In This Review

France: The Dark Years, 1940-44
France: The Dark Years, 1940-44
By Julian Jackson
Oxford University Press, 2001, 660 pp

For this reviewer, who lived through France's "dark years" and has studied this period for decades, Jackson's book is a cause for celebration: the best, most balanced, and comprehensive synthesis of Occupied France so far. Jackson's clear narrative sacrifices none of the nuances and complexities of the Vichy regime. He makes vivid its mix of conservative nationalism and defeatist fascism as well as the resistance's factionalism, which sometimes even surpassed its anti-Nazi passion. He also shows how Charles de Gaulle, a military man who once viewed the Third Republic's institutions with great suspicion, became a synthesis of all honorable French political traditions. (De Gaulle even relegitimized the credentials of the Communist Party -- while blocking its attempts at controlling the resistance and the liberation of France.) The book's epilogue, a discussion of the multiple memories of the occupation, is as thoughtful as its chapter on the "new France" is fair. As more archives become available, a fuller picture of the resistance may yet emerge. It is doubtful, however, that it would offer many more revelations, or produce a more judicious account, than Jackson's.