The Laurels of Lake Constance
Nazi sympathizers – especially Nazi sympathizers in war-torn France – are atypical protagonists in historical novels. Albert B. is a chemical engineer whose anti-Communist fervor pulls him into the inner circle of French fascist leader Jacques Doriot, whose support for the German occupation of France made him an enemy of the Resistance. In the beginning, Albert’s support for the Nazis is couched as a backup, “just in case” the Allies lose the war. But as Albert rises through the ranks of the Parti Populaire Française, he begins to believe more strongly in the cause. Life is good for a Nazi sympathizer in occupied France – he has access to resources that others can only wish for – but his family is shunned by their neighbors, who know why Albert’s family has food and an automobile.
We see Albert’s rise and fall as the novel progresses, and it’s a far different view of wartime France than most readers are used to. Chaix does not present Albert as a sympathetic character or as a typically brutal Nazi; he’s just a man whose beliefs, encouraged by a charismatic leader, take over his life.
The translation is excellent, and the novel does not suffer from the clunkiness that can plague literature in translation. Some knowledge of the political climate of France before and during World War II will increase readers’ understanding of the events of the novel, but it is easy enough to catch on as you read. Chaix offers a different perspective on occupied France, and readers interested in literary novels of World War II may enjoy this nuanced and fascinating character study.