BOOK REVIEW : Poignant tale of bravery during WW II
A Hero in France by Alan Furst, 234 pages, first published in Great Britain in 2016 by Weidenfel d & Nicolson, available at Asia Books for 595 baht.
WITH ISIS tearing all the vestiges of civilization that took millennia to gradually form it is good to remember that the world has overcome just as bad an evil during World War II and this is what Alan Furst does in his latest historical thriller “A Hero in France”
War and peace are won and built by ordinary men and women who sacrifice all, most certainly their lives, for their country and what they believe in. But these battles, be they in the trenches or an embattled city, have to be fought cleverly and not bungled to the advantage of the enemy.
This comes out clearly in this book with the hero, a resistance leader going by the nom de guerre Mathieu, sweeping us back to 1941 when France was divided with the northern and western part of the country including Paris being the occupied zone administered by the German Army and southern part a free or Vichy zone so called following relocation to the town of Vichy by the French state headed Marshal Philippe Pétain which remained the nominal government of the whole country.
Later all of France was occupied by the Germans after they crossed the demarcation line and invaded the free zone in November 1942 but that is way ahead of the scope of this tale.
Mathieu and his network of supporters, both young and middle aged also from all social classes, bravely help downed British airmen reach the Spanish border. Each move, most certainly each trip, is fraught with danger but they manage to get some of them out while also helping two teams of agents into France.
However, no matter how carefully one runs these underground operations, it is easy to trip up and as often happens it was a clever man, in this instance a jailed Croat who the Germans used to penetrate the cell, who succeeded in doing so.
There are moments in life when one appreciates a sad ending yet in other jovial times would like a happy or almost happy one. Here Furst offers us the latter because almost all the members of this resistance network were able to escape the deadly German hammer.
It is only in the last page that we discover that Mathieu in fact in pre-war days owned a weekly newspaper which was revived after the war ended. This then perhaps is the sort of bravery one would expect of journalists the world over because when the world is upside down the public looks upon them for leadership.
By Nina Suebsukcharoen
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