Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is Paris Burning?

Today marks the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. If you think that the credit goes to the Americans, who after invading Normandy, motored their way up to Paris, down the Champs Elysees, kissed a few girls, and called it a day, you have some reading to do.

And for that, I highly recommend Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The book was a best seller and then a hit movie in the 1960s, not surprising because it reads more like a novel than a history. There's the tension within the French resistance (the Communists versus de Gaulle's Free French), the battle of wills between the commanders of the Allied Forces and the French fighters, the heroism of ordinary citizens and soldiers, and the sad character of Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of German forces in France, who after laying waste to Rotterdam and Sebastopol, in the end, decided to surrender Paris rather than destroy it according to Hitler's orders. There are some dark stories here about the bravery and suffering of those who risked all for France and the shameful treatment of those considered collaborators after the Germans were gone. But there are also light hearted moments, tales of family reunions and marriages made from chance encounters.

Sixty six years is not such a very long time, particularly for a place like Paris. But imagine what it would have been like had the war gone the other way or even if the Nazis had lit the fuses on their way out of town. Happily, that didn't happen. Read this book and you'll discover a cast of thousands who deserve some of the thanks.

5 comments:

Genie said...

I think it is good to get perspective and appreciate your book recommendation. How much would we have missed if Hitler's army had destroyed Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the bridges, ...?

I just ordered it -- merci!

debbie in toronto said...

it's been on my list for a long time now...just finished reading the Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne...it was wonderful..Paris has been a city under attack for more years than you can imagine...and still it survives and thrives...

can't wait to get back...2 more weeks to go!

Dan said...

I've just finished reading Simone de Beauvoir's The Prime of Life, the second volume of her autobiography. Her account of the Occupation is fascinating. It is her personal experience rather than a history, so you feel how isolated Parisians were, with very little information about the progress of the war, and how they suffered from food and fuel shortages. She and Sartre had some contact with the Resistance, and in her account, one gets the impression that the Resistance's call for Paris to liberate itself was not very effective; everyone was waiting for armored divisions to roll into Paris. But as I say, this is one person's recollection, not a comprehensive historical account.

Paris Paul said...

What a beautiful post! I agree wholeheartedly, "Is Paris Buring" is a *must* read, and not only for Francophiles or historians. I very rarely read non-fiction but, you were right, this book reads like a novel and is full of interesting facts and tidbits. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Madeleine said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll read it.

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