Summary: This heroic true story of the three youngest children of a bourgeois Catholic family who worked together in the French Resistance is told by an American writer who has known and admired the family for five decades
In the autumn of 1943, André Boulloche became de Gaulle’s military delegate in Paris, coordinating all the Resistance movements in the nine northern regions of France only to be betrayed by one of his associates, arrested, wounded by the Gestapo, and taken prisoner. His sisters carried on the fight without him until the end of the war. André survived three concentration camps and later became a prominent French politician who devoted the rest of his life to reconciliation of France and Germany. His parents and oldest brother were arrested and shipped off on the last train from Paris to Germany before the liberation, and died in the camps. Since then, silence has been the Boulloches’s answer to dealing with the unbearable. This is the first time the family has cooperated with an author to recount their extraordinary ordeal. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)
Review: There are a plethora of jokes about the French fighting during World War II. The vast majority of them seem to center around their quick surrender to the Nazis, with hardly any resistance. Except for, of course, the French Resistance. I'm not going to lie, as someone who is avidly interested in WWII history, I have always felt woefully under informed about the French Resistance. I feel like the majority I've learned has either been footnoted in or (shamefully) gleaned from that BBC show 'Allo, 'Allo. Remember that show? It was ridiculous. But it was funny.
Back to the point. The French Resistance is something that we Westerners gloss over, which is a crying shame. Charles Kaiser has delved into a small doorway of the Resistance here, telling the story of three of the members whom he had grown up idolizing. Along the way, he not only details what life was really like in France, he uncovers a compelling, heartbreaking, amazing story that I feel we're less for not knowing. Did you know, that per our own Wartime Records offices, 99% of downed Allied pilots in France were given shelter and safe passage back to the Allied Forces? 99%. Wow. Men and women all over France felt that if they weren't actively part of the resistance, they were in spirit. In the smallest ways, they resisted the Nazis together. Because of that, the Nazi surrender was almost as seamless as its takeover.
This book was the 100th book I read last year. (As of writing this, in the middle of January, I've read one. GO, me! [hangs head in shame]) I planned on breezing through it on New Year's Eve, but I couldn't put it down. It impacted me. Kaiser's writing style is intelligent, searching, and exceptionally well-structured. The information and the story of the Boulloche family were so masterfully stitched together, it impacted me greatly (part of the reason I haven't read so much yet.). The losses and triumphs became my own. The fight, either overt or covert, became one I felt directly invested in. My heart pounded. It sunk. It rejoiced with the family, and I felt at the end I wept with them, not as a reader halfway across the world and years after, but as though I was standing just outside their knot.
Books like this are why I read.
Rating: Five stars
For the Sensitive Reader: There are descriptions of gunshot wounds, torture employed by the Nazis, and an attempted rape is mentioned. I'd give this a PG-10 rating.