During World War II, French villagers offered safe harbor to countless strangers - mostly children - as they fled for their lives. The same place offers refuge to migrants today. Why?
In a remote pocket of Nazi-held France, ordinary people risked their lives to rescue many hundreds of strangers, mostly Jewish children. Was this a fluke of history, or something more? Anthropologist Maggie Paxson, certainties shaken by years of studying strife, arrives on the Plateau to explore this phenomenon: What are the traits that make a group choose selflessness?
In this beautiful, wind-blown place, Paxson discovers a tradition of offering refuge that dates back centuries. But it is the story of a distant relative that provides the beacon for which she has been searching. Restless and idealistic, Daniel Trocmé had found a life of meaning and purpose--or it found him--sheltering a group of children on the Plateau, until the Holocaust came for him, too. Paxson's journey into past and present turns up new answers, new questions, and a renewed faith in the possibilities for us all, in an age when global conflict has set millions adrift. Riveting, multilayered, and intensely personal, The Plateau is a deeply inspiring journey into the central conundrum of our time.
Anthropologist Paxson (Solovyovo) considers what it means to be good in this lyrical, complex, genre-melding exploration of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in Southern France, a region with a long tradition of offering refuge to those in need. She relates the parallel stories of her own contemporary experiences on the Plateau with the 17 months during WWII when idealistic teacher Daniel Trocm helped displaced children until he was captured by the Nazis. On the plateau now is one of France's 300 centers where asylum seekers are housed while they wait for their cases to be considered. As Paxson becomes enmeshed in the community of the plateau, where asylum seekers come from Albania, Congo, Russia, and other countries, what begins as anthropological study evolves into something far more personal; she writes movingly about the refugees she meets, including fiercely protective yet affectionate mother Dzhamal, who showers children with kisses, and about Trocm , whose trail she physically follows to the site of his death at the Majdanek concentration camp. History, memoir, profound soul-searching about peace, and meditations on the moral limitations of observation (rather than action) are woven together with dreamlike sequences imagining the lives of victims whose fates aren't on historical record. The beautifully written, often heartrending narrative is as unforgettable as the region and individuals it brings to life.