THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN, by Pierre Boulle (281 pp.; Vanguard; $3.50), is another one of those novels that try to prove that good and kind Americans are really dumb Americans. Ironic Frenchman Boulle (The Bridge over the River Kwai) is too blasé to join forces openly with embittered Briton Graham (The Quiet American) Greene, but he makes it plain in his book that there is no place for naive, warmhearted U.S. do-gooders in cold-war country. True to his Gallic instincts, he makes his American boob a woman. Patricia is the wife of a Frenchman who expertly runs a rubber plantation in Malaya, not far from Singapore. He married her during a leave in the U.S. and loves her dearly, but while he sensibly oversees operations with a machine gun in hand, Patricia is convinced that love and decency are the real weapons needed to bring the Communist guerrillas to peace. When she practically adopts Ling, a Chinese Communist girl and a very nice dish, every male in the vicinity begins to go ting-a-ling, and Author Boulle has a field day trying to prove that men are men, women are women, and do-gooder females do not know East from West even when they are facing in the right direction.
DESERT LOVE, by Henry de Montherlant (203 pp.; Noonday; $3.50), is convincing proof that the crudest hands a fictional Frenchman can fall into are those of a French novelist. Lucien Auligny is the creation of Author Montherlant (Perish in Their Pride, Pity for Women), who at his gentlest tells nothing less than the bitter truth and at his worst dismisses humanity with a sardonic jeer. Lucien is a lieutenant who commands an oasis outpost in French North Africa. He is not much of a man and not much of a soldier, and boring desert duty with a handful of French and Arab troops is just what is needed to show him up all the way. The catalytic agent that calls his variety of weaknesses into play is an affair with Ramie, an adolescent Arab girl who becomes Auligny's obsession. Loving her, he begins to think that he loves the Arabs and wants to understand them. Yet all the time he really only uses Ramie to fill an emotional vacuum, just as she is simply using him to get money. Montherlant finished Desert Love (part of a longer novel) in 1932, made only minor additions for this version. The book does not show its age. The novel's tortured, indecisive lieutenant could easily have his counterparts at many a desert outpost today. Clashes of civilization and the cracks they reveal in the conqueror's armor are no more out of date than Montherlant's sharply written novel.