Despite not being especially naive or uninformed, it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly cruel, cowardly, and monstrous humans can be. It also amazes me how brave and generous they can be. This book showed both sides of that human-nature coin.
The author writes of the time of the German invasion of France during WWII, and of the avenue of spies, a very affluent neighborhood in Paris where some of the worst of the worst that Germany had to offer took over the homes. And the story of an amazingly brave American, Sumner Jackson, and his courageous wife, Toquette, and son, Phillip, who lived cheek by jowl with these same monsters, and who were unflinching part of the resistance.
It is always appalling to see how easily France at that time just rolled over and showed their underbelly to the Germans invading their city, and how many of their political and governmental leaders collaborated with the enemy. “That night the lights did not go on in Paris. The unthinkable had happened. The Nazis had taken over without a shot being fired.” DeGaulle “implored patriotic Frenchmen to join him in London and continue to fight the Germans.” In London. And yet on D-Day, when the Allies were saving France, “From Vichy, Marshal Petain called for all patriotic Frenchmen to remain neutral. French blood, he stressed, was too precious to be wasted in this fight.” “The French were to play no part in liberating themselves.”
The bravery, cunning, and perseverance of the members of the resistance, both French and non-French, is in start contrast. Phillip, as re reminisces, was a boy and then a man with never a chance to be an adolescent.
Author Kershaw pulls no punches in describing the horrors of the time. However, this is a relatively short book, not drawn out, and it packs a wallop in less than 250 pages of text, not counting notes and bibliography.
<spoiler, if there can be a spoiler in historical nonfiction> Phillip who went on to live a long life and continued to enjoy hunting, amassing big game “trophies.” It also amazes and saddens me that someone who has seen so much death and cruelty in his life can inflict the same on animals who want nothing but to be left alone to live their lives.
I guess we never will learn.