four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
By: 
Alan Riding
user_rating: 
0

Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

A-And the Show Went OnPreviously the European cultural correspondent for the New York Times, Paris-based journalist Alan Riding is also the author of Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans (1984).

The Topic: On June 14, 1940, France surrendered to the Third Reich. Sincere (if condescending) admirers of French culture, the Nazis quickly installed a puppet government, and a somber, apprehensive calm prevailed. "Despite the taxing circumstances," observes Alan Riding, "France's performers and creators kept remarkably busy, offering the public a rich fair of art and entertainment." Riding assesses France's surprisingly fertile cultural life during the occupation, exploring the ways in which its artists and intellectuals--legendary figures like Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Paul Sartre--navigated the ambiguous moral terrain between collaboration and resistance. Some embraced fascism, while others rebelled, but most fell somewhere in the middle, forced to make painful compromises in order to feed their families and their creative spirits.
Knopf. 416 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780307268976

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"This fascinating study recounts the careers of a huge number of artists during the German occupation of Paris. Most interesting are the complicated stories of artists who were neither heroes nor traitors, who made decisions about how to live and work during the occupation." Barbara Fisher

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"He is rarely judgmental as he writes of the accommodations many made: What he does is shine a humane light upon the complexity of their choices. ... Riding, with his journalist's background, can sometimes cram in a fact too many, but his weighing of the complexities of the time is splendidly shrewd." Richard Eder

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"We'll always have Paris, but we may not feel quite the same about it after reading And the Show Went On. Brasillach isn't someone I would normally want to quote, and Riding doesn't mention this story, but when I put down his enthralling and disturbing book my feelings were expressed by Brasillach's last words before the firing squad: ‘Vive la France, quand même.'" Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Riding is less interested, though, in the broader historical implications of his theme than in the human stories that emerge when the imagination is confronted by a violent reality. ... Mr. Riding is very good at pointing to the complexities and ambiguities of the situation." Modris Eksteins

Washington Examiner 4 of 5 Stars
"Riding's detailed and well-researched account is sure to appeal to Francophiles, admirers of French culture and readers seeking to heighten their understanding of an emotionally charged and morally complex aspect of World War II. More than that, it offers insights into the ethical dilemma that many of France's luminaries faced during a critical time in their nation's history and the different ways in which they chose to respond." Jerry Harkavy

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His book, with its rush of names and works, sometimes has an encyclopedic, survey-course feel. But he sharpens his narrative with pointed anecdotes. ... Many artists needed simply to make a living, and Riding is an able guide to the uncertain moral terrain they had to navigate." Matthew Price

Critical Summary

"An arresting and detailed account" (Los Angeles Times) of Paris during the Nazi occupation, this incisive and sympathetic examination resists passing judgment on the men and women forced to endure its ignominies. Instead, it offers keen insights into the ethical quandaries posed by censorship, subjugation, and cooperation. Less concerned with the era's wide-ranging repercussions, Riding focuses on the stories--revealing anecdotes and character sketches--to endow his subject with a human face. Though Riding does, at times, become too absorbed by details, it is precisely this emphasis on the individual that hones his narrative. Well-researched, evocative, and disturbing, And the Show Went On is a remarkable exploration of art and artists in the face of repression.