Monday, October 6, 2008
Agnes Humbert's Resistance
It is summertime in 1940 when Germany takes Paris. Soon after, Agnes Humbert bands together with a group of like-minded friends to publish Resistance - a French resistance newsletter. By the Spring of 1941 Humbert has been arrested, spends time in a French prison, and is then deported to Germany to a work camp. She suffers there until the end of the war, and while awaiting transport back to France, assists the Americans with their work in Germany.
Humbert wrote Resistance in 1946 shortly after the war, the beginning and end parts taken directly from her diary, the middle portion, by necessity written from memory, yet still in a diary format. This gives the book a strong sense of immediacy. I was feeling a bit lost in the opening pages of the book, there were many names and locations that I found difficult to keep track of. The story becomes quite intense when Humbert is arrested, tried and imprisoned. What is most striking in Humbert's writing is her sense of humor, her bravery, and her feistiness. Humbert finds herself working (slaving) in a rayon factory. I didn't know a thing about the manufacturing of rayon, but have discovered that it is quite dangerous and toxic. Humbert and her fellow prisoners are not given protective gear as the paid workers are, and the prisoners are suffering from terrible wounds, temporary blindness, and clothing that is disintegrating instead of covering them. Humbert suffers so much but never loses her sense of self and compassion for others.
Not only is Resistance an intensely personal story, it is an informative one as well. It was fascinating to read about the French Resistance and especially how its members were treated once imprisoned and charged. Resistance was out of print for many years, until Barbara Mellor the translator of this book, came across it and knew it was a story that transcended time. We have her to thank for bringing this story to our attention.
I end with a quote from Agnes Humbert from 1943, when she is thinking about her inanimate objects waiting for her at home:
I think about my books, especially: which one shall I open first when I get back? I can see my bookshelves, and the rows of my beloved books. By the time I get back I shall have quite forgotten how to read, and I'll have to start all over again by looking at picture books like a child.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.