“Anne Sebba has the nearly miraculous gift of combining the vivid intimacy of the lives of women during The Occupation with the history of the time. This is a remarkable book.” —Edmund de Waal, New York Times bestselling author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes
New York Times bestselling author Anne Sebba explores a devastating period in Paris's history and tells the stories of how women survived—or didn’t—during the Nazi occupation.
Paris in the 1940s was a place of fear, power, aggression, courage, deprivation, and secrets. During the occupation, the swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower and danger lurked on every corner. While Parisian men were either fighting at the front or captured and forced to work in German factories, the women of Paris were left behind where they would come face to face with the German conquerors on a daily basis, as waitresses, shop assistants, or wives and mothers, increasingly desperate to find food to feed their families as hunger became part of everyday life.
When the Nazis and the puppet Vichy regime began rounding up Jews to ship east to concentration camps, the full horror of the war was brought home and the choice between collaboration and resistance became unavoidable. Sebba focuses on the role of women, many of whom faced life and death decisions every day. After the war ended, there would be a fierce settling of accounts between those who made peace with or, worse, helped the occupiers and those who fought the Nazis in any way they could.
Sebba (That Woman), a former Reuters foreign correspondent, burrows into the lives of women in the City of Light during WWII to reveal their captivating and complicated stories. Rather than simply presenting the women as collaborators or resisters, Sebba shows the impossible choices they faced, which hardly seemed like choices at all. This is the book's heart, and it pulsates from start to finish. That focus is slightly marred by Sebba's broad interpretation of "Parisiennes." She uses it to describe women who lived in the city, including French citizens and noncitizens alike, and those who didn't spend the entire war within the confines of the city. It's logical to include noncitizens such as Ir ne N mirovsky and Noor Inayat Khan, who'd both lived in France for about 20 years before the war started. But passages on the "Grey Mice" German women who came to work in Paris during the war belong in another book. While extending the story outside of Paris allows Sebba more range in discussing the dangers of Resistance work and the devastating deportations, it blurs what could have been an incisive, powerful portrait of an imperiled city. Sebba's clear-eyed narrative concludes, correctly, that these women deserve understanding, not judgment. Photos.