This meticulous book of how the women of Paris coped with the German occupation in the 1940’s is filled with tales of great bravery and tragedy.
There is a tendency in history books to concentrate on the hand-to- hand combats that took place during the Second World War – but what about those ordinary people who loved and lost during the War?
Anne Sebba seeks to readjust this balance with this extraordinary collection of stories of Parisienne women who did as much fighting in the war as any many – usually putting themselves in serious danger as part of the resistance. As much as the book reveals their courage, it also makes clear their desperation, heartache and the sheer horror of what they went through at the hands of the enemy.
While the book covers a lot of the occupation and how the Nazis tightened their grip over the French capital during the 1940’s, there is also a lot of detail of the treatment of Jewish people and of course the infamous concentration and labour camps that saw so much death and horror over the years that is enough from just reading the accounts to give the reader nightmares.
But through her writing, Sebba manages to capture the spirit of the women and their stories with great respect, leaving no important detail out – showing great empathy throughout.
What makes this book even more extraordinary is just how many of these women’s stories (particularly when they played an important part in the resistance) have actually remained so hidden from the history books. Sebba makes it clear that there are many reasons for this – not least that very few wanted to recount the horrors that they faced – including brutal torture that is vividly described.
While the majority of the book concentrates on those who fought in the resistance, there is also the occasional story which sees women having to collaborate with the Germans out of desperation – but at personal cost after the war when they were shunned and treated disgracefully by their fellow countrymen and women for making an awful choice that conflicted with the patriotic ideals of the time.
Throughout it all, Les Parisiennes firmly places the women’s voices right at the centre of the book with Sebba’s voice only coming through to explain certain points on occasion, making it feel deeply intimate and personal.
In 2018, with female voices becoming increasingly important in every part of society this book makes it clear that we should not forget about the women in past who stood up for their country at a personal cost and it is them who all women should aspire to be. Inspirational.
Les Parisiennes is available to buy now.