[note: I really thought I had posted this a few months ago but it’s actually been in my ‘Drafts’!]
If you have been reading my recent posts you will know that I picked up a few books while on a trip around the charity shops in Marlborough, Wiltshire.
It’s only been a week but I’ve already devoured the first book, Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba.
This had been on my wish list for about a year and I was delighted to spot it in the Oxfam Bookshop. Anne Sebba writes a balanced and very readable account of what it was like to be a woman living in wartime Paris. Her careful research has identified scores of Parisiennes, from very different backgrounds, who chose to either get on with life (as much as was possible), resist the invasion, or collaborate with the German occupiers and Vichy government.
Sebba writes about those women who chose to resist the occupying forces through simple acts (refusing to socialise with German soldiers) or violent and clandestine actions (often leading to arrest, torture and internment at a concentration camp). She also attempts to write sympathetically about those women who, through naivety or a sheltered life, or out of desperation, chose to collaborate with the Germans, or supported the puppet French government of Petain.
The author also examines the post war legacy of women who were affected by World War Two. She calls out the immediate post war treatment of those women accused of ‘collaboration horizontale’ i.e. sleeping with the enemy. Approximately 20,000 women were publicly humiliated, sometimes on the basis of flimsy evidence. She also talks about the length of time it has taken for France to recognise the heroic actions of those women who resisted (because they were not ‘soldiers’ in the traditional sense), and the disparity in the post war treatment between Jewish survivors of concentration camps and those from the Resistance.
‘Les Parisiennes, is such a well written, researched and enthralling read. By focusing on women in Paris in the Second World War, it allows a new voice to be heard and, as a female reader, makes me ask the question “what would I have done?”
This question is asked again in ‘Resistance’, another book from my recent haul. I have read this book before, based on an alternative history where the Germans did invade Britain during World War Two. The author, Owen Sheers, is also a poet and what struck me at the time was how beautiful his writing was. It is quite a few years since I read it- and saw the film-so I’m looking forward to discovering it again.
Finally, I picked up another Nancy Mitford novel, ‘Love in a Cold Climate’. Last year I found ‘The Pursuit of Love‘ at a charity stall and really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up.
What’s in your reading pile at the moment? Have you got a summer reading list?