Americans in Paris, By Charles Glass

Click to follow

Before the Second World War, a spell in Paris was a rite of passage for many young Americans. Almost 30,000 lived there in the Thirties and many stayed when the Germany army occupied the city in June 1940. Some remained due to their work, such as Dr Sumner Jackson of the American Hospital, which he struggled to keep free of the grasping invaders, though many were like Sylvia Beach of the English language bookshop, Shakespeare & Co: "I hadn't the energy to flee."

William C. Bullitt, the only ambassador still in Paris when the Germans arrived, persuaded the invaders to hold off their bombardment.

His intervention "spared the City of Light". In this excellent and involving book, Glass tells the tangled story of the trapped, morally torn expatriates. Beach ran foul of the occupying forces when she refused to sell her only copy of Finnegans Wake to a Wehrmacht officer ("You don't understand that anyway"), while Dr Jackson helped scores of Allied soldiers to escape before being imprisoned.

Others, such as Charles Bedaux, a millionaire crony of the Duke of Windsor, played the dicey game of "equivalism". Glass's superb account of life in a shadowy and dangerous milieu concludes with Beach's "most glorious moment of the war": the appearance of a highly irregular liberation force under the command of Ernest Hemingway.

Sadly, "Hem Division" could not stay for a drink: "I have to liberate the cellar of the Ritz."