April in Paris
Don’t be fooled by this book’s unfortunate UK cover. This is not another romantic wartime saga, but a powerful study of a young Wehrmacht corporal in occupied Paris who yearns to shed his German identity and become a French civilian.
Michel Roth’s extraordinary command of the French language enables him to avoid the “real war” on the Eastern Front and while away the months translating in Paris, the city of his dreams. His life seems like a cakewalk until he is transferred to the SS and ordered to transcribe the confessions of Partisans while they are being tortured in front of him. Unable to stomach his daytime occupation, he takes a huge risk, donning civilian clothes in his off-duty hours and becoming his alter ego, Antoine, a Frenchman who can stroll through the streets and chat amiably with the locals. As Antoine, he meets Chantal, a bookseller’s daughter, and falls deeply in love, only to discover that she is a Resistance leader and a far more effective warrior than he could ever be. Chantal is not fooled by his disguise, and her copains regard him as the crazy Boche. More dangerously, his commanding officer begins to see through him, too. Soon Michel will be forced to make a choice and the ultimate sacrifice.
This can be no simple tale of love conquers all. None of the characters can emerge unscathed. Nor is this a revisionist attempt to exonerate Germans of their war guilt. Wallner’s descriptions of SS brutality are as uncompromising as Michel’s epiphany that he should have been as brave as Chantal and resisted his own regime from the very beginning. Though marred by a clunky translation (Lebensraum becomes “breathing space”), this novel is searing and unforgettable, as true as fiction can be.