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Letter from Ronald Sokol to Daniel Meador, Sunday, February 5, 1995

Ronald P. Sokol
15, Chemin du Castellas
13540 Puyricard
France

Professor Daniel J. Meador
University of Virginia
School of Law
Charlottesville, Virginia 22901
U.S.A.

Begun Sunday, 05 February, 1995

Dear Dan,

If it has taken me some time to get around to writing to you, it certainly has not been from
lack of thinking about you. I thoroughly enjoyed your last letter and the book reviews. I
was in the States several times this past summer. I tried to get HFH in Newark in July,
then in Chicago in September, both times without success. Everyone offered to order it,
but as I was in each city for just a few days, this obviously would not work. I think I may
have tried in Los Angeles in July, again without success. Finally, I asked my mother to get
it at Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Powell’s is a magnificent bookshop, and I figured she
could get it there. She found an excellent hardcopy that was being sold at $10. This was
probably in late September or October. She decided to read the book first before bring[ing] it
to me in Sea Island, Georgia where we were scheduled to meet up at Christmas time. She
read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I should perhaps add that my mother will be 90
in September and is in splendid health, both physically and mentally. She mentioned quite a
few times how much she enjoyed the book. Then just before my departure in mid
December, your inscribed copy came. Naturally I was delighted to finally see the book and
touched by your kind inscription. My recollections of Clark Hall are happy ones and
deeply etched into my memory. You made federal procedure and constitutional litigation a
joy which, thirty years later, I still feel.

The Sokol family thus in December had two copies of your book, one in Oregon and one
in France. I left mine here as I assumed that my mother was going to bring the copy she
had purchased for me to Georgia. The assumption proved unfounded, as she thought I
would bring my own copy and planned to keep the copy she now considered hers. So
instead of reading His Father’s House during our Sea Island holiday, I read Nelson
Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, a book I recommend. Of course when I returned to
France from a three week holiday, I had no time to read until I got on top of the backlog.
However, last week I got to it and read it straight through in about four short sittings. By
the end of the week I had finished the book.

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It is a lovely novel. I confess that I approached it with some trepidation because I had not
thought of you as a novelist and had some doubts as to whether you would be able to
accomplish such an unusual coup. But you pulled it off splendidly. Naturally I particularly
enjoyed it because of the associations with people and places I know and with your voice
that would come through at times loud and clear. The book reads easily, and the pace
accelerates as one gets into it. I found that each one of my reading sessions was longer
than the previous one. It is well plotted. The characters are interesting, and so is the
subject matter. The weakest part to me was your ear for dialogue. The bent may be there,
but it has been lying fallow. The shift from voice to voice was thus not always as sharp as
one would like, but this was more than made up for by the clarity and the sincerity of the
telling. It felt genuine and that, I presume, is the touchstone. There were also some
mechanical or technical difficulties in moving about which revealed the hand of a young
novelist rather than a grizzled pro.

To me Wolf was the most interesting character and the expression of the effects of
blindness the best part of the book. The comparison between the defeated Germany and
the defeated Confederacy did not seem to me probed deeply enough, although I have
nothing terribly concrete to suggest. Maybe it is part of a larger subject of defeat
generally, the consequences it has on a people, and its dissipation or modification with
time. The defeat of the Confederacy had an effect on you and on my contemporaries. It
struck me forcefully when I first went South to Duke in 1956. But I wonder whether it has
had any effect on your children or those of my Alabama roommate, Wray Eckl, with
whom we stayed briefly in Atlanta in December. Every country is a prisoner struggling to
escape from its past. The weight is so heavy in countries such as Japan, France, and
England with which I have some acquaintance that one wonders whether there is any hope
at all to the struggle. In some ways the bludgeoning defeat of Japan helped it to escape
from some of the deadweight of its past. France has had no such luck, despite a couple of
revolutions.

There was surprisingly little law in the book considering that you have passed your life in
law. Perhaps writing fiction was an escape from the rationalities of the law to the softer,
subjective flow of the emotions.

Continued March 1st

The book is so permeated by the Bible that I had to have my King James version at hand
just as I must always have my Code Civil next to me here in France. I presume that the
misquote at page 184 as being from 2nd Corinthians when actually it is from 1st
Corinthians was a cleverly laid plot to ferret out who is actually reading the book.

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It is almost as hard for me to imagine that you have crossed the Retirement Line as it is for
you. In my mind you are still about 35 years old, so I shall have to get used to you at your
new age. I share your inability to comprehend the passage of time. I am about to turn 56,
but I recall my father at about 85 telling me of events 75 years earlier and stating that they
seemed as if they had just happened.

The Dillard Papers should definitely be published, and it would seem absurd for them not
to be published by the University Press. I very much look forward to seeing those papers,
although I know from having read some of his articles that his spoken magic largely
vanished on the written page. He was one of the two best speakers I ever heard, and if we
could only have captured all of his contracts classes on video it would have equalled the
discovery of a new star.

I eagerly await your visit in June. Both Junko and I look forward to spending time with
you and Jan. If I can get away I shall be very tempted to join you on a cruise up the
Rhône. I believe I have even read an old book on Jefferson in France and have it in my
library, published if I recall by a most unlikely publisher, the University of Oklahoma
Press. I shall look for it this evening. I finished Dumas Malone’s multi-volume work about
a decade ago. I may have to brush up on it as well. What I am really curious to know is
whether there is a Jefferson biography in French. My impression is that the French know
little about him. I have had this on my list of things to check for about a decade as well.

No doubt we shall be in touch again before your visit in June.

Sincerely yours,

[handwriten signature]

Ronald P. Sokol

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