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the Complete Review
the complete review - biographical


Dawn Dusk or Night

Yasmina Reza

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Dawn Dusk or Night

Title: Dawn Dusk or Night
Author: Yasmina Reza
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Dawn Dusk or Night - US
Dawn Dusk or Night - UK
Dawn Dusk or Night - Canada
L'aube le soir ou la nuit - Canada
L'aube le soir ou la nuit - France
Frühmorgens, abends oder nachts - Deutschland
L'alba, la sera o la notte - Italia
El alba la tarde o la noche - España
  • A Year with Nicolas Sarkozy
  • French title: L'aube le soir ou la nuit
  • Translated by Pierre Guglielmina and the author

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Our Assessment:

B : impressionistic account, has some appeal but certainly unusual

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic . 6/2008 Cristina Nehring
The Economist . 30/8/2007 .
Foreign Affairs . 9-10/2008 Philip H. Gordon
FAZ . 12/3/2008 Jochen Hieber
The Independent . 31/5/2008 Dylan Jones
Libération . 23/8/2007 Philippe Lançon
The LA Times . 9/6/2008 Thomas McGonigle
The NY Times Book Rev. . 8/6/2008 Diane Johnson
The Washington Post . 15/5/2008 Tobias Grey
Die Zeit . 13/3/2008 Gabrielle Killert

  From the Reviews:
  • "In many ways, her narrative reads like a long-running tale of foreplay. Reza is pulsingly alive to Sarkozy’s moods, his foibles, his ambiguities. Few observers of Sarkozy have been more finely attuned to his outbreaks of megalomania and anger, to his one-on-one combat with the angel of time. Reza perceives his restlessness with the attention of a woman enamored; she notices his nervous movements, his impatience with people’s questions and reports, his fear of letting life slip through his fingers. (...) But Reza’s tale also acquires an airless quality, a narrative claustrophobia. One senses that she is waiting, rapt, for Sarkozy to make a move on her. Their circular conversations about love; their stagey disagreements; their implicit superiority over surrounding journalists and administrators and colleagues." - Cristina Nehring, The Atlantic

  • "Ms Reza's most telling insights, however, concern two aspects of Mr Sarkozy's personality. These happen to be themes that have long fascinated the dramatist: a strange impatience to outwit time and the solitude of ambition." - The Economist

  • "The book is disjointed, and non-French readers may lose patience following Sarkozy around to his meetings with local politicians they have never heard of. But Reza does seem to have captured something important about the man." - Philip H. Gordon, Foreign Affairs

  • "Glänzend verdichtet sich das überall spürbare Beobachtungs- und Sprachvermögen der Autorin und Ich-Erzählerin zur Mitte des Buches hin." - Jochen Hieber, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "If you ask me, Dawn Dusk or Night by Yasmina Reza is probably the most pretentious political biography ever written. (...) It's not exactly dull -- not as dull as the David Blunkett autobiography, anyway -- and it is not without flair, but it is insanely self-regarding." - Dylan Jones, The Independent

  • "Ce livre adore l'événement qu’il met en scène et qu’il prétend être. Comme son modèle et comme ce monde, il se flatte et se barbouille de méthode Coué. Il devrait donc obtenir le succès qu’il s’annonce." - Philippe Lançon, Libération

  • "Reza's book, meanwhile, is quite possibly the most innovative and startling report on a political campaign ever written because of its absolute refusal to pander through explanation. (...) Nothing is revealed or everything is revealed and the choice is up to the reader." - Thomas McGonigle, The Los Angeles Times

  • "She’s a splendid observer -- nothing gets by her. (...) The polished, epigrammatic text reflects her fascination, if not infatuation. (...) The book is oddly burdened by rather French stylistic affectations, like no quotation marks demarcating what he’s saying from what she’s thinking or one speaker from another in a paragraph with three speakers. This is often confusing, especially in light of the odd translation. (...) There are innumerable examples of meaninglessness; English translations usually turn out better, it seems, when a native speaker is involved, and translations do matter. As do other concessions to intelligibility." - Diane Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Reza's greatest strength is her ear for dialogue. She is particularly attentive to the disarmingly clumsy, beguiling way in which Sarkozy practices politics. (...) There are also moments of laziness in the writing. (...) She is on much safer ground when drawing parallels between the theater, which she obviously knows all about, and politics. (...) In the end, however, there are too few of these perceptive passages and too many vacuous ones. "The men that I'm talking about live in a world where words have the weight of helium," Reza comments. The same could be said of much of this book." - Tobias Grey, The Washington Post

