Somber debut novel about a Nazi translator’s doomed infatuation with a beautiful Resistance fighter.
Wehrmacht Corporal Roth leads what John-Paul Sartre might term an inauthentic life. Newly transferred to the Rue des Saussaies offices of SS Captain Leibold, Roth employs his flawless French to interpret the confessions of French detainees elicited under torture. By night, the same linguistic facility permits him to “pass” on Paris streets as an ordinary Frenchman, “Antoine,” in a checked suit. He’s in uniform, however, when he’s first captivated by bookseller Joffo’s daughter Chantal, who works for a barber, Gustave. Jaded, world-weary interrogator Leibold is attracted to the handsome Roth, as is Leibold’s Valkyrie of a secretary, who, having seen Roth’s French doppelgänger, blackmails him into submission. A comrade, Hirschbiegel, offers his secret Paris apartment, hoping Roth will line up collaboratrices for them both. Joffo and Gustave, who run a Resistance printing press, mistake “Antoine’s” motives and try to shoot him, but he returns to warn them of an impending SS raid. Chantal, Roth and Joffo escape, but Gustave is captured and tortured the next day, while Roth takes notes. Roth and Chantal tryst at Hirschbiegel’s flat, and she tells him to avoid Turachevsky’s, a nightclub/bordello frequented by the SS, where he has seen her dance. Chantal disappears, supposedly to the country. Accompanying Leibold to Turachevsky’s for an SS Christmas party, Roth spots a woman resembling Chantal dressed as a man, carrying a bag. Non-German revelers are tiptoeing out. On a hunch, he asks Leibold to follow him; both thus survive the Resistance bombing of the SS festivities. Now a suspect, Roth is himself detained at Rue des Saussaies, where he undergoes the same savage “techniques” he’s witnessed countless times. Someone, whether Chantal or Leibold, will free him, but he’ll learn that any escape, either from his role as an Occupier or the moral ambiguity posed by his divided loyalties, is strictly a provisional move.
Despite occasional distracting anachronisms, an unsettling, unsparingly visceral evocation of occupied Paris.