Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944 Collaboration, Resistance and Daily Life in Occupied Paris By Jean Guéhenno, trans. David Ball, book review


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Jean Guéhenno's diary, now published for the first time in English, helps explain why even the most principled Parisians were often completely passive in the face of evil.

A left-wing literary critic and schoolteacher, the enthusiasm that many of his neighbours and colleagues showed for collaboration appalled Guéhenno, but did not surprise him. The old right-wing bourgeoisie and the Church had always hated the Third Republic, he wrote, and looked to Germany to bury it.

Guéhenno loathed the Vichy regime, and he was not taken in by its phony talk of regenerating France through faith, family values and an alliance with Hitler. But he did not know what to do. The Free French, under Charles de Gaulle, were far away in England. There was no resistance at home to speak of, just bunches of kids distributing leaflets. "Mobilised", as he put it, but with no army to join, he turned inwards to a France that remained undefeated in his mind. He tuned in to the BBC. He listened to Churchill's speeches. He watched and waited. He never gave up hope.

Guéhenno's Mandarin literary style, replete with references to Cicero and Rousseau, sounds a little portentous today, but his description of the mood of the city on the eve of liberation is stirring.

"We can't sleep and everybody is staying up," he wrote. "Paris is waiting. Freedom is returning. We don't know where it is, but it is all around us in the night." The diary is worth reading just for that.

Marcus Tanner's latest book, 'Albania's Mountain Queen', is published by I.B.Tauris