candidate in the 1976 presidential election. Regarding the opposite corner in world politics, Mitterrand writes the following: ''My mother was in the habit of saying that all wars are wars of religion. She had not read Marx and was perhaps mistaken. But had she been familiar with the Marxist-Leninist adventure, I expect she would have found even more reasons for clinging to her convictions.''
All of which brings us to Mitterrand's own convictions and character as revealed in this book. Not surprisingly, Mitterrand is a radical egalitarian. In what for me was the starkest passage in the book, he writes of his experience as a prisoner of war that he had ''never known a more well-balanced community than that POW camp . . . . The order of the early months had been based on the domination of the knife and the law of the jungle. That order was soon swept away and the knife became, by its use as an instrument to cut the loaf of bread into precisely equal portions, the instrument of justice.''
Yet Mitterrand is also committed to democracy (hence his pointed concern with the fate of Salvador Allende in Chile) and personal liberty (as evidenced by his recent role in freeing poet Armando Valladares from a Cuban prison). Mitterrand, finally, is a confirmed nationalist. Indeed, it is de Gaulle who dominates the early pages of this book, the author's frustration with this man-god, counterbalanced by his reverence.
What of Mitterrand himself? The man present in these pages is part dreamer and part realist. And he is humane. One hopes that these are the ingredients of political wisdom.