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‘Few countries love their liberators once the cheering dies away.’ With this telling insight, Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper begin their enthralling account of the political and cultural upheaval that gripped France, and Paris in particular, at the end of the Second World War.
In 1944, standing on the balcony of the Hôtel de Paris, de Gaulle claimed that Paris had been ‘liberated by herself, liberated by her people’. While most Parisians rejoiced, collaborators scrambled to avoid the épuration sauvage. But the reality of a bankrupted economy, a freezing winter, the devastating effects of rationing plus lawless gangsters and black-marketeers would affect resistance hero and Vichy collaborator alike. This authoritative account untangles the manoeuvrings of numerous factions and parties, from the powerful Communist stranglehold on the unions to the isolated figure of de Gaulle himself, out of power, but ‘waiting’ for his chance to return. It reveals just how close France came to the brink of revolution and civil war, and the fears and frustrations of the Allied commanders as they observed gratitude for wartime assistance turn to a prickly pride that resented any American ‘Coca-colonisation’.
The personalities of the age are vividly recalled: Nancy Mitford fears being attacked for her decadent enjoyment of Dior’s New Look; the British Ambassador, Duff Cooper, endures silent evenings with the austere de Gaulle with whom ‘conversation flowed like glue’; Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus engage in passionate arguments over communism during all-night drinking sessions. The book is illustrated with a wide selection of images providing the same breadth of overview. In a new introduction, the authors reveal how research often became a process of detection. After waiting months, the Ministère de l’Intérieur finally granted access to files of the security police. Here they discovered the story of a German farmer’s wife who was found by the police in Paris after the liberation. She had smuggled herself there by train to track down the man she loved: a French prisoner of war who had worked on her farm while her husband was fighting. It was ‘a salutary lesson that we should appreciate how the decisions of Hitler and Stalin affected the lives of everybody caught up in that vast conflict, and with no control over their own fate.’
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Review by pedro7 on 16th Apr 2013
"A very good book,much more enjoyable than his recent WW2 history.The writing would be a lot better if there was more translation from French into English which the lack of, makes many of the pages unr..." [read more]