The Paris Collaborator, A.W. Hammond
The Second World War is now a long time in the past, we must have lost just about everybody with personal experience of that time, and the lengths people had to go to in order to survive, so historical fiction that casts a light on the real, every day experience feels particularly timely.
THE PARIS COLLABORATOR is the story of Auguste Duchene, a former schoolteacher, living in German-occupied Paris, finding missing people as a way to survive. Approached by the French Resistance to locate a missing priest, and a cache of stolen weapons, his initial refusal is thwarted when the Resistance find a way to pressure him into compliance. At the same time he's blackmailed by a powerful Nazi officer, looking for a suspected German deserter. All in 48 hours. The point of vulnerability is the same in both cases - Duchene's daughter Marienne and just how far he'll go to keep her safe.
There's a quote at the opening of this novel that becomes particularly apt as the story progresses:
"The only clue to what man can do is what man has done." R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1946).
As I was reading I kept being drawn back to that quote, considering it carefully in the light of the plot and the character development of Duchene. There is an ensemble cast here, Marienne, neighbours, friends, Jewish citizens, Nazi officers, but the novel is very much Duchene focused. There's a palpable sense of an occupied City, and of citizens proud of their traditions, food, culture, wine and lifestyle. There's much made of the French Resistance as an organisation, but there are examples here of individual levels of resistance, a stubborn insistence on nose thumbing and a determination to overcome, or at least thwart, disrupt and ultimately disrespect every day in every little way possible. There's also a strong feeling of how much Collaborator's (real or alleged) are loathed. In that atmosphere it's not surprising that Duchene is tarred with the same brush - determined, focused, ruthless, quick to mistrust, empowered by the task at hand, scared at the possible outcomes, and desperate to ensure the survival of all he cares about.
THE PARIS COLLABORATOR gets into the arrogance and cruelty of the supposed winners, and the determination and ingenuity of the alleged losers, but overall it's a story of an every day person, at a small window in time, in a place profoundly affected by the ongoing war, who did what a man has to do, leaving quite a few clues about human nature to ponder behind him.
He’ll do anything to save her … even work for the enemy.
August, 1944. In German-occupied Paris, former schoolteacher Auguste Duchene has stumbled upon an unusual way to survive: he finds missing people. When he’s approached by the French Resistance to locate a missing priest – and a cache of stolen weapons – Duchene initially refuses. But the Resistance offer him no choice. Within hours, he’s also blackmailed by a powerful Nazi into searching for a German soldier who’s suspected of deserting.
To fail at either task will have deadly consequences for Duchene – and for his daughter Marienne.
So begins a frantic race against time. As forces close in on Paris, Duchene has only 48 hours to locate the missing priest and soldier, or lose the only person he loves…