On February 6, 1945, Robert Brasillach was executed for treason by a French firing squad. He was a writer of some distinction—a prolific novelist and a keen literary critic. He was also a dedicated anti-Semite, an acerbic opponent of French democracy, and editor in chief of the fascist weekly Je Suis Partout, in whose pages he regularly printed wartime denunciations of Jews and resistance activists.
Was Brasillach in fact guilty of treason? Was he condemned for his denunciations of the resistance, or singled out as a suspected homosexual? Was it right that he was executed when others, who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands, were set free? Kaplan’s meticulous reconstruction of Brasillach’s life and trial skirts none of these ethical subtleties: a detective story, a cautionary tale, and a meditation on the disturbing workings of justice and memory, The Collaborator will stand as the definitive account of Brasillach’s crime and punishment.
A National Book Award Finalist
A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
“A well-researched and vivid account.”—John Weightman, New York Review of Books
“A gripping reconstruction of [Brasillach’s] trial.”—The New Yorker
“Readers of this disturbing book will want to find moral touchstones of their own. They're going to need them. This is one of the few works on Nazism that forces us to experience how complex the situation really was, and answers won’t come easily.”—Daniel Blue, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“The Collaborator is one of the best-written, most absorbing pieces of literary history in years.”—David A. Bell, New York Times Book Review
“Alice Kaplan’s clear-headed study of the case of Robert Brasillach in France has a good deal of current-day relevance. . . . Kaplan’s fine book . . . shows that the passage of time illuminates different understandings, and she leaves it to us to reflect on which understanding is better.”—Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
In this rare scholarly page-turner, Kaplan (a professor of Romance Studies at Duke and author of the acclaimed memoir French Lessons) employs the skills of a biographer and literary critic to flesh out the life of Robert Brasillach, a prolific and controversial French critic who was executed for treason, at age 35, after France's liberation from the Nazis. A fascist-leaning writer known for his defense of Nazi crimes (in 1942, he wrote his most incriminating phrase, "We must separate from the Jews en bloc and not keep any little ones"), Brasillach was the only distinguished writer put to death by the postwar French government. Kaplan looks closely at the trial itself and asks big questions about artistic accountability and Brasillach's legacy (he is, according to Kaplan, a martyr to Holocaust revisionists). Meanwhile, she doesn't shy away from the topic of Brasillach's homosexuality. She deftly describes his relationship with a German intellectual--a "Franco-German alliance expressed in miniature"--and looks at how the prosecutor used metaphoric allusions to Brasillach's homosexuality as a weapon against him in court. Everyone in the courtroom comes to life here: Kaplan examines the friendship between the prosecuting and defense attorneys as well as the jurors who convicted Brasillach. She also delineates the conflicted reactions of French intellectuals, many of whom criticized the verdict even though they abhorred Brasillach's beliefs. Throughout, Kaplan--whose father was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials--brilliantly demonstrates how a trial, and the lives of individuals, can serve as a metaphor for an entire nation.