I enjoyed this book. It is an example of a history book that is written in the form of a narrative and is accessible to a popular audience. It is an eI enjoyed this book. It is an example of a history book that is written in the form of a narrative and is accessible to a popular audience. It is an easy read, is a thankfully short monograph, and tells the the spectacular case of Martin Guerre and his imposter, Arnaud. It is so intriguing to realize that until fairly recently, it was extremely difficult to prove without a shadow of a doubt someone's identity. In 16th century France, this is only too clear when Arnaud is able to live as Martin Guerre for three years. Once in court for being an imposter, it proves impossible to determine his true identity until the real Martin Guerre shows up. In addition to the question of identity is the idea of complicity. Did Martin's wife Bertrande know Arnaud was an imposter? Did the other villagers know and let him get away with it until they were negatively effected? Although Zemon Davis posits some theories, there is no way to know for sure, as evidence is scarce.
One issue I did have with the book is Zemon Davis' assumptions and speculations. It is one thing to tell the reader that some ideas are speculation (historians often do this)- but to write them as fact and then fail to provide sources and footnotes is bothersome. I feel some of the conclusions she draws are dubious because her evidence isn't persuasive. For example- that Bertrande consciously played a double role in the trial. Another example is that Bertrande knew Arnaud was an imposter but because she was newly Protestant, was okay with living this life- a life deemed sinful by the Catholic Church. There is no hard proof of this Protestantism Zemon Davis speaks of. While I am inclined to believe Bertrande knew or at the very least suspected that Arnaud was not the real Martin, some of Zemon Davis' conclusions on that front are not one hundred percent persuasive.
What this book sheds light on is how to write history. Should it be a popular narrative not bogged down with footnotes and warnings that the historian is speculating? Should it be an analysis of cold hard facts, which may bore non-historians? Or should it be a little of both, a sort of middle ground? I think this is the best bet and that this book is a step in that direction. ...more