CAT'S GRIN by Francois Maspero


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Translator/essayist Maspero's autobiographical first novel is a heartfelt and absorbing account of a young French boy east loose in war-torn France after the Normandy invasion. Thirteen-year-old narrator Luc Point-Serra, known as Cat because of his quick skinniness and almond-shaped eyes, comes from a middle-class Parisian family of educated professionals (his father is a renowned Oriental scholar) who have weathered the Occupation fairly well; but as the invasion draws closer at the end of May, 1944, he's sent to relative safety in the rustic village of Marles. There he can stand in the fields and watch the Allied bombing raids: ""First, it was like a train plunging between the hills, then the world nearly came to an end."" Cat's hopes of rejoining his family are shattered when his brother, Antoine, joins the maquis and begins assassinating German officers on the streets of Paris. Antoine disappears with the Gestapo hot on his trail, but Cat's mother and father are vengefully rounded-up and sent to concentration camps. With only a distracted aunt to care for him, Cat is pretty much on his own, and what follows is a series of almost impressionistic episodes, brilliantly told, a boy's-eye view of the liberation of Paris, the ensuing political chaos, the humiliation of collaborators, and the flourishing black market. Cat eventually attachs himself to a Free French unit mopping of German resistance in eastern France; he's hoping to find Antoine, but instead gets a terrifying first taste of combat that sends him back home to Paris. There, he learns that both his father and brother have died (his father in Buchenwald, Antoine fighting with the Americans) but that his mother, a 66-pound shell of herself, has survived Ravensbruck and is coming home. ""Hello, Cat,"" she says when she arrives. ""How you've grown."" A bitter, finely detailed, and horrifyingly authentic coming-of-age novel.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf