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.


Anonymous said...

I need to read this one. We lived in France for 2 years and would often pass plaques commemorating something the French Resistance did. It never failed to give me a chill.

Bonnie said...

I have this book from the publisher and need to read it as well. It sounds like a powerful book!

Carrie K said...

Wow. I wonder if her books were there? Her home? The book sounds amazing.

Marie Cloutier said...

sounds like a powerful read. I have it on my shelf as well and can't wait to get to it. thanks for the great review.

nutmeg said...

I was thinking the same thing as Carrie K - I was thinking you would have to believe that your home was as you left it, to give yourself some sort of incentive to stay alive beyond the end of the war. Did the book mention her homecoming at all Tara?

Bybee said...

Wow, this sounds so great!

Bree said...

This is one I'm looking forward to reading. Good review.

Bookfool said...

Oh, no, another one to add to the wish brick. I really need to stop reading your reviews. ;)

Tara said...

Bermudaonion, You lived in France for two years? When? Where? Please tell all. That would be my dream.

Red lady-Bonnie, Hi! Thanks for stopping by. It is very powerful. I hope that you like it.

Carrie K, it is amazing. Check it out.

Marie, Thanks so much. It's such a good book, we're so lucky that it's been translated/re-released.

Nutmeg, Humbert's narrative ends with her in a truck on her way back to France. The afterword states that she worked in an art museum and stayed active in politics, so nothing really about her personal life that I recall. I think you would really like this one.

Bybee, it is!

Bree, thanks, I hope you like it.

Bookfool, I know the feeling!

Danielle said...

This one sounds really good. I first came across it on some British blogs and am happy it is available here now, too!

Tara said...

Danielle, I remember reading about it on Elaine's blog and thinking 'I need to read this NOW!'.