3.13.2014

The Girl in the Blue Beret



Whatever we did, regardless of the risk, we had to do it. For my parents, it was automatic. For me also. We simply did it…Not every Frenchman had taken such chances.

The Second World War continues to preoccupy me. It isn’t entirely clear why. Partly I think it is the courage displayed, the resistance in France, the Holocaust, those who helped the Jews and those who didn’t. As a child I lived through the early part of the war in a house by the sea in Los Angeles. We worried about a Japanese invasion.

My reading isn’t focused or concerned with particular historical event or person. Rather, I chance upon news of an interesting book and begin reading it. So it was with an article, “The Real Girl in the Blue Beret,” that Bobby Ann Mason posted on the New Yorker Web site. She was writing a book about a downed American pilot who is rescued by members of the French Resistance, one of whom was a teenager wearing a blue beret

She wrote this woman in the hopes of meeting her, not know if she was still alive. Yes, she was, now well over 80, but still full of life and willing to talk about her experiences during the war. That is how I came to read Mason’s novel and how she transformed the wartime experiences of the aviator and the young resistance member into a work of fiction.

Marshall Stone is a retired American airline pilot who returns to France to meet the people who helped him cross over the Pyrenees and return to his bomber group in England. Annette is the teenage resistance fighter who was instrumental in his escape. Eventually he finds her, they unfold their respective histories, strike up a close relationship, and Marshall’s attempt to recapture this crucial part of his past comes full circle.

In the end, Annette answers the question I pose about every rescuer I read about:: Why did they incur such risks?

Whatever I did for you, I also did for myself, for my family, for France. We were crushed, Marshall. Defeated. You cannot know the shame. Whatever any of us did, we did for ourselves—so that we could have still a little self-respect. Just a little.


7 comments:

Stefanie said...

Sounds like a pretty good book!

Richard Katzev said...

I liked it a lot for all the reasons I mentioned.

elysianfield said...

Richard, I am so glad you are blogging again! I'll have to read this book - I've read some of Mason's short stories and I like her writing. I, too, am fascinated by the WWII period and the Holocaust - I'm not sure why, perhaps because I admire the Jewish people, their special place in history, their contributions to humanity, partly because the Holocaust is such a horrific reminder of how thin is the veneer of civilization - but that's a discussion for another day.
I am reading Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding, the true story of the German Jewish exile who became an officer in the British organization that captured the commandant of Auschwitz. Link to a review: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/historybookreviews/10290897/Hanns-and-Rudolf-by-Thomas-Harding-review.html

Linda said...

Richard, I am so glad you are blogging again! I'll have to read this book - I've read some of Mason's short stories and I like her writing.
I, too, am fascinated by the WWII period and the Holocaust - I'm not sure why, perhaps because I admire the Jewish people, their special place in history, their contributions to humanity, partly because the Holocaust is such a horrific reminder of how thin is the veneer of civilization - but that's a discussion for another day.
I am reading Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding, the true story of the German Jewish exile who became an officer in the British organization that captured the commandant of Auschwitz. Link to a review: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/historybookreviews/10290897/Hanns-and-Rudolf-by-Thomas-Harding-review.html

Richard Katzev said...

Dear Linda:
Thank you for your warm comments and reference to Hanns and Rudolf. I will look into the book and the review. I will also try to find your blog. The War, the Holocaust, is there anything more important to understand or try to?
Best, Richard

cath said...

Everytime I read about resistance and about the Holocaust, the same questions return: "Would I have had that courage?" (How) would I have survived? Would I have been able to stay true to what I hold dear and believe in?" I am very fortunate I have not been put to that test, confronting myself with these questions regularly is part of my staying aware of that.

Richard Katzev said...

Catherine:
I do the same. In my book, The Observer, I have a chapter on these questions. I will email it to you. You might also check my blog in a post called The Anne Frank Game.
Richard