  • "Eins kann man sagen: Sie hat mit ihrem Buch, das in Frankreich schnell ein Bestseller wurde, das Ziel des Präsidenten erreicht, seinen Ruhm zu mehren." - Gabrielle Killert, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In 2006 Yasmina Reza asked for and was granted access to French politician Nicolas Sarkozy as he set out to become president of France. Campaign-tell-alls/accounts are familiar (indeed: a dime a dozen) in the US after every presidential election, but this particular pairing is noteworthy even beyond France, as Reza is a well-known playwright and Sarkozy managed both to capture the French election and a lot of attention abroad, especially in the US. Beyond that, Dawn Dusk or Night isn't your usual campaign account either: it is chronological, following Sarkozy's campaign and all the way through the first days in office in the Élysée palace, but it's anything but a journalistic report. Indeed, it seems almost like a pared-down version of the notebooks Reza must have kept, jotting down her impressions and observations and thoughts, polished but hardly edited into any sort of flowing or connected narrative.
       Reza's approach has its appeal, the short vignettes and brief dialogues making for some candid pictures of the man and his campaign. Indeed, Dawn Dusk or Night does make for a solid portrait of Sarkozy: the short, driven man who keeps going and going. Like any presidential candidate he becomes an isolated figure, a man on a mission with an enormous support-group -- but one not necessarily able to provide the support he needs. As Reza astutely observes at one point:

     I note the caution with which his staffs responds and treats him. Caution, dread. But most dangerous of all for him, the absence of protests.
       (His family is also a shadowy presence, all the more obviously now that his marriage collapsed shortly after the time covered in the book.)
       There are amusing titbits, such as his obsession with the success of his own book, as he's just as bad as most Amazon-checking authors:
     Yes, it's sick. I look at the sales, the returns, I like net figures, imprecision bothers me. The publisher faxes me every day. It might be the definition of mania. Actually, it's a drug. Sometimes I evenrequest regional breakdowns !
       One particularly shocking and disillusioning scenes -- yet suggesting also what a powerful image Sarkozy managed to conjure up during his campaign -- is Reza's description of showing Milan Kundera and his wife some pictures of Sarko on her cellphone:
They are genuinely excited to see him on my cellphone. This is why I like the Kunderas.
     Milan, without knowing him, speaks of him and defines him as "a man above and beyond clichés".
       Early in the book Reza describes what she has in mind with this undertaking to someone:
I say, I am not looking to write on power or on politics, but rather on politics as a way of being.
       She's more or less successful in that regard, but her impressionistic account only gets so far. As with so many campaign-accounts, the moment has passed; the man who heads the French Republic may still be the same one as described here, but an election campaign is very different from running a country, and Sarkozy's failures (and continued tabloid-presence, in a country that never bothered much with gossip about politicians) have completely overwhelmed the image he had built up in his campaign (and, as Laurent Solly told Reza: "Reality doesn't matter. Only perception counts" -- for better (as was the case then) and worse (as is the case now)).
       Dawn Dusk or Night is of some interest, with qute a few nice small scenes and observations, but it ultimately amounts to little more than scenes-from-a-life during a very peculiar stage of that life (i.e. on the campaign trail). Reza's presence and her personal asides certainly make it better than the run-of-the-mill campaign account, but her peculiar interests and avoidance of many matters of policy make for an odd little book. (Perhaps she found the description of the meeting with Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an actual statesman, devastating enough to make any additional illustrations of Sarkozy's inadequacies as an actual leader superfluous .....)

       Note also that Reza apparently had a significant hand in the translation of the book (she is listed as co-translator). While the language nicely mimics the feel of the French, this does not seem to have been a wise decision.

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Dawn Dusk or Night: Nicolas Sarkozy: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Biographical works under review
  • See the index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmina Reza, born in 1959, achieved her first great success with the play 'Art'. She has also written fiction and screenplays.

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© 2008-2018 the complete review

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