Meilleur commentaire critique
I'm furious at this book. Often historically wrong, misleading and disrespectful.
Commenté en France 🇫🇷 le 12 août 2019
This is going to be a (very) unpopular opinion.
I DNF'd this because I am angry. I DNF'd 400 pages in, in a 514 pages book. That's how angry I am.
This book has many flaws.
It is predictable. Its plot is pretty much every book and TV show and movie set in Europe during WW2 boiled down to a burnt crust without much taste left in it.
The writing was... lacking. There were repetitions of the exact same things two pages apart : the same morning, the same thought. And if it was intended as a way of highlighting the monotonous days of the Occupation, that was failed. I was just the same thing retold without proper editing.
The relationships between the characters were reasonably interesting, especially between Vianne and Beck or Isabelle and her father, but more often it was lacklustre. That's a shame : the two main characters show strength in two completely different ways and that's one of the things that made me genuinely like some aspects of this book. I also really liked that the Germans weren't depicted all over as monsters. Many Germans were hard believers of nazism, which is why they actually came to power and were followed by most of german society, but most people in the Wehrmacht and even the SS were conscripted, regular people. Some of which didn't care or didn't like the nazi ideology.
However, what truly made me dislike this book were the truly shocking historical mistakes in a book that overall doesn't actually contain much "history". I'm a regular french history teacher, but any french person or even subpar historian could have pointed these out.
These mistakes range from the ridiculous to inferring frankly dangerously simplistic ideas by way of sensationalism and carelessness.
And if there are two things you can't be careless about, it's WW2 and the Holocaust.
Historical fiction plays with history, and that's great.
Believe it or not, I'm even favourable to anachronism changes to details in favour of a more balanced plot or just poetic license. I completely get why most actresses don't pluck their brows then playing a mediaeval queen, or son't show their nipples win a movie set during the Renaissance. I absolutely loved the fact that Brad Pitt killed Hitler in Inglorious Basterds. That aliens were somehow involved in the invention of tools by apes in 2001 : A Space Odyssey. That every adaptation of Arthurian legends show faeries and completely anachronistic but gorgeous armours. I wasn't even mad at Prince of Persia, ffs. Well, I was, but for other reasons than historical f*ckups.
What happened here owes nothing to poetic license. It is, as I said earlier, laziness.
First, there were tiny but telling things :
- The character's first name, "Vianne", could not have been given at that time. France was very conservative and invented names were forbidden by law until the 1960s. She should have been named Vivianne, or Vianney if she'd been a guy. A primary-school teacher and her postman husband could not have afforded Bollinger and would DEFINITELY not have popped a bottle just for a picnic (!!!).
- Macarons were NOT widespread in France until they were popularized by Pierre Hermé at the beginning of the 2000's, so you couldn't have found any outside the city-centre of Paris and maybe one of two shops in each big urban center.
- Poor people like Rachel would DEFINITELY not have baked canelés : they are from the Bordeaux region and were not widespread in France until the 2000s and need a lot of very expensive vanilla to be made. So, no.
- Apartments near the Eiffel Tower were already VERY expensive even in the 1940s. A bookseller couldn't have afforded to live there.
- The Comédie Française would NOT be taking art out of the Louvre. The Comédie Française or "Français" is the national theater company. Why would they be in charge of conveying artwork when the Musées Nationaux, created during the Révolution, are in charge of those things ?
- The Pyrénées are not "a thousand-meters" (=3,300 feet) high. They are almost three-thousand meters high. And if you want to cross on foot to Spain near St-Jean-de-Luz (and, lucky me, I've done that), you'll need to climb to almost 2,400 meters (=7,900 feet) high. That's quite a difference. I'm not even mentioning that you can't do this in a day/night. Not while leaving on foot from St Jean de Luz. You'd need three or four days at least, even while walking at a gruelling pace.
And then, it became more serious :
- The collabos are presented as a mean, evil minority. They were not. Most of French people were actually collaborating, some more zealous than others. Some were mean. Some didn't have a choice.
- The Résistance is presented as very nice, competent, united and heroic. They indeed were heroic and most of them were competent people. However, this completely overshadows the fact that Communists didn't get involved in the Résistance until 1941, since the USSR was still allied to Germany. They joined after Operation Barbarossa, when Hitler suddenly decided to launch an attack against the Soviet Union in what maybe remains his biggest strategical mistake, and the USSR decided the Nazis were the enemy, after all. The résistants were not white, fluffy and naive cute little lambs : some of the actions of the Résistance implied bombing, endangering or killing innocent bystanders and often torturing Germans or Frenchs if need be.
And then, some of those issues range from the very serious to the outright scandalous :
- Antisemitism from the French population is NEVER EVEN REFERRED TO. Why do you think those laws passed without anyone complaining ? Who do you think designed, printed and financed this reclusive antisemitic campaigns ? French society has been (and sadly, still is, in a lesser extent) very antisemitic since the Middle Ages. That has not stopped and actually became worse during the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1939, the anti-Jew sentiment was as high as it had ever been.
- The book shows antisemitism as beginning after the 1940 defeat, inferring those policies were passed under german pressure. THAT IS NOT TRUE. Almost all the antisemitic laws (forbidding Jews from being state workers, from being teachers, doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers, doing public art and so on) were decided by the French government on its own. The Germans never asked this, and French people at best ignored and mostly supported these campaigns. The deportation of the french Jews was VOLUNTEERED by the Vichy government. This has been proven and proven again and confirmed many times by every new historical research on the subject.
- The Vélodrome d'Hiver Round-Up is presented as conducted by the french police, and it was, but the only two policemen Isabelle talks to about it (as if they were going to openly tell a random girl in the street that the people they're gathering would be deported...) are almost crying and saying they are only "following orders". First, it's a freaking dangerous and disgusting way to justify the actions of those poor, poor policemen, crying while they lead people to their deaths. (Just NO)
And second, IT'S NOT F*CKING TRUE. ALL 5,000 POLICEMEN INVOLVED IN THE VELODROME D'HIVER WERE BLOODY VOLUNTEERS. Even if not intended as such, this is such a disgusting revisionist way of presenting historical facts that I frankly want to send a very rude letter to the editor.
I wondered why this book hadn't been translated into French since people here are always very interested by World War Two and the Occupation. Now I get why. Not one french editing company would touch this with a ten-foot pole. And they are right not to.