An extraordinary account of a French couple’s fleeing of Paris just in front of the Germans in June 1940, followed by a despairing stint among some eagerly appeasing villagers.
A kind of magical thinking takes place in the mind of this first-person narrator as he and his wife were mired in a German-occupied village on their way south by car from Paris. A novelist and journalist who experienced the trench warfare in World War I, Werth (1878-1955) addresses this account to his best friend, pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, as a way of establishing facts without elaboration. These facts indeed grow increasingly nonsensical. Moving in a daze of denial, the narrator admits that he was “in no hurry to leave” Paris, yet on the advice of “A,” he decided to put “sixty kilometers between the Germans and us.” The road south was clogged, as cars broke down, people drove wagons pulled by horses, and pedestrians were able to walk faster than the caravan—many of the limping, downtrodden pedestrians were the routed French soldiers. News was fluid, but gossip about the Germans’ actual location was rampant, and angry cries of “France is betrayed!” were common—though the narrator wanted to ask: by whom? Hoping to reach and cross the Loire but thwarted by Germans swarming over the countryside, the narrator and his wife (as well as their nanny, who disappears at some point in the narrative) moved from a hospitable farming family in Chapelon to shelter with a horrifying pair of German-speaking farm wives in Les Douciers, where the narrator watched in a “hallucinatory” moment as one offered the invading Germans champagne. Returned to Chapelon, Werth chronicles strange, intimate encounters between the French and Germans in moving, vivid detail.
An invaluable document of history as well as a riveting literary narrative, spirited out of France by Saint-Exupéry yet somehow "lost."