The Foundling’s War

Written by Julian Evans (trans.) Michel Déon
Review by M.K. Tod

The Foundling’s War takes up the tale of Jean Arnaud, the hero of The Foundling Boy. The story opens in 1940, just as France surrenders and the years of German occupation begin. Jean and his long-time friend Palfy soon travel to Paris, where they struggle to find employment and find their way in a very different world.

Weaving characters and story threads from The Foundling Boy into this sequel, Michel Deon exposes the corrupt practices of both French and German citizens and the manner in which France contends with the occupying force. Everyone jostles for advantage. Everyone is “on the take.” Everyone can be bought—for a price. Though Jean resists, eventually his love for Claude Chaminadze, a woman he meets in the opening scene, forces him to take on an unsavory mission. The cast is large: an artist who paints forgeries, a brothel owner who wants to be a spy, a soldier whose only desire is to return to the seminary, a woman in love who will not make love, an actress who always needs a man in her bed, the mother Jean never knew who is always off stage.

Michel Deon uses an omniscient narrator to tell the story, interspersing lengthy sections of narrative with bursts of dialogue. Disconcertingly—at least for this reader—Deon discloses future events well in advance of the plot and often comments directly to the reader, as if whispering a personal aside about some character or situation. Throughout, we learn about WWII France, the values and attitudes that shaped French society at that time, and the author dispenses frequent bits of wisdom on the condition of mankind as he leads Jean further into manhood.