LE PETIT GARÇON by Philippe Labro


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A coming-of-age tale (nominated for the prestigious Prix Goncourt) that's set before and during the German occupation of France in WW II. This time out, Labro (One Summer Out West, 1991, etc.) invests an idyllic setting with the tensions of the Resistance and manages to pull off that most difficult of things--making a boy's father heroic not only in the eyes of the child but also in the eyes of the adult narrator and the reader. The narrator, youngest of seven children, first describes daily life before the war. A family album, or ""The Album,"" ""reinforces the tribal feeling that unites us,"" while the family house is known to all and sundry as ""The Villa."" The father is a benevolent type, and, as the Nazis occupy the provinces, a succession of ""old friends"" and ""temporary gardeners"" come to stay--they are Jews, of course, and father is aiding and abetting them. The narrator moves from colorful accounts of local neighbors to more sober reflections on the relationship between his literary conception of the ""hero"" and its real-life equivalent, mostly in the person of his father. The children become part of the conspiracy and learn to ""play a role""; there are reprisals, collaborations, and deportations; German soldiers occupy ""The Villa""; and a succession of scary moments are vividly drawn. After the Allied landing and German retreat, Sam, a teacher, arrives and convinces the father that his children must be taken to Paris so that they can receive first-rate educations. Reluctantly, he moves his family, and, at the finish, there's a portrait of city life as the narrator loses his provinciality and, in an epilogue, meets someone his father (now dead) saved during the war. Labro invests a familiar story of heroism with affection and even a sheen of nostalgia: a well-crafted novel that reads like a memoir.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"