Meidav (The Far Field, 2001) crafts a loquacious first-person account by a French Nazi collaborator who makes a bizarre return to the locus of his early guilt and sin.
When he was the notorious prefect of Finier, France, Emile Poulquet signed away numberless Jews and others for deportation to the Nazi death camps. But by 1999, after decades of aliases, disguises and even facial surgery, the 84-year-old escape artist is no longer recognizable to the childhood friends who set him up in his police job at Finier, eventually bringing him to trial in Paris. They include his former secretary Odile, once in love with him; Izzy, the Jewish buddy Emile would not save from deportation; and his ultimate nemesis, Arianne, the girl who tortured him in boyhood for his ungainly facial hump, then grew up to become the woman he loved and lost to local Resistance hero Paul Fauret. Slipping back unnoticed into Finier, Emile admits that “survival had become less of a preference, mostly a habit.” He aims to track down Arianne and tender his last will and testament to her as a perverse revenge for holding him in emotional thrall all his life. She is now the head of the Society for the Restitution of Memory, which is staging a refugee demonstration in Finier, filmed by her American son Rick. Emile arrives just in time to catch Rick in a morally compromising situation, then falls in with a group of druggie wastrels. Inhabiting a makeshift forest “crawl space” with this ragtag gang, he revises the record of his past in chatty, bloated, egotistical prose. Troublingly, his actual “cooperation” with the Nazis is merely hinted at, and the overall details are as fuzzy as Meidav’s prose.
Revisionist memories that cheapen the historical record.