Jack gets to do the Monday book review this week –
Americans in Paris – Charles Glass
Some years ago I met up with a fellow Scot and close friend who was in the middle of a French adventure. We met in Vichy on Bastille Day and helped the locals celebrate into the wee small hours. The following day we took a train down through the Massif Central to Bordeaux, sharing our compartment with an elderly couple. As we passed through various small towns they pointed out walls where ‘resistantes’ had been shot, but also where immediately after the war ‘collaborateures’ had also been shot. Vichy, of course, was the Capital of the collaborating French government under Marshal Petain.
So Glass’s book which chronicles the experiences of a wide range of US citizens in the lead up to, and during world war two and who lived in Paris during that time was a fascinating read.
There are a number of intertwining stories throughout – The American Hospital, Shakespeare and Company bookstore and the political machinations of the Vichy government are the main ones. The hospital and the bookstore somehow managed to continue, even after the US declared war on Germany. They become important waystations for escaping British and American soldiers and airmen, and their directors took enormous risks.
The writing is engaging and based on well documented research.
I knew very little of the tensions within the Vichy regime or between it and the German government, far less the attitude of the US towards Petain and Laval and their rivalries. Glass’s book, therefor, filled in many gaps in my knowledge.
Although I found the many personal stories of individuals intriguing, I think it was reading them within the broader political and wartime context that really caught my attention.
I thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in France, Paris or the politics of the period.