In This Review

A French Tragedy: Scenes of Civil War, Summer 1944
A French Tragedy: Scenes of Civil War, Summer 1944
By Tzvetan Todorov
University Press Of New England, 1996, 138 pp

In a small town in central France, St. Amant Montrond, in the summer of 1944 just before and after the Allied landing in Normandy, an insurrection prematurely launched by the Resistance resulted in violent retaliation by the Vichy Militia, in hostages being taken and shot on both sides, and in a horrible massacre of 70 Jews by the Militia and the Gestapo. Todorov points out that the story had all the elements of Greek tragedy, and that "the interdependence of episodes is not only narrative; it extends as well to the moral value of the actions." The great merits of this short book are, first, Todorov's exemplary clarity and attention to the detail of events and the complexities of character; second, the graphic account of the civil war that ravaged France in the spring and summer of 1944, which historians have tended to underplay; third, his ethics of responsibility, a focus not just on the rightness but on the effects of actions, and his recognition that, next to the heroes, there are other admirable figures, ordinary men and women moved by "a morality of risk . . . devoid both of the sacred and of violence." It is too bad that the English translation leaves out the remarkable diary kept by the small town's mayor, which the French version included.