Beevor (The Spanish Civil War, 1983, etc.) and Cooper (editor, The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper, 1992, etc.) have created what should surely become one of the definitive works on the Paris liberation. The authors take the reader through the beginning of France's disintegration at the time of defeat, the postwar order under De Gaulle, the Cold War, and up to the American tourist invasion. There are wonderful episodes and gossipy insights throughout, and an unforgettable gallery of characters. At the hour of defeat, De Gaulle and PÇtain meet accidentally on the steps of the ChÉteau de Muguet. ``You are the general,'' says PÇtain. ``But what's the use of rank during a defeat?'' ``But,'' retorts De Gaulle, ``it was during the retreat of 1914 that you yourself received your first stars.'' PÇtain: ``No comparison.'' On collaboration, the authors are wide-ranging and subtle. We see the actress Arletty cavorting at the Ritz with a lover from the Luftwaffe, as does Coco Chanel (who reportedly turned in a Jewish rival to the Gestapo). We see actor Sacha Guitry desperately trying to justify his meetings with Goering at Otto Abetz's famous collaborationist salon by claiming that it was simply ``par curiositÇ.'' Most harrowing of all descriptions are those of deportees returning, feebly trying to sing the ``Marseillaise'' on the station platforms in their rags. One of them, Charles Spitz, later recalled going to a restaurant, equipped with a civilian wallet and cash but unable to relinquish the small wooden box filled with pins, string, and other bits and pieces that had meant survival for him in a concentration camp. When asked to settle the bill, instead of emptying his wallet, he instinctively emptied the contents of the box onto the table. The joy of this volume is that nothing in it is labored or overworked: historical overviews dovetail perfectly with a close reading of daily life, always sharply and tersely drawn and using a rich supply of material.
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