Author Charles Belfoure is an architect as well as a writer. He is also the son of a woman who survived a forced labor camp in World War II. Combining these has resulted in a novel that is a serious contender for the best book I've read this year, or perhaps longer. I've studied that war for many years and learned that the way the Nazis turned human beings into monsters is beyond my comprehension. This story shows that monstrosity in spades.
The hero is an architect named Lucien Bernard who had deserted from the French Army along with many other officers when their post along the Maginot Line was not attacked by the Germans who had circled around the end. The French destroyed their uniforms and military IDs, and quietly melted into the civilian population. Soon he was back in Paris with his wife and no one the wiser. Being in Paris was horrible during the German occupation though. There was little food, people stood in line for hours only to find the shelves empty, or that the inflated price was more than they had. They kept rabbits in a hutch on the balcony so they could have meat occasionally. Bernard could find no work, and his marriage failed with the stress.
Then a wealthy French manufacturer contacted him about a job. Bernard soon found himself earning fabulous amounts of money, but the jobs were not only factories. They were also jobs that could get him tortured and killed: hiding places for Jews while they awaited transport to Switzerland or Spain. Bernard is terrified but also excited at the prospect of fooling the Germans, and it turns out that he has a gift for it.
As the story progresses we see terrible acts of violence with German soldiers laughing at the pain and terror they cause. Bernard is alternately proud and scared out of his mind, and so is the reader. I was totally wrapped up in this book, even dreaming about it. Meanwhile, he comes to care about the people he is protecting and enjoy the frustration of the searchers.
The Bernard he becomes makes me wonder whether I could possibly be that courageous, inventive, and loving. It's a wonderful tale of the power of love and decency to overcome evil, but this is no fairy tale with a happy ending. It's believable, moving, and exhausting.
Source: Amazon Vine