Cécile Desprairies traces the collaborationist past of her maternal family

Cécile Desprairies traces the collaborationist past of her maternal family

From the first pages, this intriguing novel captures our attention: at the start of the Thirty Glorious Years, an almost secret women’s club meets every day in a Parisian apartment to evoke, in secret words, the “regret of a bygone era” . The period in question? The Vichy regime.

“Obviously, they had their moment of glory, of triumph,” observes the child who attends these meetings. And for good reason, this gynecology is occupied by his mother, his grandmother, an aunt, a cousin… Here, we hardly speak of resistance fighters but of “bandits” or “terrorists”, we do not mention allies but Americans “. They coldly remember that one day, the grandmother took a Jew’s gold watch without handing him the glass of water he asked for in exchange.

These burning facts are narrated with chiseled and dispassionate writing. As she grows up, the child, who becomes a historian, digs into the family past. She then discovers another identity card belonging to her mother Lucie; There is a German-sounding surname, portraits of her with a blonder color than natural. Her daughter learns of a past romance with a student passionate about biology and… Nazi ideology.

In this collaborationist microcosm, Lucie takes advantage of social life, makes a name for herself thanks to her activity within the propaganda services, and is regularly congratulated for the creation of her posters displayed before the eyes of the French population.

Between fiction and reality

A daring novel. The first from the pen of Cécile Desprairies, completed after three years of writing. It was also selected during the first selection for the Goncourt prize. The 66-year-old author, after a long career in publishing, decided, in her forties, to reorient herself towards a career as a historian. She owes her fame to the numerous works she has published on collaboration, like Journey through occupied France, 1940-1945 (PUF), a searchable pamphlet of more than a thousand pages.

But when she wanted to approach these 1940s from the prism of the intimate, Cécile Desprairies favored the novelistic construction. A surprising choice about which she remains enigmatic. “It’s the story of my extended family, my relatives, my acquaintances,” she says before confiding that she did indeed attend these clandestine-looking meetings as a child.

So, in this work, are the facts fiction or reality? If the author remains evasive, she claims to have relied on fifteen years of research to try to decipher the mechanisms that pushed ordinary human beings to collaborate. Eighty years later, the work resonates with current events, at a time when anti-Semitic acts are exploding.

Our opinion : PPP

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