Monsieur le Commandant

Written by Jesse Browner (trans.) Roman Slocombe
Review by Eva Ulett

In World War II German-occupied France, Paul-Jean Husson, man of letters and member of the Académie Française, writes a long confessional letter to the German commandant in charge of propaganda with whom he has been collaborating. Husson relates some personal misfortunes, and how his son Olivier married a foreign actress. After the birth of the couple’s first child, Husson has his daughter-in-law Ilse, née Elsie Berger, investigated and discovers she is a German Jew. Husson is an avid devotee of Maréchal Pétain and the Vichy government, supporting the Nazis with his literary clout and by writing anti-Semitic newspaper articles. He reveals himself to be a man torn by loyalty to his chosen leaders and his obsession for the beautiful Ilse.

Paul-Jean Husson is not a sympathetic character, yet his tale unfolds in an authentic, unsparing, even entrancing manner. Olivier, a Resistance fighter, flees the country to join the Allies, throwing Ilse and her two small children on Husson’s protection. Husson’s treatment of a vulnerable woman, and his association with the Gestapo and its dreaded French agents, result in cruel and brutal consequences. Explicit in terms of violence and sadly based on actual events and personages, this is not a typical World War II story. Monsieur Le Commandant concerns a Nazi collaborator, and it is a fine examination of one man’s downward spiral and the frailty of humans.