HARPER £7.99 (384PP) (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897
Children of Freedom, by Marc Lévy, trans Sue Dyson
Hormones and heroism
Friday 20 June 2008
In France, Marc Lévy is a literary superstar whose books automatically dominate the bestseller lists. He has an international profile to match, with his work translated into 38 languages. But so far his brand of ironic, tragi-comic romance has failed to make much impact in the Anglosphere. Children of Freedom is a rather different kind of book: an account of the Brigade Marcel Langer, a cell of resistance fighters in Toulouse under the Vichy regime. Although presented as a novel, it is closely based on the experiences of Lévy's own father, Raymond.
The book falls into three parts. In the first, the (fictionalised) Raymond recounts how, with his younger brother Claude, he joins the Resistance and spends nine months shooting German soldiers and Vichy officials, blowing up factories, and sabotaging German supplies – by, for example, slipping sand and molasses into fuel-tankers.
Though in outline this is familiar material, Lévy adds some fresh gloss. One surprise is how heavily the French Resistance relied on foreigners, seeking sanctuary from Franco's Spain, Mussolini's Italy or the advancing Nazi armies. Another is the youth of the fighters: Raymond was 18, Claude 17, the average age of their cell 20 or 21. All those adolescent hormones, and a more or less even mix of sexes, made the atmosphere feverish, fear of capture and hatred of the enemy mixing with barely suppressed lust.
The second part describes the six months Raymond spent in prison, on starvation rations and facing the prospect of the firing squad. The third takes him criss-crossing France in a train destined for Dachau, as the Allied armies fought through Normandy.
This journey includes moments of scarcely believable optimism: as when Raymond, peering out of the truck, exchanged glances with an RAF pilot flying at treetop level alongside the train. When I met Lévy, he assured me that this, like nearly everything in the book, is completely true. More than 40 years later, his father and the pilot met. It's a shame the cover underplays the book's factual basis, marketing it as romance. I'm sceptical that Lévy's oblique and sometimes sentimental style will appeal to an Anglophone audience, especially given a translation that struggles for a consistent tone: at one point, Raymond and Claude address each other as "Bro". The heroism of Raymond Lévy and his comrades deserves better.
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins gives rare glimpse of sensitive side with heartfelt open letter to her children penned in case she dies from epilepsy
- 2 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 4 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils