The ending felt a little contrived, and Rosalie became more and more distant/cardboard as a character for me, since her point of view recedes for almoThe ending felt a little contrived, and Rosalie became more and more distant/cardboard as a character for me, since her point of view recedes for almost the whole book after the beginning. But the characters and setting were sensitively drawn and, to me at least, the plot pretty compelling....more
I basically wanted to read Evans' trilogy to see "could this happen again?" and "could it have been stopped from within?" This volume was especially iI basically wanted to read Evans' trilogy to see "could this happen again?" and "could it have been stopped from within?" This volume was especially interesting regarding those questions; my answers so far are "yes" and "maybe."
Evans rightly emphasizes the violence and coercive measures of the Nazis- there was swift and violent repression of their opponents, and they quickly established a police state. I do think that, looking back, we tend to overestimate how courageous we'd be in the face of beatings, death, jail, camps, threats to our children, etc. On the other hand, what are we if we can't risk bodily harm to protect others and stand up to what we fully know is evil?
For a number of years the Nazis do seem to have cared at least somewhat about both public opinion and international opinion, which makes me think that a massive, sustained resistance or refusal to comply could have made a difference. The lack of anything approaching such resistance even in limited groups was extremely disheartening to read about, as was the widespread antisemitism and prejudice against the poor, Gypsies, gays, etc., and the willingness to turn a blind eye to everything, or at the very least keep your head down, in the desire for "order."
The book gives a thorough and effective portrait of Nazi society. It didn't leave me with much hope....more
I found it compulsively readable, so I thought it deserved at least 3 stars for that. But it does have many flaws, especially in retrospect, after youI found it compulsively readable, so I thought it deserved at least 3 stars for that. But it does have many flaws, especially in retrospect, after you stop reading to see what happens and start thinking it over. The dialogue is often jarring- since it's supposed to be French, maybe Hannah thought that using modern idioms was fine, but every single one broke the mood, and story, for me. There are some historical inaccuracies as well, though I wasn't too bothered by them.
Both main characters are hard to like, and both a bit stereotypical (beautiful, mystifyingly rich, etc.). There are many very unlikely coincidences. I don't know how people in the Resistance found each other, but Isabelle's encounter with Gaetan and the whole subsequent narrative of her joining seemed distinctly forced. The portrayal of the French seems overly positive (we are told about hardly any collaborators, and none of them are significant characters).
I found the nice Nazi to be improbable (why is he so astonished at the treatment of Jews in France when Jews in Germany had been so treated since 1938 and before? Even an "ordinary" soldier would have known that.). I also thought Hannah tried to cram in as many historical events as she could, sacrificing much depth in the process. Isabelle participates in the exodus from Paris, presumably so we, the readers, can witness it, only to go back after wasting time for a hundred pages in the village. The snapshot of the Vel d'Hiv was cursory enough to feel callous....why include it at all? None of the characters are deeply involved in it, nor do they seem to have a significant reaction to it. I was a bit uncomfortable overall at how Jewish characters were used as a plot device for the moral development of other characters.
Despite all that I found it interesting, involving, and often moving, so Hannah is doing something right. And although not every metaphor or description worked, I also thought she had a fantastic ability to bring scenes to life; the book was cinematic, and I mean that as a compliment....more