Nonfiction books about the occupation of France in WW2
September 24, 2019 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to read about people's experiences during the occupation: in particular, granular everyday details about life after the initial surrender and the early years of the occupation (1940–41).

If there is a big authoritative history classic, that'd be swell, but I'm mostly interested in the everyday realities. Basically, if there was a Svetlana Alexievitch-style oral history treatment of the occupation, that's the ideal.

Also, if you have a recommendation of something that deals with the everyday lives of Nazi soldiers in France at that time, that would be relevant too.

(I'm only looking for nonfiction right now; I've read Sartre's trilogy.)
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Suite Francaise is a novel by Irène Némirovsky who died at Auschwitz; her novel about living through the occupation was published several years ago.
posted by shoesietart at 2:29 PM on September 24, 2019

I remember seeing this book about American expatriates in occupied Paris on the shelf when it was new, and thinking it looked interesting; but I never got to it.
posted by thelonius at 2:46 PM on September 24, 2019

If you're looking for 'everyday realities', the book you want is Richard Vinen's Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation. (Review here.)
posted by verstegan at 3:03 PM on September 24, 2019

When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 looks to be well-reviewed.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2019

I haven't yet read it myself, but Ernst Jünger's Paris Diaries might give you a glimpse from the perspective of the occupiers. I'm not sure how 'everyday' his observations in the diaries will be, but I've read a few of his other books (in German) and can assure that he's a quite capable writer. So probably worth a look.
posted by bertran at 5:39 PM on September 24, 2019

Oh, also, while it's not a book, the film The Sorrow and the Pity is a sort of oral history of various French people's responses to living under German occupation. The focus isn't exactly on granular details of everyday life -- it's more about moral and psychological aspects of the existence of the occupied -- but still definitely worth watching if you haven't already seen it.
posted by bertran at 6:34 PM on September 24, 2019

With a quick caveat that these are all Paris-focused:

Paris at War: 1939-1944 by David Drake was excellent; I chose it over When Paris Went Dark because the reviews seemed slightly better for Drake's book, though I haven't read the latter.

French writer Jean Guéhenno refused to publish during the occupation years but kept a secret diary which was published after the war and has become a classic in France -- it's called Journal des années noires in French and Diary of the Dark Years in English.

Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba (which despite the title is a book originally published in English, though there is a French translation) focuses on the experience of Parisian women during the Occupation, but also after as well.
posted by andrewesque at 6:44 PM on September 24, 2019

Not a book, A French Villiage is a riveting TV series about day-to-day life in a fictional village under Nazi occupation.
posted by Elsie at 10:37 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

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