In This Review

The Unfree French: Life Under Occupation
The Unfree French: Life Under Occupation
By Richard Viven
Yale University Press, 2006, 496 pp

This excellent book is principally a history of the French during the "dark years" of Vichy and the German occupation, although it also offers shrewd portraits of Vichy officials and of life in the sad spa town of Vichy itself. Vinen seems to have read a huge number of memoirs and reports documenting, and sometimes distorting, what happened to individuals and families. Some of this has been studied before (for instance, the treatment of the Jews and the purges after the liberation). But Vinen adds new depth on matters such as relations between Frenchwomen and Germans and the lives of French prisoners of war. As a survivor of that period (who fled Paris a day before its occupation and lived for four years in Nice and the Languedoc), this reviewer can only confirm one of Vinen's main points: in a period when traditional social and political controls had either broken into pieces or disappeared, the varieties of individual behavior were almost infinite, and for most people the hardships of daily life (especially of finding food and securing personal safety) eclipsed all other collective concerns.