Friday, September 16, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

In recent years, historical fiction fans have been treated to a number of exciting, emotionally compelling novels about women during WWII. Mostly focusing on aviators, spies, or women involved in the Resistance, they also show how women coped with trying to survive and protect their families while living under occupation. The stories generally are based on real life situations, and it’s fascinating to contemplate the strength and resiliency of these women and what they accomplished.

Having enjoyed a number of these books, I was excited by the upcoming release (October 18) of Anne Sebba’s nonfiction account: Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation.

The book is exhaustively researched with extensive notes. It includes examples of women from many walks of life whose levels of resistance versus adaptation varied widely. It also includes women who were viewed as collaborators, and raises questions about just what "collaboration" meant. One important point raised was how differently Jews in France were treated by both Nazis and the non-Jewish French population as compared with women resisters, during and after the war. Moreover, women’s roles were deliberately downplayed by men in power after the war, who seemed unable to admit just how dependent the fight had been on females. It’s an eye-opening and sometimes difficult book because of the injustices exposed. For all these reasons, it is well worth the read.

That said, it often reads as a string of anecdotes and the thread of what the author is trying to say gets lost. Organized into chronological sections, each section bounces from one woman to another as if simply to squeeze as much of the author’s research in as possible. It’s difficult to keep the players straight, and for that reason, each woman’s individual story loses its appeal. While the anecdotes were interesting, the book as a whole tended to drag. I ended up not so much interested in the narratives of the individual lives, but more in the overall impression created by so much determination and sacrifice, much of which went unacknowledged until recently.

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