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IN THE SHADOWS OF WAR by Thomas Childers

IN THE SHADOWS OF WAR

Three Lives United by the French Resistance

By Thomas Childers

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 2003
ISBN: 0-8050-5752-8
Publisher: Henry Holt

World War II historian Childers (Wings of Morning, 1995, etc.) employs with some success the techniques and diction of a novelist to tell the intertwining stories of an American B-17 pilot, a French schoolteacher, and a leader of the French underground.

The narrative begins in late 1943 as schoolteacher Colette Florin joins other companions in German-occupied France to direct the nocturnal landing of a small Allied plane. We then learn the background of Pierre Mulsant, a Frenchman trained in England for resistance work. Finally, we meet Roy Allen, a B-17 pilot from Philadelphia, who is shot down over France shortly after D-day and fears he is the only survivor. Florin hides the American in a room over the classroom where she teaches; Allen, unable to keep quiet, sings popular songs audible to the children below. Propinquity encourages the young people to develop an uneasy affection for each other. Both Allen and Mulsant are eventually nabbed by the Nazis in separate actions; both end up in Buchenwald. The Germans execute Mulsant, but Allen is bounced from camp to camp, enduring the agonies, cruelties, illnesses, and indignities so common in those fetid facilities. After the Liberation, Allen and Florin reunite briefly and share a passionate kiss before he returns to America, his wife, and the son who was born while he was a POW. Despite the kiss, it had been a chaste relationship, asserts the author, who notes that Allen’s widow and Florin continue to correspond regularly. (Roy died in 1991.) It’s evident that Childers (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania) knows his stuff: the Notes and Bibliography bristle with significant sources, and the entire volume communicates an impressive familiarity with the events of WWII, with the hellish milieus of concentration and POW camps, and with source material in English, French, and German.

The author says he eschewed traditional historiography because he wanted “to put readers in the action.” Despite some clichés and occasional mawkishness, he has indeed fashioned a crisp, compelling narrative. (8 pp. b&w photos, 3 maps, not seen)