This is a massively overdue review. I read this book in… July, during the first days of our summer holidays. Do I still remember that weekend I spent at my in-laws with my son, frolicking at the beach? Okay, I edit that. No sugar-coating: Baby Smithereens refused to leave my arms because… the ground was covered with something repulsive called… sand and in the background there was something big and noisy called… sea, and why would Daddy not come with us to this frightful place?
So after the beach
adventure incident, I needed a book. Any book.
I normally don’t read biographies or autobiographies. I’m not particularly interested in politics either and memoirs by politicians are a genre that inspire me distrust and contempt, so this choice was full of contradiction. But Simone Veil is not your average, normal politician.
For one thing, she is a woman in a country where 90% of Parliament members are still men and where women invested in the public debate are often verbally abused or dismissed on the ground of her gender. Simone Veil is a national exception.
For non-French readers, Simone Veil is a very respected political figure in France who has fought for women’s health and Europe from the 1970s on. Member of the center-right elite (both liberal and conservative, if you can possibly imagine), she is well known for helping legalize the pill in 1967 and abortion in 1975. Talk about controversial issues! She later became President of the European parliament, and member of the Constitutional Council of France, one of the highest political institution here. She was 80 when she published this memoir and it was a huge success.
Another thing made her quite different. Her family is Jewish and she is a survivor of Auschwitz Birkenau. She worked hard to raise the French awareness on the Shoah and the persecution of Jews in France during WW2, so I was particularly interested to learn about her war experience.
It was not a morbid attraction, mind you. But I was sure that she, of all people, would have a balanced voice on what happened, not entertaining the readers in horror, national self-castigation or in the contrary, denial and accusations.
I was particularly interested to see how she and her family could decide during the war, that it was no longer time to follow the rules. People had to take chances and make highly personal choices, so that every person’s experience is different. Veil was lucky to have a well-educated, well-connected family with some money and connections, and to live in the South of France (which was invaded the latest).
I was also very interested to learn about the end of war, when she had to go back and try to live a normal life. She tried to catch up with her studies and she made it to Sciences-Po, the major French law school. She got married and had children, but also had her own career and a political office. She makes it sound normal but her life choices were nothing like those of the average French woman at the time. Besides, some Holocaust survivors seem to have shaped their life around this major trauma, but Simone Veil has successfully both kept the memory alive and moved on to other major political and personal causes.
The political chapters seemed to me a bit bland after that, but I guess that’s because I’m not a political buff. So I would recommend it for the first few chapters.