Overall, I don’t read much non-fiction, although I’m often tempted by history books, or psychology books. The only thing is that it takes me ages to finish them, so when I only dip in and out of a book (in French we use the word “picorer”, or “peck” like chickens), I tend not to mention it here.
Anne Sebba’s book was on the Acquisition shelf at our local library, and I’m a sucker for historical daily life accounts. When I was a teenager I read a famous (in France) big book by Henri Amouroux: la vie quotidienne des Français sous l’occupation (The daily life of French people during the war). It was detailed, but having been published in the 1960s, it was still a very male-oriented account. So I was really glad that a woman had focused on the women perspective, and on Paris, since I could relate more.
I can’t say I read the book throughout, because of two problems: first, the book is really about the 1940s, so quite a number of chapters are devoted to the post-war period from 1946 to 1949, and I thought it was weird and misleading. The second is that the book is really unfocused. Countless people are mentioned, changing from one paragraph to the next. Sometimes you meet one person again in a later chapter, sometimes not. Each year is a chapter, but I couldn’t understand how structured it was beyond that. Also, Anne Sebba chooses to have a broad definition of her subject: she includes Parisian women when they have been deported and imprisoned in Germany (it’s a difficult read), as well as international women who lived in Paris during or after the war.
That is not to say that the whole book is to be dismissed. I can understand how important it is to not simply stop the book at the end of the war and look at the aftermath for all those women. It’s fascinating to see how women had very different life choices, between resisting the Nazis, hiding Jews, or collaborating with the Nazis, or trying to do as if nothing happened. It’s quite well-researched and full of nuggets of information, and I would be glad to return to it as a reference book from time to time.