Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba
Publisher / Year: St. Martin's Press - October 2016
Genre: Nonfiction/ History
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Anne Sebba explores what the life was life for Parisian women during World War II. The book is both narrow and broad in its scope. I really love when this is the case in nonfiction history books, and what I mean by this statement is this: Ms. Sebba selected a specific place and a specific time, but she does such a wonderful job detailing the connectivity of events that occurred. I think so often when we study history we come at it hoping to investigate a particular event, and it is easy to forget that in the past, as in the present, there are so many factors at play.
As such, Ms. Sebba discusses the life of the upper classes and the lower classes. She writes about women who fled Paris and women who stayed. The Vichy Government is infamous for its cooperation with and adoption of Nazi mandates, and Ms. Sebba writes of women who were involved with the Vichy government and the Nazis. I especially liked the chapters about women who defied Nazi rule and worked with the resistance as spies. And, as an art historian, I appreciated that Sebba wrote about the careful (and very dangerous) preservation of France's countless irreplaceable art works as well as the artists and patrons who were complicit with the Nazis. Sebba writes about women who were wives and lovers of political figures, women who were taken to concentration camps, women who worked for the Nazis, and women who resisted in any way they could. One running theme in the book is French fashion, and it was fascinating to learn about the different roles that fashion played in the war. I also appreciated that Ms. Sebba guides the readers through the postwar years as well, discussing the presence of the U.S. Servicemen and France's efforts to rebuild.
I've read a lot of fiction that is set in France during World War II, and reading Les Parisiennes made those books so much richer for me.
The Velvet Hours: Surprisingly, it was actually the Belle Epoque portions of this book that I found to be most enriched by Les Parisiennes. As Anne Sebba sets the stage for World War II, she contrasts it with the earlier era. (featured here)
The Nightingale: The story of two sisters who cope with the war in very different ways. One sister joins the Resistance and the other is forced to house Nazis in her home. This book is definitely enriched by the true tales in Anne Sebba's book.
Lilac Girls: This book was one of my favorite books of last year. One of the central figures is based on a real woman who worked with French orphans. I thought of this novel as I read the true stories of separated families. (featured here)
Code Name Verity: Anne Sebba writes about the transfer pilots in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force who flew in and out France during the war and the spies who sent information back to Britain from France--women who had jobs like Verity and Maddie. (featured here)
All the Light We Cannot See: A young French girl and her father flee Nazi-occupied Paris with the Museum of Natural History's famous jewel. The Nazis' insatiable appetite for famous art and artifacts and the Parisians' attempts to safeguard them were some of my favorite parts in Les Parisiennes.
Rose Under Fire: When Rose is imprisoned in Ravensbruck, one of the first friends she makes is a French woman. Anne Sebba writes about the many women who were sent to Ravensbruck and the brave things and terrible things they did there. (featured here)
P.S. More World War II Wednesdays.