WINNER OF THE FRANCO-BRITISH SOCIETY BOOK PRIZE 2016
June, 1940. German troops enter Paris and hoist the swastika over the Arc de Triomphe. The dark days of Occupation begin. How would you have survived? By collaborating with the Nazis, or risking the lives of you and your loved ones to resist?
The women of Paris faced this dilemma every day - whether choosing between rations and the black market, or travelling on the Metro, where a German soldier had priority for a seat. Between the extremes of defiance and collusion was a vast moral grey area which all Parisiennes had to navigate in order to survive.
Anne Sebba has sought out and interviewed scores of women, and brings us their unforgettable testimonies. Her fascinating cast includes both native Parisiennes and temporary residents: American women and Nazi wives; spies, mothers, mistresses, artists, fashion designers and aristocrats. The result is an enthralling account of life during the Second World War and in the years of recovery and recrimination that followed the Liberation of Paris in 1944. It is a story of fear, deprivation and secrets - and, as ever in the French capital, glamour and determination.
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.